By Paul Bassey
Events of the last three weeks, including two editorial pieces on our sports, coming as it were from two top newspapers â€“ Guardian and The Sun â€“ have set me thinking on the future of sports in this country, the most recent being the reelection bid of the outgoing President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).
I do not think I read the piece that talked about President Luluâ€™s decision not to re-contest the seat of president of the Nigeria Football Federation. What I saw, read and heard and with a lot of prominence too was his declaration that he will re-contest the seat next time around. Incredible, or as Nigerians are wont to say, â€œitâ€™s a lieâ€.
When I attended the NFF convention in Lokoja, I did come back to write that whoever wrote the NFF presidentâ€™s speech should be tied to a stake and shot. I said that speech was laden with a litany of failures. I challenge the NFF president to make that speech public because that, invariably was his score card as far as Nigeriaâ€™s football is concerned. Today, at a time all expect the Lulu administration to take an exit, the man is talking of re-election. Wonders will never end.
What will be the basis for re-electing Alhaji Sani Lulu? Is it the heart ache he has brought to bear on us with the terrible run of the Super Eagles at a time a lot of countries have qualified for the World Cup with two matches to spare?
It is only in a country like this that people can hide under the canopy of failure and still progress as if nothing has happened.
I want to thank the sports ministry for deciding to sink and swim with the Lulu administration. Good luck to them. But let it be said here that if we do not qualify for the World Cup, AGAIN, all this talk of reelection would have been an exercise in futility. I swear. Good luck Nigeria.
The many fathers of success
Success they say has many fathers. Suddenly, Heartland and Kano Pillars, who are at the threshold of a unique continental glory have received a solidarity message from the NFF asking them to â€œgo out there and excelâ€. I want to quote The Punch issue of Thursday, September 17, page 57.
â€œâ€¦..The achievements (of the two teams) have been commended by the NFF as the body also charged the teams to go all out and make the final of the event an all Nigeria affair.
â€œLulu said these teams have done Nigeria proud in a big way. â€œWe are hoping that the two teams meet in the final because they have done very well to boost the image of Nigeria.â€ (He can say that again and again).
â€œAt this stage we are going to give them more support, technically and otherwise(?) to ensure they both cross the semi-final hurdle.
â€œAny time they are playing, we take charge of many things while at least two board members of the NFF will be present to watch themâ€, (At whose expense?)
Let me warn the clubs to beware the so-called â€œtechnical assistanceâ€ of the NFF. For them to have got this far without their technical assistance, means they do not need a destabiliser.
When I wrote on this last week, I talked about the lack of support rendered the teams by the NFF, whereas when the teams win, NFF gets a financial boost and wondered whether that money should not go to the NPL who provided the platform and the enabling environment for them to excel, and even the clubs themselves given the peculiar nature of our system in Nigeria.
You need to sit down with Sani Lulu and their players and hear their stories of woe, how players have revolted countless times for lack of payment of sign on fees and match bonuses. (Heartland lost a crucial match abroad based on this) You need to be told of those individuals that have sacrificed personal funds and comfort to support these clubs when government approval does not translate to disbursement.
While all this was going on, the NFF turned a blind eye, putting all its eggs in the World Cup basket, offering no succor whatsoever to whoever as it pursued World Cup qualification blindly to the detriment of all other facets of our football.
How many times did the NFF president not say that for him the World Cup was priority? How I wish he could have had a little bit of foresight to spare a bit of all those millions they said they had sunk into the World Cup, spread it to the needy.
I challenge president Lulu to tell me how many matches he watched out of the ten these clubs played during their continental assignments at home.
Suddenly a drowning NFF, seeking relevance has decided to jump on to the Pillars and Heartland boat, wanting to reap from where they did not sow.
Today, Heartland and and Pillars have become the beautiful bride. Anyway, the NFF is the football controlling organ here, so who am I to stop them in getting involved in the success story of Heartland and Pillars?
The only worry I have is that anything this NFF touches, turns to dust, so bewareâ€¦..
. . . Keep NPL out of this
â€œGood morning my dear brother Paul Bassey. At 49, I should, not be scared, to say the truth and be damned. You have refused to tell us everything about Sudan. How about their women? I hope when Kano Pillars and Heartland fail to win the cup we can bash NPL the way they are being praised as if they own both clubs.
â€œI wish Pillars and Heartland well but I am disgusted by the accolades being showered on NPL. Can the media ascribe Man Utdâ€™s feats to the English Premier League board? When 3 English teams made the Champions League semis, how much praise was ascribed to the English Premier League board?
â€œThe season before that when Manchester United met Chelsea, was it a platform to celebrate the EPL board or the entire English game? Can you truly say that Heartland and Pillars are truly professional clubs? Are these two clubs limited liability companies? Are they quoted in the stock exchange? If the NPL is that super, why are Nigerians in Sudanese clubs in droves?
â€œHow much is the NPL worth? Which is the richest Nigerian club? How many Nigerians own shares in our clubs? Is it not true that the only lucrative sponsorship that NPL has was initiated by NFF? Can NPL tell us what our clubs realized from their gates? How much of it was paid to the NPL?
Have all the clubs cleared their debts to their players and coaches? What about our clubsâ€™ pitches, welfare package for players and coaches? How genuine are their insurance policies to their players and coaches? Are these not some of the functions of the NPL to find solutions to?
â€œPlease sir, it is absurd to ascribe the two clubsâ€™ feats toÂ NPL when tax payers funds in the two states Imo and Kano are being pumped into them. Is this the practice in Sudan? Are you saying that all the travelling teams in the UEFA Champions League are being received and hosted by the English FA, for those travelling teams in England today for instance? Is this not UEFAâ€™s duty which they must have sent to the officials with their travelling tickets?
â€œI respect you a lot but please give unto Caesar what is Caesars. Let us look at the bigger picture for the good of the game in Nigeria.
â€œMay God bless you.â€
-â€”Ade Ojeikere (Group Sports Editor, Nation Newspapers)
See you next week.