By Paul Bassey

It all started with my appointment by CAF as one of  the four General Coordinators for next year’s Nation’s Cup to be hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. By implication I was to be part of the draws to be hosted by Equatorial Guinea in Malabo.

How do I get to Malabo?

The last time out, three years ago,I flew Aero Contractors and it took less than fifteen minutes from Calabar, thirty minutes from Lagos.

Presently, no Nigerian a0irline does the route so CAF recommended that I flew Ethiopian from Lagos to Addis, a journey of about five hours, then came down to Malabo another five hours!

The return was to be the same Malabo-Addis-Lagos. I thought it was too stressful, so I was left to make my own arrangements ( Probably by boat from Calabar, someone joked, afterall that was the route my kinsmen frequented in the days of Pagna and Fernando Po.)

I ended up with two alternatives. Go to Benin by road and join a flight that will take me there via Gabon or take Air Nigeria from here to Douala and join another flight to Malabo from there. I took the latter and nearly regretted it due to the six hour wait in Douala to connect a twenty minutes flight to Malabo!

Left Lagos eleven in the morning and arrived Malabo, just back door, by 7pm……
The next day we went through the seminar and workshop for qualified countries and General Coordinators and we all applauded the virgin appearance of Botswana, Niger and of course Equatorial Guinea. That evening was the draw proper and CAF sweated through the protocol difficulties of historically having as guests, two heads of state.

By the time the event started, including the involvement of the Presidents in the draws to pick the opponents of their two countries, it was a glorious show of music, colour and tradition wonderfully anchored by CAF general Secretary Hicham El Hamrani

The next day, the General Coordinators  went on a tour of the venues in chartered flights, getting to familiarize themselves with training pitches, team hotels, stadiums and the general ambience of the four venues of Bata and Malabo in Equatorial Guinea and Libreville and Franceville in Gabon where yours truly by the grace of God will be based.

It was in Libreville that I got notification that the Technical Committte had been mandated to meet and suggest a replacement for Coach Samson Siasia. Got into the country on Monday and by Tuesday morning was sweating it out with my colleagues not only on the choice of another coach, but on the probable guarantee that we were not going to make the same mistake all over again.

I share with you a text I got from the vibrant Toyin Ibitoye of Channels Television telling me how the NFF and the technical Commiitte will “not be forgiven this time around” if we fail to appoint a coach that will deliver.

I called him back to say that as much as we can tolerate criticism and sometimes insults from an ignorant public it pains to see and hear a section of the media throwing stones, especially those who were in the vanguard of the Siasia crusade, who have refused to accept blame for their faux pas and are now looking for scape goats.

This same media has turned me and Deji Tinubu in the Technical Committee, into laughing stock by its degree of unprofessionalism, lies and baseless speculations. I remember the last time we met and the headline that came out the next morning was SIASIA DIVIDES TECHNICAL COMMITTEE whereas not a single member was in support of the retention of the coach.

Last week the same happened. We met and NEVER discussed the issue of Keshi’s assistants yet the media was awash with figments of all manners of imagination as to the imposition of assistants on Stephen Keshi. My dear culture medium has gone to the dogs. Regrettably.

I digress

We met, unanimously we settled for Keshi, taking a lot of factors into consideration. Unanimously we decided to tread carefully proposing a time limit in a contract that has to be performance driven. The board of the NFF went a shade further as regards  emoluments and endorsed our recommendation that he  choose his assistants.

Will Keshi succeed, will he fail? That is a question whose answer lies with the gods but let me say that given his wealth of experience, given his readiness to learn from past mistakes especially in the treatment of star players and his willingness to work with and respect the views of members of the Technical committee, there is no how Keshi could fail.

In saying so I have taken into consideration the fact that football is not pure science and that there are teams that are applauded even in defeat.

After Abuja, I flew straight to Uyo to anchor the zonal finals of a grass root programme that I have superintended over for the past ten years. The Akwa Ibom State/NNPC/Mobil schools Athletics Championship is one unique grass roots programme that has witnessed the discovery of stars and potential champions in the twelve events we approve.

This is the only one of its kind in the whole federation one that has received the blessing of the AFN and the physical presence of five sports ministers and two ministers of Education.

This year will not be an exception even as I pray that we can go a shade further by asking the Akwa Ibom Athletics Association and by implication the AFN to get more involved in the tracking of the students so discovered and nurture them further with the right techniques and styles.

Before then, it pains that the inter house sports and PE culture is fast disappearing from our schools and games masters and mistresses do no longer exist in the true sense of the word, that is why I have received the blessing of Mobil to organize, as part of this programme, a train the trainers work shop aimed at up dating games masters with the rules and regulations of the very dynamic sport that they are supposed to teach but know nothing about.

I thank MPN, operator of the NNPC/MPN Joint venture for keeping faith with this championship that has gone a long way in adding value to the youths of Akwa Ibom and Nigeria. CANT WAIT FOR THE GRAND FINALE in Eket in December

As we go into the week that will herald the recommendations of coaches for the Falcons and the Under-20 team among others, including the appointment of the FIFA recommended Technical Director for the NFF, I can only wish Austin Eguavoen and his wards, the best of luck. They will need it.

See you next week.

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