By Paul Bessey
Let me take us a little back, to the time Alhaji Ibrahim Bio came on board as sports minister. After we had canvassed and fought relentlessly to have “one of our own” as minister, the Yar Adua government obliged with the Tennis Federation boss, Alhaji Sanni Ndanusa and our joy knew no bounds.
Congratulatory messages flowed forth. The history of the tennis man was dug out and it was concluded that for staying so long in the tennis federation, for being a vice president of the Nigerian Olympic body, at last this was a man with an inside knowledge of sports in the country, one who belonged to a lesser sport, so marginalized that he was now in a unique position to redress the wrongs done other sports by football ministers.
The rest is history. Surprise and regrets became the order of the day and when the man was removed the Nigerian sports world breathed a sigh of relief. A summary of the Ndanusa administration was captured when he accepted to serve as a mere member in a football committee, set up to right some of the wrongs of his administration.
It was during the Ndanusa era that crisis rocked the Nigeria Olympic Committee when the man after organizing an election that saw him retaining his seat as Tennis federation boss , descended on the NOC wanting to add that as well.
It was during the Ndanusa administration that the Nigeria football administration under Sani Lulu became an uncontrollable monster. I am still to verify the story that when Ndanusa heard about the plans by Lulu to alter the Statutes and perpetuate himself in office, he wrote to them to tarry and they refused.
He then asked that he be allowed to address the congress and they sold him a red herring. He got to the fictitious venue only to discover that the statutes had been doctored, the state chairmen had left back to their destination while Lulu was on his way to Zurich to get approval for the selfish document.
Have we forgotten the endless imbrioglio that ensued between the Presidential Task Force ( PTF ) and the NFF? Our Ndanusa became powerless in the power struggle.
When therefore, Ibrahim Bio was given to us, we could not complain. We were no more in a position to complain. Our own had disappointed us, so anybody could be sent to us. I was particularly shocked when I was told that Ibrahim Bio was the immediate past Transport minister. If he was that good or effective,
How come I had not heard from him before now? It was a friend, a transport correspondent who said that the man was “silently effective” and did not have to make noise to perform.
When Bio came on board I want to believe that the guys at the NFF did not give him a second thought. If they could mess up a knowledgeable sports person, who was this one? Before they could spell FIFA, Bio struck.
The first thing he did was to effectively scuttle the attempt to lodge the Eagles in a sub standard hotel in South Africa. He then moved in and got the Eagles to be flown into South Africa in style, on “The wings of Nigeria” after the NFF’s plane had failed to take off.
He was labeled a “ football minister” and the spate of attacks continued. We forgot that he had come in at a critical time in our sports history, a time that we were all focused on the success of the football world cup, determined to improve on what was considered the maladroitness of Angola, a time that all other sports literally seized to exist.
Immediately after the world cup, the drama of the FIFA ban came to play and practically the minister was caught in the middle of it. Rightly or wrongly.
Whether we like to remember it or not, it is in Bio’s administration that we were made to realize that you cannot hide under the cloak of FIFA to refuse to account for government funds, just as the faulty structures of the Lulu election were dismantled and a level playing field provided for fresh elections that saw as many as nine candidates emerging for a Presidential post that Lulu had hitherto commandeered as sole candidate, returning unopposed.
Thereafter, a lot of politics came to play including an injunction threatening the holding of the NFF elections.
When the minister ran back from a trip abroad, I remember him saying and publicly too that his DG, Chief Patrick Ekeji and his predecessor in office Dr. Amos Adamu were the problems of our football. This for me was some courage. He felt these two men, technocrats all, between them were capable of bringing peace to our troubled football house.
Greed, selfishness, intrigues, power play continued to reign as our football plunged deeper and deeper into the abyss.
In one instance, the sports minister realizing that our league was the only one that had not kicked off all over the world, convened a meeting of the NFF and the Nigeria Premier League with a view to solving the issue.
I was reliably told that in an effort to broker long lasting peace and resolve the issue to accommodate the grievances of Baribote, it was agreed that no relegation should be effected and this was accepted by all until the Bayelsa chairman later reneged, swearing as I was told, that “ even if his father came from the grave” he will not abandon his personal fight to lead the NPL.
Call it abridged league, call it whatever, in the circumstance, it was the best thing that could have happened to us. The Chairman of the NPL Mr. Davidson Owumi agreed saying no one should castigate the minister.
“We all agreed to follow that decision in the interest of peace and a way forward. It was a peculiar solution to a peculiar problem, and it was not alien to us”
Next came the suspension of the acting secretary general of the NFF. At a time the court had suspended the elections and condemned all those who had participated therein, pray what was wrong in asking the secretary general to step down until issues were resolved? Were we to sacrifice the laws of our land for the laws of football? Was Dr. Musa not reinstated the moment the court declared that he had no case to answer?
We have been blinded to all these realities so much that when FIFA slammed a ban on us all hell was let loose. We all descended on the minister. Called him all manner of names. How he was football stupid. Some even went as far as blackmailing him, saying he was trying to work against Mr. President by attracting the ban.
This week, something happened that made me decide to take this look at Minister Bio. The story has it that when the Boxing chairman went to him to ask for support to contest a continental post, the minister got angry and literally walked him out of his presence, demanding an apology for the dismal failure of boxing at the Commonwealth Games.
I do not know how many of us have met Rotimi George Taylor. I have. He commands some stature and it takes courage to look up to the man and tell him your mind. Bio did.
This was not football, this was boxing, even as the man is expected back from India in all glory, recording one of, if not our best international sports outing ever. You can imagine where we would have been if boxing had lived up to tradition and produced a couple of medals.
Add to that the exemplary U- 20 and U-17 showing of our female national teams and you have a man who is ready to bow out in style. He says it is GOOD LUCK.
See you next week.