With the dust yet to settle from another calamitous showing by the Super Eagles, the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) has taken centre-stage in the degrading show emanating from the nation’s football space. It wasn’t enough that we’d been banished into anonymity by cumulative years of mediocrity, the NFF – those charged with the administration of our football (or whatever has become of it) – continue without fail to add insult to our injuries.
While it may be unfair to completely blame the Glass House for the Eagles failure to secure successive tickets for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), their propensity to serve up demoralising encores leaves the average fan with little choice. It was inevitable that the Eagles Afcon fail would open a can of worms, but instead of rolling our sleeves to clean up the mess, we choose instead to be mired in mudslinging while the decay deepens.
The prospects are grim, with a national team in disarray and a football house turned on its head, but the past was just as murky, a fact not lost on long-suffering fans of the Nigerian game. Indeed, we are poor students of history; from fans and their unwavering support that borders on gullibility, to the administrators who continue to stumble on the same stone, blinded as it were by the prevailing moral bankruptcy in the land. And once again, almost poetically, our football is on the rocks despite a sense of revival in the not-too-distant past.
On April 11, world football governing body FIFA, through its acting general secretary Markus Kattner, wrote the NFF and threatened an indefinite suspension if the leadership crisis bedeviling the house isn’t immediately resolved with a reversal to the status quo. This came in the wake of a ruling on April 8 by a federal high court sitting in Jos that sacked the executive committee of the NFF led by its president Amaju Pinnick, installing Ambassador Chris Giwa as substantive head of the organisation. The court had reportedly granted a prayer by the Chairman Senate Committee on Sports, Senator Obinna Ogba and a certain Yahaya Adama to relist the suit in the leadership tussle of the Glass House and sustain all previous orders thereby making Chris Giwa the president of the federation.
Whether Senator Ogba’s role in the turn of events was one of legislative oversight or another manifestation of myopia is a debate, for another day, of course.
Giwa, eager to fulfill his divine mandate of moving Nigerian football away from Egypt (pun intended) quickly stormed the NFF headquarters along with his coterie of assistants after a press conference at the aptly named Numero Uno Hotel. This putsch was in spite of an appeal for a stay of execution filed by the Pinnick-led board, prompting the authorities to seal off the NFF premises hours before FIFA’s response. It will be the third time FIFA has threatened Nigeria with a ban since the hammer first dropped in July, 2014, and now, just like then, the chain reaction was triggered by another Eagles no-show.
Immediate past president of the NFF Aminu Maigari didn’t know what hit him on his return home from the Brazil 2014 World Cup where Nigeria went down meekly to France in the second round. Amidst growing discontent across the country over the team’s below-par performance and unspeakable excesses, ambitious NFF officials saw their opening and before long Maigari was facing charges of financial impropriety and abuse of power which preceded his eventual removal from office. It was then that Giwa first appeared on the scene having been elected, or selected as president by a ragtag group of delegates with Maigari, NFF general secretary Musa Amadu and chairman of the Technical and Development Committee, Barr Chris Green in DSS custody.
The consequences of a FIFA ban soon dawned on the splinter group, paving the way for a fresh congress in Warri that saw the emergence of Pinnick as the new president of the federation. All hopes of a new day were scuppered, however, as Giwa – growing in his new role as pantomime villain of Nigerian football – returned with a court order nullifying Pinnick’s election and declaring him head of the body. Naturally, the FIFA hammer came dangling again, only it was in the middle of the qualifiers for Afcon 2015 and it took the intervention of then president Goodluck Jonathan for the gladiators to sheath their swords and eliminate the imminent danger.
In the intervening period, Giwa has taken his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) and lost, while a farcical ‘peace meeting’, held at the behest of the Sports Minister Solomon Dalung, unsurprisingly ended in rancour. As the clamour for change mounts following the Eagles recent failure, Giwa returned to the courts (he probably has a warped sense of being a law-abiding citizen) to stir the Hornet’s nest, bringing the FIFA hammer perilously close to our heads. But then one may ask: isn’t it time the FIFA hammer dropped? Maybe that’s what we need to break free from the vicious cycle of opportunism and ineptitude, and undo the shackles of mediocrity and underachievement.
That much-feared FIFA hammer, whose mere mention whips errant football officials into line, may finally have to drop before we can rise again.
An appraisal of the likely scenario of a FIFA ban makes it an increasingly bearable, if not tantalising prospect for us. Firstly, huge amounts will be saved in the budgetary allocation to sports as a result of non-participation in international football events where the cost of travel, camping, bonuses and allowances has constituted a considerable strain on our limited resources. The extra saving becomes available for alternative uses such as procurement of modern facilities, refresher courses for coaches and long-term development of our athletes.
Besides, a ban on football would have the ripple effect of engendering development in other sports that have been starved of attention for too long. Athletics was once our strong suit but has been run aground with the dominance of football, while we’ve displayed great potentials in wrestling, boxing, ping-pong, basketball and volleyball. Suffice to say, the sporting sector is screaming for diversification.
Furthermore, a ban would lead to less pressure for elective offices thereby screening out charlatans and leaving our game in capable hands. Also, apart from sparing us the all too frequent heartbreaks from the Super Eagles, a FIFA ban affords Nigeria a better excuse to miss the Afcon than the ignominy of not qualifying.
The good news is, we just may get that ban this time around as the extraordinary congress convened by the NFF to resolve the crisis fell apart, with Pinnick appealing to the Inspector-General of Police to arrest the ‘disruptive’ Giwa the next day. The gods of the game may not have turned their backs on us after all as the feud looks set to go on, increasing the prospect of a ban. In the words of Otto Von Bismarck:
“The great question of the day will be decided by iron and blood”.
We’ve had a soft-landing for too long – leading us to ruin. We need that FIFA hammer right now, like a desert needs the rain!
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