Nigeria: Odegbami - Spoiling for Another Chaos in Nigerian Football

29 April 2021

Writing in Today.ngblog of April 24, 2021, under the title: "Re-setting the Button of Nigeria Football Administration", our revered Chief Segun Odegbami wants the Honourable Minister of Sports, Mr Sunday Dare, to dismantle the statutes and structures of the Nigeria Football Federation to pave way for certain unidentified class of persons to succeed President Amaju Pinnick's board when their tenure expires in late 2022.

Echoing Harrison Jalla's position, Odegbami insists the statutes is the bane of Nigerian football administration and development and he wants the minister to immediately start the process of tearing it down, irrespective of how and what the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) might feel or do.

My immediate reaction is simply to ask Mr Dare to beware. Any discerning reader would readily see that "Mathematical" is simply stoking the embers for another season of anomie in Nigerian football.

We have had one too many. From inception, the Pinnick board had been dragged in circles of harassment and intimidation through successive ministerial regimes until the Presidency had to step forward to declare its disposition for Nigerian football to remain aligned with the universal statutes of world association football.

But howbeit that they have come out unscathed from several attacks, the distractions and destabilisation have had its toll on the home game.

The NFF statutes in question was approved by its congress, has been passed as a bill by the National Assembly and only awaiting the assent of President Muhammadu Buhari . That is what Odegbami and Jalla wants Sunday Dare to dismantle to suit their convenience for possible shot into the NFF board.

Should anybody even consider any need for amendment to the statutes, it is not a matter for abrasive action such as could drag the Honourable Minister and our nation into conflicts. There are simple procedures, including raising the points with his state FA or the Players' Union to table a motion at the NFF Congress.

Rather than focusing on politics to heat up the polity and creating distraction in Nigerian football, the major concern for stakeholders at this time should be organising properly to ensure the Super Eagles' qualification to the Qatar FIFA World Cup and successful outing at the forthcoming African Cup of Nations tournament in Cameroon, all happening in 2022.

The task is to ensure adequate and smooth financing for the Super Eagles' eight qualifying matches to the World Cup which are to be concluded over a short four months period, their campaign in the AFCON and the necessary friendlies and camping to both events

It is common knowledge that the government budget for the NFF this year is less than N1billion for all the activities of all the national teams. That can only be enough for about four Super Eagles away games. Under the prevailing difficult economic climate, there is even no certainty on when the funds would be released, like we have experienced before.

True stakeholders should worry about that and the implications for coming events for all the teams and other development programmes.

In 2010 and 2014, the government saw reasons to set up a Presidential Task Force to source funds from the corporate community to support the Super Eagles qualification campaigns and participation at the World Cups proper.

Things are even tougher now and there is just how far the NFF can go with sponsorship marketing as brands and corporate organisations are currently focusing mostly on their survival. Even for sponsors to come in, Nigerian football requires some stability.

At this time, the politics of succession into the NFF board with the suggested dismantling of the NFF statutes just to help the political ambition of a few persons would be a major and devastating distraction for Nigerian football.

We may recall that Nigeria did not qualify for the 2006 World Cup and the 2012, 2015 and 2017 AFCONS. It was all due to crises and some of those instigating another fresh one were fingered in most of them.

One major problem in the Nigerian football environment is the sense of entitlement and insatiable craving for administrative power by a section of ex-footballers. They give the impression that they, only, know the game and unless and until they are given positions of leadership on a platter, whatever incumbent leaderships do must stand condemned. Yet, many people are aware that playing the game is different from coaching, managing and administering it.

We have had a good number of Nigerian ex-footballers coach the Super Eagles and other national teams and we know their scorecards. Odegbami himself have had administrative and managerial opportunities with the National Institute for Sports, Gateway United FC of Abeokuta, Shooting Stars Sports Club of Ibadan and even programme sponsorship by Shell Development Company. We know the outcomes.

We also know how so much he craved to be Secretary General of the NFF and the double speaks involved in the process, from Kano to Abuja, and how he also desired to be President of FIFA. As such, we necessarily must look at his gift horses in the mouth.

It is curious too that he would want us and the Honourable Minister to take Jalla seriously after he himself has described him in the following terms in his write up: "A person perceived as a rabble-rouser and trouble maker by many... His message... was not echoed anywhere... To many stakeholders, he is a pain in the... and a thorn in the flesh of successive football administrators... Even among his colleagues of the footballers' fraternity, he has made more enemies in the struggle for the soul of Nigerian football administration... Many people "hate" the man and condemn his methods... "

I wonder how these "many people" can be wrong and only Odegbami and Jalla always in the right.

I recall also that Jalla was in the vanguard of those who seized the NFF Secretariat on a couple of occasions after the Russia 2018 World Cup, a development that drove away a number of existing and prospective sponsors.

Even the attribution that "he has been in the vanguard of promoting the interests and welfare of Nigerian ex-football players" remains questionable given the then Secretary, Austin Popo's testimonies when he broke away from Jalla's National Association of Nigerian Footballers(NANF) and the fact that FifPro, the international body has de-accredited the body. That is the man Odegbami is recommending to the Honourable Minister.

Odegbami underscored the possibility that Jalla may be driven by a personal, excessive and obsessive grudge against Pinnick when he wrote: "His most recent spat has been with the President of the NFF, Amaju Pinnick, who he pursued with petitions even up to FIFA in a futile effort to disqualify him from contesting for a seat on the FIFA Executuve Council... I wonder why some higher authorities have not waded into their matter and settled them."

Jalla's beef could be because the NFA proceeded to de-recognize NANF and opted to be dealing with Popo's Association of Professional Footballers of Nigeria (APFN). But, tell me which true patriot will seek to stop his compatriot from attaining strategic heights in the international arena?

Thankfully, the Nigerian Presidency stood for Pinnick as it also stood for Dr Akinwunmi Adesina for Presidency of the Africa Development Bank and for Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Director General of the World Trade Organisation. These gestures are not only for solidarity, the Presidency clearly understands the leverage such positions can bring to the nation.

Had Jalla succeeded in stopping Pinnick, it would have been a huge miss for Nigeria but a huge victory for his clan.

If Pinnick is their problem, truth is, we cannot play our football politics with disregard for the currents in the international environment. Pinnick led the charge against Issa Hayatou in CAF even when the home ministry bellyached at his emergence into the Executive Committee. When the successor, Ahmad Ahmad, betrayed him, also with the support of high placed elements at home, he also suffered consequences while Pinnick has had an upswing.

For such a homeboy who is well entrenched in the global stage, Nigerians should see him as an asset to be cultivated for his experience, contacts, goodwill and reach, not only for home advantage but also to pull other compatriots up into the system.

Climbing the ladders of world football governance is a not a game of puerile exuberance. It requires unity both at home and connection within the right international circles. Should Nigeria approach the home politics brashly, we all will be the losers in the country, in the continent and at the world stage.

The forced-in newcomers would have to start all over from the block and it could take more than a decade for them to achieve any reckoning.

The least we can do is to consolidate on our present gains with Pinnick and remain solidly in tune with FIFA and CAF, not to launch another season of intimidation, harassment and chaos in our football. As they say in common parlance, let's apply sense.

Edoreh is the immediate past Chairman of Sportswriters Association of Nigeria (SWAN) Lagos Chapter

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