By Patrick Omorodion
Bayelsa-born Senator, Heineken Lokpobiri is gradually turning the Media Officer and image maker of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, Ademola Olajire into a redundant staff as he now speaks and defends the federationâ€™s actions and inactions more than contributing to the business of making laws for the country.
By his position as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Sports, Lokpobiri is supposed to be in the vanguard of those pushing the bill expected to give the National Sports Commission, NSC a legal teeth, to become a reality.
At the Africa Nations Cup in Ghana where the Eagles put up a below par performance, a defence was put up for the NFF who should be castigated while the players were dubbed unpatriotic.
And when the Eagles could not fly against Tunisia on September 6 at the Abuja National Stadium, the same Lokpobiri came up with a laughable excuse of Sports Editors voting for the hiring of coach Shaibu Amodu against the recommendation of Samson Siasia by the Taiwo Ogunjobi-led technical department.
And just last Tuesday, a day after the Flying Eagles lost their second match at the on-going FIFA U-20 World Cup in Egypt against Spain, Lokpobiri was quoted by the NFF Media Officer, Olajire, again defending the federation for giving the players adequate preparation for the World Cup.
Hear Lokpobiri: â€œSincerely speaking, no one can blame the football body for the teamâ€™s poor show in the first two matches. They sent the team out for training camps in Qatar and Spain and the team attended an invitational tournament here in Egypt prior to this competition. There was no talk of money troubles and I gathered they were even ready to double the playersâ€™ match bonus if they won.
â€œThe football body has done well and our questions must go to the players. I agree that the referee was quite bad in his officiating and one wonders why a match between an African country and a European country should be officiated by Europeans. But our players had opportunities to win the game and simply threw them away.â€
The Senator is speaking as if he alone lives in Nigeria to know what the NFF is doing. What does he mean by sending the team to Qatar and Spain for training, how many weeks of training? When did Siasia take over from a fumbling Ladan Bosso who the NFF swore to retain until the outcry of Nigerians became too loud for them to muffle?
Did he find out how many weeks the other teams trained or how long they have been together to get the desired blend for a competition of that magnitude? If it were not that Siasia is his kinsman, he should have blamed him also, saying the NFF gave him all he needed to excel.
Where was Lokpobiri when Siasia was crying out that time was going and his team were yet to begin preparation for the World Cup? When were the players finally given visa to proceed to Spain? Did he not also know that some key players never got visa to travel? Whose responsibility is it for players and their officials to get travelling visa, is it the players or their coach?
For Godâ€™s sake, let the Senator stop questioning the choice of a referee for the match. European referees have handled matches where Nigerian teams beat their European counterparts, so Lokpobiriâ€™s argument is too pedestal and unbecoming of a Nigerian Senator.
He doesnâ€™t have to start castigating players because they lost matches but leave the body that failed to give them adequate preparation. Even if he was in Egypt courtesy of the NFF, it is not enough to blindly support them.
And I want Nigerians to ask Senator Lokpobiri what is special about the U-20 World Cup that he left all he is supposed to be doing back home to join supporters in Egypt, yes that is the only thing he can do there, clap for the players. How many lawmakers like him from other countries are in Egypt to cheer their team. Money meant to provide enough training for our athletes are often reserved to sponsors government officials who sports administrators always rely on to defend them in case they fail or are being probed. Lokpobiri should be told in clear terms that his duty as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Sports should be to make laws that would help sports development in the country and not to provide cover for failed or thieving administrators. Let him start by ensuring that the NFFâ€™s stolen $236,000 is recovered and the culprits prosecuted. That is when Nigerians would believe he is working.