By Onochie Anibeze
Former sports minister, Musa Mohammed, once got in touch to clear the air on an issue I had raised concerning the bad blood between the Nigeria Football Association and his ministry.
When the NFA board of Ibrahim Galadima was battling with the sports ministry, I warned, at the time, that although we appeared to be coasting to the 2006 World Cup, our train may be derailed by the impasse. It came to pass. Few months ago when I recalled that incident, Musa Mohammed sent words to explain his position and maintained that he was not fighting the football body.
He explained so many things including issues on sponsorship and I thanked him for his explanation. But I still remember that the ministry was so involved that even payment of allowances and match bonuses to Eagles was being done by their staff.
NFA took a back seat. The thinking, I feared, was â€˜if the sports ministry took over money matters, they should also take all football matters.â€™Certainly, there was bad blood. We paid the price dearly. Avoidable mistakes led to Angola overtaking Nigeria and playing in the World Cup.
Today, I remember the efforts Musa Mohammed made to rescue the situation after Angola pulled a draw in Kano and a head to head rule was going to count against us if we won our remaining matches and Angola did same.
Today, the patriot in me is asking me to appeal to those concerned to tarry awhile and work together for the sake of our World Cup campaign. I write because of the few things I have already gathered since Ibrahim Bio was appointed sports minister.
The typical Nigerian way is to crowd any new government top official to bootlick and sell ideas many of which succeeded in setting the official against perceived enemies than achieving results. I am absolutely sure such people have swarmed Bio now.
But I equally know there could be a few genuine ones who may mean well for our sports. Bioâ€™s challenge is to identify those ones, listen, weigh their recommendations and take decisive steps. He may have to consult a lot since sports is a strange terrain to him. But he can cope. He knows what is good and what is bad. He went to South Africa to inspect hotel for the Eagles.
Although I found that belittling, reports clearly showed that New Hampshire Hotel earlier picked by Nigeria lacked the sophistication a hotel that would host a World Cup team deserved in terms of security. Bio, in the eyes of many, has scored a point.
But I still maintain that it was belittling for the Minister of Federal Republic of Nigeria to embark on a foreign trip with a large delegation to inspect hotel that our team will stay in South Africa. Some other person could have done that for him and the same result achieved without grandstanding or ego massaging that has always resulted in avoidable disaffection.
However, this would not have been an issue if the right thing was done in the first place. So, letâ€™s not totally condemn Bio. Letâ€™s encourage him to work more for peace and proper organisation of Nigerian sports. I still feel that he has such a short time that concentrating in few areas will be good for our sports. Let him avoid areas of conflict and work for results.
There are more people who thrive on crisis than in peace. Sometimes, it is for selfish reasons. At the end, Nigeria suffers and the actors leave, smiling to the banks.
Today, I am for the good of Nigerian team at the World Cup. I know a few things that they have told the sports minister about the football federation. I know a few things that they have equally told leadership of the federation about the minister who they say is set to deal with them. Thereâ€™s time for everything. Biblically, it is even so – time to laugh and time to cry, time to sow and time to reap …. Yes, I have been critical of our football federation and the sports ministry and I donâ€™t intend to cease fire.
But this is time for peace, for unity, for planning even if itâ€™s late. This is time for brainstorming and co-operation. It is time for all to put hands on deck for our World Cup campaign. It is time for us to tell ourselves the truth and scheme less for personal gains and work more for Nigeria.
Amodu Shaibu once told me that his problem was that there were people scheming badly for us to fail in qualifying for the World Cup so that they could score points to unseat the current board. He said that even his disengagement would not stop them. I felt bad. I know that there are those who want this board out. I share their views. I know that there are also those who want everybody in the sports ministry out.
I also share their views. But at this moment; now that the World Cup is days away, letâ€™s discard animosities and bad blood and work for the good of our game in South Africa. After the games, those who want to return to the trenches may do so and Iâ€™ll support them so far they will be fighting for the good of the game and not for their own interests. Bio should ask questions and find out what disunity in times of competition caused us in the past.
He may ask question on what happened between the minister and his own men before the last Olympic Games in Beijing. Let him ask questions on why we did not qualify for the last World Cup. Let him ask questions on what happened to USA â€˜94 World Cup squad, the best crop of players and team Nigeria of this generation ever had and how we blew the chance to create record in that World Cup.
Let him ask questions on what happened to Nigeria in Mali Nations Cup and how it spilled into the Korea-Japan World Cup where we failed to win a match and recorded our worst outing in World Cup finals. We can go on and on to chronicle the failures that avoidable impasse created for us. And that is why Iâ€™m calling for peace today.
Let Bio dialogue rather than fight the federation. Let the federation co-operate with the coaches, players and respect the directives of the minister even while flouting their seeming or imagined autonomy. If we have to lose in South Africa, letâ€™s not lose to crisis or feud but to the superior skills of our opponents.
If we win matches, letâ€™s celebrate as one nation and continue to work for the good of the game in and out of the World Cup. Letâ€™s make this our time for peace and progress otherwise we will continue to gnash our teeth. But I want Bio to ask questions if he wants to succeed. I wish him good luck.