By Pual Bassey
Wednesday, I was a member of a panel put together by Vanguard Newspapers to discuss the way forward for Nigeria football.
I regret arriving the conference late due to a mix up at the calabar airport where a scheduled flight could not leave as programmed, so I had to hop into an Arik flight that suddenly appeared from nowhere, although that one too, for no reason, kept us waiting for over an hour after we had boarded.
Allow me some time in the future to talk about this country that has clocked forty nine, yet is still crawling. There is no day I have boarded a flight that left on schedule. Every day, passengers are assaulted by hostesses who come out to apologise â€œfor delayed departureâ€.
You dare not plan for a trip, taking into consideration the flight schedule of Nigerian airlines. I digress.
I did manage to get to Vanguard, apologized to the chairman of the session, Mr. Ikeddy Isiguzo, other invited guests chief OyuikiÂ Obaseki, Mitchell Obi, Emeka Ezeugo, and Sylvanus Okpala.
Also in attendance were Vanguard group sports editor Onochie Anibeze, sports editor Tony Ubani, Emeka Nwani, John Egbokhan, Jerry Asiegbuâ€¦â€¦
I arrived late, but early enough to realize that Vanguardâ€™s call for a conference may not be unconnected with popular belief that football is dying here, and no other person to drive it home than the publisher himself, Sam Amuka Pemu, who subtly accused us (conference delegates) of being part of the problem which we must try to resolve.
Unfortunately, Vanguard newspapers has also fallen into the category of Nigerians who readily substitute football for sports. Otherwise put, the death of football is rocking the country, so much that we forget there exists other sports.
Need we blame anybody? Football for us has become an escape route from the numerous problems bedeviling our sports. When boxing, track and field,cricket(?)basketball failed us, it was football that we turned to.
Football especially at age group level guaranteed the sustenance of our name in the comity of world football playing nations. Now that FIFA has decided to introduce the MRI scan, we are not sure anymore whether we will have any cause to play football again.
What about the dreadful run of Samson Siasia in Egypt? We have never had it so bad. Two straight defeats, two red cards and the inability to score two goals pass a weak team that has been reduced to nine men! So so bad.
Yes back to the conference. The conclusion was that this should not be a one off. That Vanguard should do a follow up, monitor and track.
The conclusion was that conferences like this have been held before without anybody taking cognizance of decisions so reached.
The conference like some others before it, took a detailed look at Nigerian football and proffered so much solution that one tends to wonder if, we know so much.
If all of us know, all the time, what our problems are, how come we have not been able to solve same?
One answer produced by the conference was that those at the helm of affairs donâ€™t know what we know. Why? Because the system we operate does not throw up knowledgeable football people to run the sport.
The conference then discovered that the statute of the NFF as presently constituted gives membership to zonal representatives to the detriment of football. So? So, no quota or national character in the election of football administrators, please.
It was refreshing to see Chief Obaseki in our midst. As chairman of the Premier League and Vice President of the Nigeria Football Federation, he was in a position to give us a lot of insight into the running of football in this country. Regrettably he was only truly at home with the league, reeling out facts and figures and letting us into his dream of a revolution for the domestic game.
That he could not offer much on the NFF, reminded us of his brushes with the leadership of the NFF, and how he has not really been accepted as part of that set up.
After some sad revelations about bribery, unprofessional attitude of the management of all the clubs (state government owned) lack of adequate structures etc., the conference came to the conclusion that the future of football in this country lay in the domestic league and everything should be done to improve it.
The historic semi-final achievement of Pillars and Heartland in the CAF Champions League, was seen as a perfect advertisement for the domestic game which should be capitalized upon.
The conference will want a greater involvement of TV and an intelligent way round the â€œvexingâ€ marriage of Nigerians to the European league, so much that our league venues lie fallow whenever top European clubs clash.
Chief Obaseki informed that immediately after the Under- 17 World Cup which I believe Nigeria will host, teams in the premier league will all have to move their bases to all those stadia.
Conference applauded the decision but noted that an important aspect of the game, which hinges on the development of a credible fan base should be emphasised and the sooner the clubs improved their own facilities and went back home, the better.
The training of coaches, the development of referees and above all, the need to develop the game, different from the present competitionâ€¦. Competitionâ€¦.. competitionâ€¦..will go a long way in laying a solid foundation for the game in Nigeria as clubs were asked to set up academies to replenish depleting stock.
The Vanguard conference was so exhaustive that I repeat, If we know so much, how come we are in this mess? Four years ago we said â€œnever againâ€, that failure to go to Germany was a â€œwake up callâ€. If so, why are we still sleeping?
Vanguard will soon come out with a detailed report of that far reaching conference, one that I hope will be adopted by veritable stakeholders (that word again) for the growth of the game we hold so dear.
After all this is not an issue of life and death, it is more than that.
The funny side of life
Were you in Kaduna during the sports festival? Did you by chance have accommodation problems? A friend did, but was lucky to find a suite at the Catholic Social Centre.
The moment he was checked in he knew he was in for a difficult one week. As he entered the sitting room he saw a sign that said â€œvisitors are not allowed to pass the parlour into the bedroomâ€ if you think you can close the door and smuggle the visitor in, please do not forget there is an all seeing God that is watching the Catholic Centre.
Ok, you ignore Godâ€™s big eyes and get to the bedroom with your â€˜visitorâ€™, only to be met with another sign.Â â€œPlease maintain silence in the bedroomâ€ Yes. Why not? What type of noise were you expected to make in the bedroom, a place made for noiseless sleep?