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The way out, Mr. President

I was driving when our Tony Ubani called me from South Africa to inform that he was on his way to get FIFA’s reaction on Nigeria’s withdrawal from their events for two years. Minutes after the news broke out in Nigeria, it was global. Ubani told me how international journalists reacted in the media centre at the World Cup. CNN, BBC, all the news agencies were celebrating the story.

Ubani got back quoting FIFA’s Mittwoch as saying that they were yet to be officially informed but warned that they were against government’s interference in football matters. When the details of Federal Government’s decision finally reached my desk I found out that they had taken care of any foreseen or unforeseen  action from FIFA. Nigeria had banned itself from FIFA activities for two years during which Nigeria would have reorganised football structure. Reactions followed.

Safe for a few, many Nigerians welcomed the development. I was surprised but I understood. The World Cup failure had added to the bitter pill that was Nigerian football. It was their reaction to many wrongs that had piled up and the President, based on the advice of the Presidential Task Force, raised the sledge hammer and let it fall heavily on Nigerian football.

I will not rigmarole on this matter. The government wanted the football federation out. They could have done that without hurting our football and without incurring FIFA’s wrath. The problem is that government lacks proper advice on sports matters. The General Congress of the football federation can vote out the Executive Board in an Extra

Ordinary Congress that could be initiated by two or three (states) members as the statutes stated. There are ways you could effect a change without government tag. In the past, the sports ministry handled such matters with ease. It did not get to the Presidency. Late Air Commodore Emeka Omeruah could not serve a second term as NFA chairman because they wanted him out. He was smoothly eased out. This was a man that had supervised over the Atlanta ’96

Olympic soccer gold medal feat and was part of the Tunisia ’94 Nations Cup victory. Omeruah was once governor of the old Anambra State. He had pedigree and achieved results. But the system wanted another person, and quietly he went. Col. Aminu, another big fish who made name as a sports loving Governor of Borno State and later the Chairman of General Babangida’s  Defence Guard had to leave as FA chairman when government wanted another person to occupy that office.

It was quietly done and Nigeria continued playing the game of football.  Kojo Williams, with all his popularity and respect in football circles, was impeached when the sports ministry wanted him out. I’m not in any way supporting the way these gentlemen were edged out but the point I’m making is that we do not need to kill our football for a period and suffer all the attendant consequences because of the failure of some people to advise government on how to achieve a change that FIFA will even applaud.

Kindly note the following: Nigeria will not compete in all international competitions for two years. It means the Nigerian league will be meaningless because the winners will not be registered for any international competition. This will finally bury the almost dead league. It means Nigeria will not compete in any age grade competition (male and female) from Under 17, Under 20 to 2012 Olympic qualifiers. It means our local clubs will not play in all continental championships. They will lose out in the chance to earn money as big as over $2 million in case of CAF Champions League victory.

It means some of our players may not have chance to join clubs abroad during the period. It means the business of football will drop and possibly die during the period. Those selling soccer boots, balls and other soccer materials will be out of job for a period. It means unemployment to some in the soccer industry. It means that those of us reporting sports should now face the coverage of foreign leagues. No more local content? It means Nigeria missing out in the next one or two Nations Cups and possibly the next World Cup. Those who advised government to withdraw from football probably saw it as a mere recreation and did not consider the business side of it. This action will render many jobless.

And all this was for the fear of FIFA banning us. The truth is that FIFA has been misrepresented before government. If government gave NFA money for the World Cup and wanted the body to account for it FIFA would not protect them if they were found wanting. I strongly feel that government did not make adequate consultations before the action. When some people commended government action on Wednesday, my colleague Jacob Ajom likened it to the feelings people generally expressed each time there was a military coup in our dark days.

Nigerians always welcomed coups on basis of failure of the sitting government only to find out that each successive military government was worse than the predecessor.

“With time, the same people commending this action now will condemn it as a big mistake. We don’t need to set ourselves back because of a group of people,” Ajom said.
One ex-international called from abroad to say “do we also ban the political parties because they have failed us? Do we

withdraw or collapse the governance because government has failed us? There must be a way to work the system. That is why people are clamouring for free and fair election so that the votes can initiate a change.”

That reminded me that the government could also mobilise to vote the FA out and still reorganise our football without hurting the game. I strongly believe that President Jonathan was not well advised and those who thumbed up his action  acted on the spur of the moment which was understandable. But I know that the President means well and can re-address this issue with time. After all, this government once withdrew from the hosting of the last World Under 17 Soccer Championship after bidding and winning the hosting right.

But when voice of reason prevailed they re-adressed the matter. This can be done for there are many ways government can achieve their laudable objectives without hurting the game and denying many means of livelihood.


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