Killing Nigerian Football, Softly!

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If not for last-minute withdrawal of the court judgment that sacked the Executive Committee of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) and Sports Ministry’s reversal of its arrogant posture, Nigerian football would have been flushed down the water closet once again by a FIFA ban. The last time we were banned from international football contacts was in 1996 when CAF applied the rules when we, as AfCON defending champions refused to participate in the tournament in South Africa because of the political and diplomatic row between General Sani Abacha and Madiba Nelson Mandela. We were banned for two years and as such could not participate in all CAF-organized competitions, including AfCON 1998 in Burkina Faso. This ban extended to the world level as we could not play in CAF-organized qualifiers for FIFA competitions.

Our first ever embarrassing moment was in 1989, when Nigeria’s youth national teams were banned by FIFA from all age-grade international soccer competitions. Our undoing? We fielded, hitherto, over-aged players in FIFA-organized youth tournaments. The birth dates of three players at the 1988 Olympics were different from the ones used by those players at previous tournaments. The resulting ban lasted for two years and Nigeria was also stripped of its right to host the 1991 FIFA World Youth Championship. This was self-inflicted injury as the sports and football were, for personal or financial benefits, the protagonists of the age frauds. It was however extremely embarrassing for a nation that had done so well at world levels at the youth stage, winning the maiden Under 17 World Cup in 1985, getting to the final of the same tournament in Canada in 1987, reaching the final of the Under 20 World Cup in Saudi Arabia in 1989 and clinching several Under 15 FIFA-organized competitions. The indictment and eventual ban therefore put a question mark on these previous exploits, which did Nigeria no good.

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The current development was characterized by a suspension after a FIFA Emergency Committee meeting on Wednesday, of Nigeria, from all international football activities with immediate effect, on account of government interference in football administration. The impasse was instigated by a court order from Jos removing the Aminu Maigari-led NFF Executive Committee. Attempts by the Minister of Sports and his cronies in the NFF Congress to paint a picture that a constitutional process and NFF statutes were instrumental in the sack by convening a Congress to legitimate the court (government) action, was rebuffed FIFA as it nevertheless, wielded the warning hammer and promised an outright ban if the court order was not vacated and the Maigari-led NFF was not reinstated. The court is part of the judiciary, and the judiciary is the third organ of government. FIFA was therefore right: it was government interference!

Now the NFF was sacked by the court and the Sports Minister’s friends in the NFF Congress for the following reasons: “The unfortunate incident of the international embarrassment caused the Nigerian nation at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, by failure of the Aminu Maigari-led NFF to fully and firmly resolve issues of finance with the Super Eagles ahead of the championship”; the “shortchanging of grassroots development by failure to regularly avail State Football Associations of annual grants”; and “abuse of NFF Statutes in its constitution of NFF Electoral Committee, by altering the list of persons approved by the Congress at the 2013 General Assembly in Warri, Delta State, and inaugurating a different Committee”.

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These were the reasons for the purported sack. Flimsy excuses! If one probes further, one would discover the Baribote dimension- an overambitious Barrister-at-Law who, since four years ago, has desperately sought to become NFF President. One might also find out that those crying wolf and seeking the fall of Maigari might be the ones that are not benefitting financially or materially from his administration. It could also be as petty as the angry persons that did not benefit from his selection of those for the Brazil tea-party. It could also be because of the NFF President’s sticking to the idea of keeping Stephen Keshi for the World Cup show, thus leaving out a powerful click who always waits for the FIFA mundial to make money from shopping for foreign coaches.

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It could have been any frivolous reason because Maigari’s sterling performance and achievements fro Nigerian football since he took over four years ago were suddenly swept under the carpet and only those “stupid sins” could now become the galvanizing force for a thankless removal. A man shopped for the right indigenous coach who has broken several cases of soccer jinx in the last two years. Maigari’s Super Eagles brought honour to Nigeria with the AfCON victory only last year. More honour came by participation and shining in the FIFA Confederation Cup in 2013. There was a colourful qualification for the 2014 World Cup and Nigeria crossed the preliminaries after sixteen years of failing to do so. The Maigari team won for Nigeria still in 2013 the Under 17 World Cup for the fourth time and for the first time, by boys who were really 17 years and below. The football body introduced internal checks and tests for reading of actual ages, which made Nigeria earn FIFA and global trust once again, which had been farfetched hitherto.

What more then, did the Sports Minister and his NFF friends in the Congress want? Sack a winning team and then put in there, greenhorns and mediocrities, who would start from the scratch and unleash failure on the nation once again? What is the logic? What is the sense in that sack?

Of course, we understand the ethnic and political dimension to the whole episode. Erstwhile Sports Minister, Bolaji Abdullahi, who was the set-man of the winning team, was sacked by President Goodluck Jonathan, for political reasons. Abdullahi was allegedly the nominee of Senator Bukola Saraki, a former PDP chieftain who had defected to the rival political party, APC. Like other candidates of the defecting PDP members who had been sacked from the administration, Bolaji too must go. In Bolaji’s place was Dr. Tamuno Danagogo, President Jonathan’s kinsman. Maigari, a Northerner and also Bolaji’s team-player, can no longer fit into the scheme of things. He must go. Legal action might be the safest means to get that task done. Danagogo did not waste time to appoint his kinsman, Lawrence Katken to oversee the NFF, immediately after that purported sack of Maigari.

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There is no doubt therefore, that Danagogo and his cronies are killing Nigerian football with ethnic and political sentiments. They are incompetent and do not have the interest of Nigeria at heart. Such persons should not be running even a public primary school, let alone a Sports Ministry. If they cannot see any reason why success should be consolidated and sustained and eschew tribalism or nepotism in doing so, then they should use the exit door. President Jonathan too has not done well by sacking an achiever for political reasons and then putting in his place, his ethnic brother.

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