By Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
SENATE President Bukola Saraki yesterday pleaded with warring factions in the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to, in the interest of Nigeria as a country, sheathe their swords.
According to Saraki, it has become imperative for them to bury the hatchet in the interest of football development in Nigeria, just as he urged the NFF executive to seize the international recognition accorded Nigeria by the visit of the FIFA leadership to put the crisis plaguing the association behind them and commit to providing leadership for gainful football administration in the country.
Speaking yesterday in Abuja when the President of NFF, Amadju Pinnick led the President of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), Gianni Infantino, and Secretary General, Fatma Samoura on a visit to the National Assembly, Saraki said, “Apart from the major issue of reform and accountability, the key issue remains the development of our own football and I think Africa, as you said, is the greatest place such can come from.
“We are going to play our own role in creating the enabling environ-ment. I am happy that fellow presidents of football associations in different African countries are here. I think your visit clearly shows that you are keen and you want to work with us in Africa.
We must play our own role and that is why we must give all the support we can. “And I think it gives me an opportunity to talk to the members of NFF that we must solve our problems. I think that with this kind of world recognition we have today, the only thing we can do is to show example here in Nigeria how we think a football association should be run.”
“A lot of you professionals sometimes blame politicians that when we lose elections we don’t want to accept. But now we politicians are now reformed. When we lose elections we accept. I think football professionals too should learn from us.
“In this era of change, when you lose elections, accept and wait for when the tenure is over to re-contest. But to try and bring the house down because you did not win would not be in the overall interest of the country.
“Whether rightly or wrongly, I think we just need to move on. Especially for something that the whole country loves, I think it is not too much of a sacrifice. You know in elections, sometimes it is fair, sometimes it is not fair, accept it for the interest of everybody and be ready for the next elections. So I want to appeal to those of us who are managing our football, that it is time for you to learn. We politicians, we have moved on. You should follow us.
“But on a serious note, I think this is a matter that we need to put behind us. I think having the President of FIFA here, and all other presidents from different parts of Africa, we must provide leadership in this matter.”
Members of the board of NFF and Presidents of Football Associations (FA) from other African countries also accompanied the FIFA President on the visit.
In his remarks, Infantino who noted that he was happy to be in Nigeria in view of its passion for the football game, saying that the passion should be cherished and protected, said that his visit was meant to underscore the importance of Nigeria and by extension the African continent in the development of world football.
Infantino said: “Nigeria is not only a big country but a great country. Africa is not only a big continent but a great continent. A great continent actually because it shares the great passion which is the passion I have for football. I was impressed yesterday coming from the airport to the city, to see how many people – boys, girls and kids – were playing football along the streets. You see that you don’t only love football, you really live football in this country.
“This must be cherished and protected. We need stability and unity to work in a serious way because Nigeria has a great tradition and a great passion for football and the whole of Africa has it.
I was elected with a mandate for change, reform and to bring transparency and good governance into football. But also most importantly to foster the development of football. And Africa has to play a key role in this,” he said.
Earlier NFF President, called on the National Assembly to help initiate laws that would lead to development and smooth administration of football in the country.