By Patrick Omorodion
One time First Vice Chairman of the Nigeria Football Association, Barrister Richard Nwabufo Obienu predicted that the present Board of the football house will run aground. He said so following the way the members pushed out the Alhaji Ibrahim Galadima Board.
He said then that like robbers who fight over the sharing of their loot, the Sani Lulu Abdulahi-led Board would fight themselves and then Nigerians would know that Galadima was not really the problem of football in this country.
Four members, Sani Lulu, President, Amanze Uchegbulam, First Vice President, Taiwo Ogunjobi, Chairman of the Technical Committee and Bolaji Ojo-Oba, Secretary General became all and all in the re-christened Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), sidelining other members.
When Dr. Peter Singabele questioned why only the four men ran the affairs of the NFF, they slammed him with an indefinite suspension which was lifted only recently. Another member who incurred their wrath was Second Vice President and Chairman of the Nigeria Premier League (NPL), Chief Oyuki Obaseki. His offence, blocking the NFF from sharing from the sponsorship money Globacom doled out to the NPL for running the Globacom Premier League.
Backed by their godfather and powerful czar of Nigeriaâ€™s football, Dr. Amos Adamu, through the hand of Esau and voice of Jacob formula, they fought hard to impeach Chief Obaseki, but the Bini Chief survived their onslaught. Dr Adamu himself later confessed that he was behind their quarrel during a seminar organised by the NPL in Abuja last year.
Running football without a clear vision, the NFF has succeeded in taking football several years backward, to the extent that the country is losing, if not lost, all her strongholds in the game in the continent.
Name it from U-17 to female football and even the senior national team where the Super Eagles were fast losing grip with respect to the 2010 World Cup qualifier until President Umar Musaarâ€™Adua thoughtfully set up a President Task Force as a back-up.
Those who read Paul Bassey in Vanguard on Monday would have been shocked that even Lulu himself confirmed his Boardâ€™s failure when he reeled out one failure of the Board after another. And would anyone then query former Bauchi State Football Association chairman, Alhaji Shuaibu Ahmed gara-Gombe who said Lulu does not deserve a second term when his tenure expires next year?
The crux of this piece is the U-17 World Cup which Nigeria will be hosting in about two months from now. The NFF left the control of organisation of the event to their godfather who gathered the same people with whom he ran the Organising Committee for the 2003 All Africa Games, described as a conduiutv pipe through which the country was fleeced thoroughly. The audit report on COJA did not see the light of day as very influential government functionaries were reported to be involved in the scam.
What happened, a bogus budget of N37 billion was presented the Federal Government which almost burst the presidentâ€™s head for him to ask FIFA to carry its competition elsewhere. That Nigeria is finally hosting it is as a result of the intervention of eminent Nigerians and not any effort of the people saddled with the running of football.
After the embarrassment of over inflation of the U-17 World Cup budget, another bigger embarrassment would have come from Nigeriaâ€™s disqualification from a competition she is hosting because of the win-at-all-cost attitude of the NFF, all to boost their profile as having performed well.
The NFF, after tinkering with the appointment of coaches on sentiments rather than track record and costing the country the African U-17 title, packed the team full with over-aged players drawn from the Nigeria Premier League unaware that FIFA was coming out with a more scientific way of fishing out players above the stipulated age of 17 and under. Reports have it that the scan carried out on the players showed that 16 of them were over the age, even though the NFF is trying to cover up, saying it is not aware of any such report. But was any screening Carried out on the players? If so what is the outcome? Nigerians deserve to know.
If the country is able to avoid the embarrassment of being disqualified at home, the other embarrassment awaiting the citizens is the presentation of a team that may not go beyond the first round. This is because coach John Obuh does not have the time to assemble a new team that could represent the country honourably between now and their first match against Germany on October 24, 2009.
One thing is clear, the U-17 competition is a developmental one but officials of the NFF see it as one to win at all cost to boost their profile. Several Nigerians, from Chief Segun Odegbami, Anthony Kojo Williams to Adokie Amiesimaka and Barrister Obienu among many others, have voiced out the need to get real U-17 players to represent the country so that they could graduate to become better players for the senior national team.
The world have continued to wonder why we do so well at the U-17 level but the same players fade out as fast as they came. Think back and ask what happened to all the Peter Ogabas, Lemmy Issas, Dimeji Lawal, Phillip Osondus and Femi Opabunmis who shone very bright at the same competition not too long ago.
Chief Odegbami, angered by the over-gaed scam has said he would take the fight to both CAF and FIFA, to press home the point that no league players from African countries can be said to be U-17 and therefore should never be drafted into such teams anymore. He said that in Africa, real U17 boys should still be in school and therefore players for future Golden Eaglets should be players from secondary schools.
If Nigeria really wants to be among the top football playing countries as is being envisioned by the Federal Government in its Vision 20: 2020, the Odegbami formula, as many other Nigerians have espoused in the past must be enforced by those responsible for sports development in the country. Winning at this stage should not be an end but a means to an end.