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Football exile! An imitation that may hurt

By Harry Iwuala
There is reason for stake-holders in sports (football) to see a sliver lining in the recent drastic measures government announced to address the industry’s problem(s).

For one, it is now evident that we have a government that considers sports (football) serious business unlike the past administrations that have treated sports as some kind of recreation.

Before now, the attitude of successive administrations towards sports is reflected in the characters that have been appointed to the office of Minister of Sports and the consistent sweeping of matters of corruption in sports under the rugs.

The appointment of no less a person as a State Governor to head the Presidential Task Force on the 2010 World Cup was indicative that government was ready to listen. The late President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua could not have ignored a state chief executive after assigning a task to him.

That was the only big score of that body created to supervise our qualification and participation in the 2010 World Cup. Their score card in the task is still being judged and soon the jury will be out.

But while we celebrate the new status of sports in the scheme of governance, the steps adopted to treat the ills seem to have been off the mark. A little background will suffice. Under the watch of the National Sports Commission, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) Board of Alhaji Sani Lulu manipulated the electoral process to such incredible level that it is now a matter of date and venue for them to return for another term.

That is a serious indictment on whoever was running sports for government. Realising that Lulu and co had completed a coup on Nigerian football, the Minister of Sports and members of the Task Force sought to scuttle the coup process and took their brief to FIFA in South Africa .

Sepp Blatter, a veteran of football politics, listened and expressed understanding, even (I am told) made un-complimentary remarks about the leadership of the NFF. But he did not sign up to counter the coup. Our Minister and his team maybe had expected at a second meeting with Blatter to secure a firm commitment that Lulu will not be welcome at Zurich next time. Sorry, that is not the way of international sports diplomacy. So the panic button was pushed.

The two-year self-exile from football is, (pardon my language ) a typical Niger Delta militant approach’. Oh, Ghana did it before and now has rediscovered their art. Folks, we did not take a leave from international football to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. Brazil , Holland , Spain , Argentina and some other football world powers did not have to order a black-out of their youths to attain greatness in the game.

Must we copy bad examples and whoever said what worked for Ghana will work for Nigeria? My experience of this country is whatever is disorganised never gets better afterwards. Look at NEPA, NITEL and the Steel Industry etc.

But more importantly, what is the big issue about a FIFA ban? A notion has been sold to government that any attempt to scuttle the contrived re-election of the board will curry grave consequences from FIFA.

There can be no bigger lie. FIFA is a body that parasites on government and will always talk sense when they notice the government has a good case. If we have found the NFF Board to be corrupt, there are appropriate government agencies to handle those fingered. Moreso, how can Lulu pocket the State Football Associations that are appendages of the state governments?

The instrument of state power has been what the Sports Ministry deploys to elect people like Lulu whom in the past were called government nominees. Are those instruments not available anymore?

I remember how this was used in 2002 to scuttle the legitimate election of Mrs. Violet Odogwu Nwajei as President of Athletic Federation of Nigeria (AFN) because Mr. Adeyemi Wilson, the government candidate could not muster enough delegates. It was going to work against Mr. Solomon Ogba, the current President of AFN until Governor Suswam of Benue State backed out.

What will happen to Nigeria after 2012 is that we won’t be part of 2013 Nations Cup and will also not be part of 2014 World Cup since we would not have participated in the preliminaries. The careers of millions of youths who are targeting a break-through at international tournaments are imperiled.

Finally, it is never too late in the day to amend ways gone awry. The President may have to reverse this decision because it does more harm than good. Whoever gave him this advice should own up and apologise to the President for misleading the government.

Lulu and co are not such powerful for the NSC to handle if those manning the commission have nothing to hide.


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