By Onochie Anibeze
Sports minister Bolaji Abdullahi was still wallowing in his innocence when he promised to visit aggrieved members of the football family to prostrate to them and beg for peace.
Bolaji spoke at the Senate Hearing on sports on Tuesday and was said to have received standing ovation. Bolaji is just about three months in office as sports minister. On assumption he faced a catalogue of problems. Revelations have now shown that some were orchestrated by his own ministry. What an embarrassment the minister must have faced when Austin Popo took the floor at the Senate Hearing and told the house what followers of our sports politics already knew but which was new to him.
Popo gave account, before the minister and other sports personalities, on how the ministry had a hand in many of the problems in football and how they even sponsored some court cases against the football house. Popo mentioned names and dates and spoke of how they tried to use him and some ex footballers to frustrate Nigeria’s qualification to the 2010 World Cup so that the Lulu Board of NFF would be sacked.
For your information, Austin Popo is the chairman of one of the footballers’ unions. He actually started footballers’ union with Harrison Jalla but later they parted ways. That was the moment I stopped identifying with them as unionists. Somehow, Popo’s faction is recognized by the football federation. His revelations, I’m sure, have given a clearer picture to the sports minister on the problems affecting our sports especially football. There are genuine problems of age cheating, coaching, funding, administration etc. And there are the stage-managed problems that unfortunately consumed the greater time of the minister in his so far short stay in office. At a time the minister was running up and down trying to solve the problem on a flimsy nomenclature, he should have busied himself on how to prepare Nigeria for the Olympics and other matters.
But the good thing about the Senate Hearing is that the minister now knows the truth – that the problem is not in the name of our football house but in the politics played around it. And this is why I’m telling him today that he can go on to prostrate before some people but he must tarry awhile before he makes commitment on behalf of the football family.
The minister, no doubt, means well. He was momentarily a victim of the dirty politics in the house but now he knows better. And no one can fault his peace initiatives. I say this because there are genuine stakeholders like Sam Sam Jaja who were wrongly disqualified from contesting election and only sought redress from court after their moves to get justice from the Court of Arbitration and NFF failed. To such people, Bolaji can prostrate but not to those who were sponsored to make trouble or their sponsors.
A line must be drawn now otherwise many will take advantage of the minister’s peace initiative to cause more problems in our football and hope to be compensated or prostrated to by an honourble minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I frowned at the minister and NFF members for agreeing to violate FIFA’s statutes in the process of achieving peace but Mike itemuagbor, the sports marketer disagreed, saying that no price was too much for peace. I agreed. I wondered why the NFF members would stoop so low to even flout sections their statutes and those of FIFA that forbade taking football matters to conventional courts. But if that was for peace and smooth running of our football so be it. But I was still embittered for I knew the truth. I knew that there were orchestrations to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it.
I knew that some of the court cases were sponsored. I knew that people who lost election or who failed to get their candidates in but failed to do so simply wanted to pull the house down and launched series of campaigns to achieve their aim.
But I also knew that people like Jaja had genuine cases and were not among those influenced by the sports ministry politics. It is against this background that I plead with the minister to take time before he prostrates otherwise he would be according respect to those who fan the embers of crisis and this will encourage more crises. But from the bottom of my heart, I thank him for his initiative and wish him well as sports minister.
I hope that he will find time for other sports and the Olympics although it is already late for the London Olympics. Engaging Innocent Egbunike would have been done long before now. But it is better late than never. When I think of Egbunike my mind goes to the 2016 Olympics and not this summer’s London Olympics. Will Bolaji still be there? And what about Egbunike? We are never known for long term plans and I better stop dreaming here.
Honour Ojidoh, Aissien now, Mitchell Obi pleads
Ace sports commentator, Mitchell Obi spoke his mind in the aftermath of the honourary membership of the Executive Committee of NFF on Dr. Sam Sam Jaja.
Mitchell has nothing against Jaja but would like to see the likes of Pa John Ojidoh and Alabi Aissien honoured so honoured in their life time.
“We all know the records of Pa Ojidoh and Alabi Aissien in this country. Ojidoh has lived his life for sports. He was a games master, a football coach, athletics coach, a referee and football administrator of repute for years. He qualifies to be made Honourary Member of the Executive Committee of the federation in his life time.
Pa Ojidoh is in his 80s and we should honour him now. So is Alabi Aissien who has coached many top players in Nigeria. Let’s honour such people when they are alive so that they will not only be happy but will also inspire people to emulate them, ” Obi said