On Tuesday FIFA, the body in charge of governing football around the world, finally got fed with the shenanigans surrounding the “beautiful game” in Nigeria and issued an ultimatum for the country to get its act together or be suspended.
Amazingly, this will be the umpteenth time that Zurich will be issuing such a threat on account of our repeated failure to settle issues concerning the game in the country ourselves.
Ironically, the last warning was issued just four years after the World Cup finals in Brazil when FIFA suspended Nigeria from international football over government’s interference in the running of its national federation.
The emergency committee of the world governing body said back then the blanket ban would come into place with “immediate effect”.
However, it was clear that dark clouds were building in the run up to the Brazil 2014 Mundial over rumbles in the “Glass House” then controlled by Alhaji Aminu Maigari. He was at logger heads with the powers that be, having been accused of financial impropriety and told in no uncertain terms to vacate office, which he resisted. He was even briefly arrested at the airport on his arrival from Brazil 2014.
However, after this crude attempt to arm-twist him out of office failed and with the FIFA suspension in place, the powerbrokers changed tact and got the NFF Board to do their bidding in effecting change at the Glass House.
Consequently, the Board first got the suspension lifted by writing FIFA to tell them all was well before holding an Emergency Meeting where eight of the 13 board members of the Federation voted in favour of Maigari’s impeachment.
As expected, four pro-Maigari board members, namely Chris Green, Emeka Inyama, Ahmed Fresh and Ahmed Kwande refused to sign the impeachment notice.
The eight members that signed the document included First Vice President of the NFF, Mike Umeh, Effiong Johnson, Mua’zu Suleiman, Shehu Adamu, Deji Tinubu, Dilichukwu Onyedima, Felix Anyansi-Agwu and Ahmed Kawu, who later told reporters that his signature was forged.
After the impeachment, Mike Umeh was appointed as the Acting President of the NFF pending when the next elections would hold.
However, rather than Maigari’s removal bringing peace to the house of football the situation only became messier at the next election, which held on August 26, 2014, where Chris Giwa defeated Umeh in the poll marred by electoral apathy. Only 29 of 44 members voted in the election supported by former Sports Minister Tammy Danagogo.
Consequently, another election spear-headed by the Maigari-board took place in Warri on September 30, 2014 and brought up Amaju Pinnick as president of the NFF, a choice supported by former FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
Since then the “beautiful game” has known no peace in the country with the power tussle over the control of the game between Pinnick and Giwa hugging the headlines on an almost daily basis.
With both men digging in and football surely to be the big loser, Giwa decided to take his fight to court, though acutely aware that FIFA frowns at such actions.
And on Friday, April 8, 2016 a Federal High Court in Jos nullified the Warri elections that brought in Pinnick and ruled that the Plateau-born sports administrator be sworn in as the NFF boss, a verdict which Pinnick’s faction immediately appealed and asked for a stay-of-execution.
However, it is this breach of FIFA’s rules that obliges member associations to manage their own affairs “independently and with no influence from third parties,” that has brought us to the precipice again.
But the disease afflicting football in the country appears to have a four-year cycle as almost every time the crisis is linked to the board elections.
Before this latest problem, the cycle had reared its head in 2010 when Alhaji Sani Lulu had barely returned from the World Cup in South Africa when he too was engulfed in the strife and was accused of mismanaging N2.16 billion of the federation during his tenure from 2006 to 2010.
Lulu, his 1st Vice President Amanze Uchegbulam, Chief Taiwo Ogunjobi and Dr. Bolaji Ojo-Oba, were all hauled before a court on corruption charges after they were impeached (which was later rescinded).
The crisis that engulfed the NFF at that time also brought threats of a FIFA axe falling on the country before wise heads ensured that the principal actors (names mentioned above) were ousted by their Board members.
Four years before the “Lulu Crisis” there was Alhaji Ibrahim Galadima, whose tenure was almost constantly buffeted by the so-called “Football Stakeholders” who wanted the Kano-born administrator out by all means ostensibly because he was not willing to play “ball”.
Sadly like most things in this country, the issues in contention are not how to develop the “beautiful game” in Nigeria but are mainly selfish and egoistic on the part of the protagonists.
Coincidentally, it appears that the four-year Glass House crisis cycle tallies with the quadrennial World Cup, which confers quite a lot of money on the nations that qualify. This is “good news” for some, especially in this country where we all know the importance of money in our lives.
It thus should not come as a surprise that virtually every time there is a major issue in sports it surrounds football and this is simply because that is where the money is!
How many times have we heard about crisis in the Hockey, Judo or Swimming federations? We will not because they do not have the kind of funds football has to play with!
And because government knows how much Nigerians love their football, that it why it is willing to give billions of naira to the Glass House to enable national teams take part in major football tournaments.
I’m not aware that any of the national teams has failed to take part in a football competition on account of lack of funds – government will rather borrow money than allow our Super Eagles be walked over! It may happen to the Swimming or Hockey teams but definitely not football.
It is only football that money for chartered flights materialise like magic, while other sports struggle to find their way to their venues (that is if they even enter the competition in the first instance).
Is it not puzzling that some of our billionaires who love football are never considered to run the Glass House? The simple reason is that such people will never condole the massive wastage that goes on there – which will not benefit the Board members and their benefactors, both in the National Assembly and the Sports Ministry.
Although I was not in Russia, but I was told of how many government officials were at the World Cup obviously on the account of the NFF. At South Africa 2010, two aircrafts arrived almost simultaneously from Nigeria carrying government officials, Assembly and party members, wives and girlfriends to the bewilderment of the airport staff at the Oliver Tambo International Airport.
Will we finally extricate ourselves from the latest FIFA suspension threat? The answer is yes. Already the Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo has waded in. But then, while his efforts will solve this problem we only need to wait till after the 2022 World Cup before we can finally breathe a sigh of relief that the problem has been settled once and for all if we do not receive another warning from Zurich!
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