Sixteen African countries converged on Morocco between January 12 and February 4 for the Africa Nations Football Championship organised by the Confederation of Africa Football for players in the domestic league of their respective countries. Nigeria was among the finalists in the competition which was the fifth edition. Kenya was the original host, but because they were not ready with facilities, the North African country was named in October last year as host.
Morocco defeated the Super Eagles 4-0 in the final match to emerge the first host country to win the tournament. In 32 games played, 58 goals were scored by participating teams. Ayoub El Kaabi of Morocco was the star man of the tournament. He emerged the highest scorer with nine goals to surpass the five-goal record set by Zambia’s Given Singuluma at the inaugural edition in 2009. It did not come as a surprise that he was also adjudged the Most Valuable Player of the competition.
It is interesting that Kaabi only joined RS Berkane of Morocco this season from a lower division club, Racing de Casablanca, where he scored 25 goals to emerge highest scorer for the Batola 2 outfit in the 2016/17 season.
The lessons from the tournament is about organisation, planning with the Moroccan model. For this tournament, the coaches also went to the lower division to get a goal poacher. The federation in the North African country is strict with transfers such that a player cannot wake up one day and head for Kuwait or Iraq to play football. For example, we are aware some of the key players of the CHAN Eagles left the country for professional football even during the preparation for the just-concluded competition. We call for a strict legislation on players transfer especially during the run-in of the CHAN tournament.
Preparation of the Eagles was not adequate enough. Some of the clubs held on to their players for so long and the team was only able to be together for three weeks. The Moroccan team and some others were on training tours where they played not less than five international games respectively.
We observed that the league in Morocco is of same calendar with that of Europe. Same goes for Egypt, Tunisia and some other African countries. The domestic league in Nigeria kicked off the same weekend CHAN started in Morocco and it was obvious the players were not match fit before the tournament. The Eagles struggled in the preliminaries individually and collectively because they were yet to be in top-notch for such high profile competition.
The weather in Morocco was also very tough on the players. Most of them lack the exposure to play in such condition as low as five degrees and it would have been better to camp the team early in a country that has similar condition with Morocco.
Nigeria is a big country and it was clear that the options of the coaches were limited even during the competition. We urge the federation to monitor the selection process in future such that players in all the top two divisions of the league will be evaluated to vie for a place in the team.
We commend the handlers for travelling with quality goalkeepers such that after the injury sustained by the first choice IKechukwu Ezenwa, Dele Ajiboye also did very well in the semi and final matches. It was clear that Ajiboye was a good sub especially against Sudan in the semis.
It is good that defender Stephen Eze and midfielder Solomon Ojo were picked among the best eleven of the tournament, but we make bold to say the Eagles were generally unconvincing at the championship despite playing in the final.
The Salisu Yusuf boys were lucky to have defeated Libya 1-0 in the final group match, Angola 2-1 in the quarters and Sudan 1-0 in the semis. Though the team suffered huge injury setback, the display in the final was poor. The Eagles made the match too easy for the host. We recall that Yusuf also led Nigeria to the final of the West Africa Football Cup tournament only to crumble 4-0 to host Ghana in the final.
No doubt, the silver medal won in Morocco is the best result of the country so far in CHAN but it was also important to stress that the standard of the domestic football in every country is the best yardstick to measure the development of the game in the country.
The League Management Company and the NFF must double their efforts to boost the standard of domestic league in the country. There is need to have junior teams in each of the elite teams to have proper transition which could also serve as a pool to raise the junior and cadet national team players.
It is sad that only the two keepers – Ezenwa and Ajiboye – are being considered for a place in the Russia 2018 World Cup. The league deserves better.
LMC too soft on unruly Sunshine Stars
Nigerian football has come of age. With three Africa Cup of Nations trophies through the Super Eagles and two CAF Champions League titles courtesy of Enyimba of Aba, the country’s profile in the round leather received major boost. Between 1994 and 2014, six FIFA World Cup competitions took place in different continents. Nigeria featured in five of the competitions and these shot the country’s name to international limelight.
The country’s footballers who move from the domestic league abroad also made impact especially in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Some Nigerian administrators rose to become executive members of the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) and the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA). Dr. Amos Adamu was a former member of CAF and FIFA executive bodies while the President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, is currently an executive member of CAF and head of the organizing committee for the Africa Nations Cup. Many other Nigerians have served in various capacities at continental and global stage while some are still doing so actively.
The implication of the little profile is to show that there is no hiding place for anyone in the country to pretend about the country’s pedigree in football. We believe it is crucial for the administrators and all the stakeholders in the game to behave in accordance with the world’s best practices in football. All over the world, football hooliganism is one of the major acts of football fans that FIFA frowns at.
The world body always preach fair play at all levels of the game both on and off the pitch. It is expected that fans of opposing sides should tolerate one another and be mature to accept match results that come their way.
The referees are expected to also make the right calls and avoid corruption or any act that could make them shun objectivity in officiating. Last week, it came as a rude shock that referees that handled the Match Day Eight of Nigeria Professional League Encounter in Akure were molested after the game between Sunshine Stars and Kano Pillars which ended in a draw.
Damian Akure was the centre referee with Emmanuel Apine and Lewis Gwantana as his assistant referees while Kenneth Onyiro was the fourth official. Gwantana was the most hit among the officials as a sharp object thrown at him gave him a cut on the forehead. The photographs of the injury sustained went viral on social media.
It took the League Man- agement Company (LMC) one week to arrive at a decision on the matter because all the officials did not indicate in their report that anything happened after the match.
We condemn the unruly act of the fans and also frown at the compromising disposition of the officials who failed to tell the truth in their report to help the home team avoid LMC’s hammer. Only on Friday, the LMC slammed a three-point deduction and a fine of N1.5 million on Sunshine Stars Football Club following the attacks and the body also called for the withdrawal of the three match officials who posted injury pictures on social media, but failed to reflect it in their official report.
The most annoying aspect of this incident is the fact that Akure is fast becoming a venue for crowd incidents.
The LMC on its website said: “In an unprecedented application of the NPFL Framework and Rules, the LMC reviewed a series of past breaches of the rule by the club (Sunshine) dating back to the 2014/2015 season for which varying sanctions, including monetary fines, playing without fans, ban of use of home ground and an order to identify for prosecution, supporters cited for acts of breach of security and or interference with match officials.”
Last year, Sunshine were banished to Ijebu-Ode, fined N1 million and the goalie received 12-match ban following crowd incident.
Twice in 2016, Sunshine were sanctioned and ordered to pay N2.5 million in September for an incident after a match with Heartland and in March, the team was asked to pay N5 million following an incident after a match with Shooting Stars. In November 2015, Sunshine were banished to play in Lagos following a crowd incident in the encounter against Lobi Stars.
After evaluating several incidents involving this team, we make bold to say the punishment meted at Sunshine by the LMC was too soft. Teams and referees will be in fear anytime they go to Akure for matches and this is very bad for the game and the league.
We recommend that the LMC should revisit the case and take NPFL matches away from Akure for not less than one year. The punishment given to the team is not enough to teach lessons since the same unruly fans will still come to the same stadium to watch matches. We also urge the officials of Sunshine and the government of Ondo State to educate fans to always be calm while security should be improved at the stadium to prevent recurrence.
Nigerians should be encouraged to take their families to stadia and this can only be done if fans are peaceful.
NHIS: Another blunder from Buhari’s men
The sounds of discordant tunes from men within the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari appear endless. While the country was still to come to grips with the recall of the sacked Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Abdulrasheed Maina, the recall of the suspended Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof Usman Yusuf, surfaced.
Yusuf was, some months ago, suspended by the Minister of Heath, Prof. Isaac Adewole, over allegations bordering on corruption, insubordination and sundry issues. He was accused of spending about N860 million without approval.
Usman was appointed in July 2016 by President Muhammadu Buhari. He took over from Mr. Olufemi Akingbade, who acted for almost two years after the former Executive Secretary, Dr. Femi Thomas, was removed a day to the exit of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The case was so serious that both the Senate and the House of Representatives set up committees to investigate the matter with a mandate to report back. Nigerians have waited for the reports, which have not been released, but Yusuf was restored to his position by the Presidency without the consent of the minister who suspended him in the first place.
Rather than keep quiet on the matter or at best not insult Nigerians, the Federal Government, through the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, came up with the lame excuse that Yusuf’s recall would not stop any investigation into his case by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The Presidency had, in a letter it released, reinstated Yusuf without the consent of Adewole. Rather, Adewole was summoned a day after the controversial move, where he was told to work with the man he suspended.
The letter marked SH/COS/10/6/A/29 and signed by the Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari, informed the minister of health of Yusuf’s recall. According to the letter, he (Yusuf) had been “admonished to work harmoniously with the minister.”
Ordinarily, the position of the Federal Government could have been glossed over, if not that the idea of recalling men, who have been accused of corruption, is gradually becoming a dark spot for this present government. We recall that Yusuf failed to appear before the panel set up to investigate his involvement in the alleged corruption cases against him. We also recall that Maina was recalled controversially, forcing Buhari to set up an investigation into his recall. Till date, nothing has been heard of the outcome of the report submitted by the Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita.
There was also the case of a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal, who was suspended and a panel set up by Buhari to investigate his alleged involvement in corruption allegations. Although he was relieved of his appointment reluctantly, nothing has come out of that investigation, except the mere invitation by the EFCC and his administrative bail two days after.
We note with sadness that the implications of these cases might be interpreted to mean a Presidency that protects its own. For a government whose one major policy plank is anti-corruption, the recall of the NHIS boss and the other cases mentioned clearly rubbishes whatever gains that have been made in the fight against graft. Rather, it arms the opposition and critics of government in the argument that the anti-corruption fight is just one of those strategies designed for the enemies of this government.
We accept the fact that corruption has, over time, dealt a major blow to the Nigerian system. We also accept the fact that one of the selling points of Buhari as a person is his perceived non-corrupt nature. But we submit that a situation where some people become sacred cows when allegations are levelled against them negates the spirit and letter of the anti-corruption fight.
One of the reasons adduced by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in his now famed letter to Buhari in January this year against the president was his feeling that the Presidency is shielding its own from corruption charges. Does the reinstatement of Yusuf not give credence to that assertion? Can those who re-instated Yusuf argue in good conscience that his recall was the most pressing decision in the Presidency? How do they convince Nigerians that the issue of anti-corruption is broad based and not targeted at the opposition? These are serious questions that need answers from the Presidency.
By the same token, how would Yusuf be working with his boss, Adewole, when he knows that he is not accountable to him?
In saner climes, Adewole ought to have resigned in protest by now. But being Nigeria, we do not expect him to resign, even though he has been told boldly that Yusuf, his subordinate, is his boss. We expect that the presidency should stop being disruptive of itself. Men within the Presidency should also stop undermining the administration through unnecessary favouritism. That way, they would not end up rubbishing the little legacies being left by Buhari, if any.
Saraki’s call, governance and the 2019 elections
In the past two weeks, preparations have gone into top gear by political actors towards the 2019 elections. With the release of the timetable for the elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), all political actors, both in the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and other political parties, have revved up their political engines, gearing towards the general elections.
While that is on-going, INEC, on its own, is also preparing for the elections, registering more political parties.
The result of all these is that the battle for who becomes the president of Nigeria and governors in most states of the federation has started. Add that to the national and state assemblies, Nigeria again is on the march for its four-yearly ritual that started in 1999.
Perhaps, that was what the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, saw last week when he warned that governance should not be ignored for electioneering this year.
Saraki said: “This is my appeal: It is too early for 2019 politicking to override the legislative agenda and the larger work of governance. We have begun a good thing with the recovery of the economy as the core of our agenda. Let us see it to its proper conclusion.”
Saraki’s words of caution could not have come at a better time. It is also very instructive.
Coming at a period the security agencies in the country have their hands full with the mass murders that have happened in Rivers, Benue, Taraba, Borno, Nasarawa and Adamawa states since January in the form of killer herdsmen, Boko Haram insurgents, kidnappers and other forms of crimes that have made the country a theatre of blood, nothing could be more apt.
Apart from the killings, there are also the issues of the lingering fuel scarcity and, of course, the economic downturn that is almost becoming a part of Nigerians.
These are issues that should occupy the minds of government at all levels, going into the elections.
This is even more for the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government. For a government that would be seeking a re-election from Nigerians next year, the task is ardours and daunting. Nigeria must be stable for the elections to hold next year.
We recall that events in the run-up to the 2015 general elections that ushered in Buhari necessitated a postponement of the elections for some weeks on the advice of the then National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, just because of the menace of Boko Haram.
We also recall that the postponement of that election by the then Goodluck Jonathan administration was seen by the then opposition APC as a move to avert defeat. But when the election eventually held, Jonathan lost.
We regret to note that three years after that episode, going into the 2019 elections, the situation, unfortunately, has not changed much. The ominous signs that caused that postponement are still there, gaping at the nation. Although, the Federal Government wants Nigerians to believe that Boko Haram has been degraded and only attacking soft targets, the resurgence of terrorist herdsmen in parts of the country demands security agencies and governments to keep their eyes on the ball.
We insist that re-election for an incumbent government in a free and fair setting revolves around performance, delivery and the satisfaction of the people with what happened and would happen before the election.
Instructively, last week, two former governors alluded to the fact that elections would not be won merely by propaganda and mere promises.
The national leader of the ruling APC and former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, said: “Mr. President won the 2015 election on a platform that included economic recovery, job creation and improved welfare for workers.
“But we must insist on a better life for our people. As such, the electoral politics of 2019 cannot be played as if a game that has no end other than itself. Here again, we must insist on politics having a nobler and larger goal than just registering certain people into the fraternity of office holders.”
A former PDP Governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido, stated that the 2019 general elections would not be won on lies and propaganda from a political party.
Nigeria, he said, as a failed state, has been made more manifest in the APC’s three years government.
That is exactly the point Saraki made at the return of senators to the New Year plenary.
We maintain that governance and not elections and re-elections should be of prime importance now. Nigeria has not moved much in the last three years that the APC took over from PDP. The frenzy for the election must be subdued by visible performance by those currently saddled with the responsibility. As things stands currently, the elections, if it comes now, may be a disservice to the ruling party. That is not to say that the major opposition PDP would appeal to Nigerians more. The truth is that the two major parties need to convince Nigerians on their value for the 2019 elections.
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