By Onochie Anibeze
It feels good to be back from a long vacation. My resumption fell at the time Eagles were preparing for the 2013 Nations Cup qualifier in Rwanda and I moved to Abuja to monitor their training.
Eventually, I went to Rwanda with them and saw Stephen Keshi’s first competitive match. What I saw in Abuja impressed me. I saw good training programmes and I knew Stephen Keshi and his technical crew meant business with their plan to build a new national team.
One thing is for a coach to have the will, another is for him to know what to do. If one has the will but lacks the skill what can he do? Keshi and his crew have both.
And they are one family. Dan Amokachi, Sylvanus Okpala, Valere Houandinou and Ike Shorunmu are a strong family. Bolton White Apartment, their abode in Abuja has further cemented their bond. It is built in three-bedroom apartments and they stay there with the players. After dinner each day, the coaches remain behind in the restaurant to review their training and plan for the next day’s affairs.
They brainstorm, discuss the potentials of the players and analyse their performances. They agree on the areas to work on. They agree on possible inclusions and exclusions. They agree on everything including the need to abhor politics from players or from any quarters that may disunite them. They agree to work hard to raise Nigerian football and make Nigerians happy.
The training they subject the local players to is highly professional and such that can really develop players. I saw a team of coaches not only working as a unit but also so ambitious and courageous. They also agree that potentials abound in our league and in years to come Nigerians will not believe the quality of players that they would churn out. They say this with authority.
They lift your spirit and when they step into the field you see the way they work, you can’t but be assured that the sun is rising on our shores. In Rwanda Keshi used four local players and two others were on the bench. It was the first time local players were getting such a chance since the exit of Clemens Westerhof in 1994.
And those who played excelled in the goalless draw. Keshi says that the national team is open to all good players but I know that he plans to concentrate in building a strong team around local players especially when playing qualifying games in Africa.
On the day of the match in Rwanda the news that hit everybody was what happened the previous day at the Senate in Abuja. Senate Committee Chairman on sports Adamu Gumba was said to have attempted to move a motion calling for the support of Eagles in their match but it turned out that members expressed outrage in the dwindling fortunes in our football and rather resolved to hold a public hearing on the state of Nigerian football.
Senate President David Mark was quoted as describing the Nigeria Football Federation as the centre of corruption in Nigeria and Senator Heneiken Lokpobiri added voice to that, recalling, among other things that the sacking of Samson Siasia did not follow due process.
Different interpretations emerged in Rwanda. Was Lokpobiri campaigning for the re-engagement of Siasia and the sacking of Keshi and his crew? Tension rose. And this was hours to the game. We all wondered why this would be so considering the concentration the team needed to execute the match.
NFF as the most corrupt government agency? What was the Senate waiting for to initiate move to deal with the problem? I have always maintained that any corrupt person should be dealt with. But I have since stopped writing on corruption. I did for years and never achieved anything.
The more I wrote on it the more the polity got corrupt. I decided to focus on the entertainment side of sports, noting that Nigeria was not yet ready to fight corruption.
On this matter, I really wondered how a body that receives about N2 billion a year for all the national teams will be the centre of corruption or the most corrupt government agency? What has happened to Pension Board where individuals cart away billions? What about the oil industry, what about Water Resources where they claim to spend billions to instal some boreholes? What about the Presidency where N1 billion is only for feeding? What about ministry of works and the contracts on our roads?
And what about the parastatals that receive 10 to 20 or more billions of Naira and at the end of the year nothing concrete is achieved?. What about the energy sector and millions of dollars spent for the electricity that we never have? How can a top Nigerian in government describe a body as NFF as the most corrupt and still do nothing to bring to book those who perpetuate the crime?
On Tuesday my friend, Mumuni Alao wrote this in his column in Complete Sports: “Personally, I’m not impressed by Mark’s pronouncement because he was only playing to the gallery. He did not say anything that we didn’t already know. In fact, every Nigerian knows that MR CORRUPTION is living happily in every sector of government, including the Senate….” I’m sure Alao spoke the minds of millions of Nigerians. Mark is in a position to do something about corruption in all our sectors including the National Assembly. Let charity begin at home.
Personally, I have soft spot for Mark because he likes sports and promotes it. So, I expect more from him. The Senate partly contributed to the problems we have in sports. Our failure to qualify for the last Nations Cup started with the match in Guinea where Eagles were beaten 1-0 largely because of poor preparation. NFF was in hiding following litigation.
Austin Eguavoen, the coach then attributed the defeat to the actions by Nigeria Police following court orders that compelled NFF officials to stay away from office. There are still court orders over the name of the football house because the Senate failed to pass the bill changing it from Nigeria Football Association to Nigeria Football Federation after the House of Representatives passed it. Interestingly, this failure was when Heneiken Lokpobiri was chairman of the Senate Committee on sports.
Lokpobiri did not help matters then and now he is breathing down on the federation for parting ways with Samson Siasia whom I felt for when the problem arose and wished there was a way out. Lokpobiri is not closer to Siasia than myself but he should know that coaches are hired to be fired. They are either being hired or being fired. Amodu Shuaibu returned as Eagles’ coach three times and nobody says that my dear friend Siasia may not return someday.
Lokpobiri should check his sentiments. Keshi is working hard to build a new national team and needs less distractions. This current board of NFF has suffered so many setbacks following litigation. People who lose elections don’t give up just like we have in our dirty politics. They want to pull down the house too.
We must stop this. It is also against this background that Nigerians in CAF and FIFA committees met in Lagos on Wednesday and reminded all that since we applied to be affiliated to FIFA we must abide by their statutes and stop taking cases to law courts. They also warned government officials (including ministers) to stop visits to FIFA for cases that can be resolved at home.
All these are no defence for any corrupt practice in the Football federation. Any corrupt official should be made to face the law. Nigerians in CAF with the likes of Paul Bassey, Linus Mba, Mike Itemuagbor, Aisha Falode have warned that for the sake of revenue drives Nigerians including lawmakers should not make unsubstantiated allegations on sports bodies because such action would not encourage companies to sponsor sports. Everybody believes that sports should not be left for government to shoulder alone.
The sports ministry receives about the least allocation and that’s partly why we are not doing well in sports although the administrators are also to blame. Another problem is that even failures in their sectors claim to be experts in sports and they are talking, creating more confusion than solving problems.