By Segun Odegbami
From atop my little observatory, high up in the hills of Wasimi Orile, I am looking down at African football and, particularly, at the Confederation of African Football, CAF.
The organization is hardly recognizable from what we thought was a shambolic mess that Issa Hayatou left at the time he was justifiably ousted in a palace coup by some courageous federation Presidents. Almost two years down the line, that ‘mess’ is now smelling like roses!
CAF has become less than a shadow of itself. Some of us who were most vociferous and vehement in our call for a halt to Issa’s perpetual stay in office should actually now go back and apologise to the gentleman in Yaounde, where he must be gleefully grinning to himself now.
CAF has become a monumental disaster. Its current state cannot be compared to any time in the history of football anywhere in the world. The moment its leadership invited the General Secretary of FIFA to take over its administration for a period of 6 months, everybody knew the end was either coming, or had come.
Fatima Samoura’s report after her 6 months stay, plus the report of CAF’s accounting systems by a firm of chartered auditors, have confirmed the worst fears things are worse than ever imagined before. CAF is a sad story of incompetence, inexperience and a lack of capacity.
This is not an x-ray of the situation. Those more qualified than I would one day perform that forensic exercise. This is just a small excursion into a not-too-distant past when I was a member of the Players Committee of CAF.
Ironically, it was Issa, without any solicitation, completely from the blues, that appointed me into the committee of CAF, making me the first and only Nigerian ex-international football player to have been be so appointed, to date.
A few years later, I was one of a few persons on the African continent that paid the price of losing my place in the committee, by expressing strong arguments why Issa Hayatou should not seek re-election again after heading the Confederation for 28 unbroken years, a situation that created a monster and a demi-god, shortchanging African football by excluding everyone except his friends and accomplices from the administration of African football.
No one raised a voice against Issa and survived in CAF. So, I too did not survive. It was fine because I believed that Issa had become the greatest hindrance to the development of African football, which mattered more to me, if he was allowed to reign on indefinitely, by dangling his carrot and stick.
For a few years, I was unrelenting in my calls for an end to his reign even if I knew my raving and ranting did not create the smallest dent on his stranglehold on African football. He had the ultimate weapon that kept everyone in check control over the resources of CAF that he dispensed at will, rewarding those he favoured and ‘punishing’ those that were against him, effectively exploiting the slavery and poverty mentality in Africa.
My voice was very loud. I refused to accept the notion that no one else in the African continent was good enough to take over from him. It was preposterous. Issa Hayatou simply had to go, or be forced to go!
The elements came into play with the scandals that enveloped FIFA, devoured Sepp Blatter and several others, and created a perfect opportunity for the inevitable ‘coup’ that took place in CAF.
Some renegade members of the CAF Executive Committee and a number of National Federation Presidents seized the moment and executed Issa’s ouster without serious consideration for the qualifications of the only man willing to risk his place in CAF (should it fail) and challenged Issa. It was a case of ‘anyone but Issa’. That’s how an unknown Ahmad Ahmad came to become CAF President.
The assumption was that no one could be worse than Issa Hayatou. That notion has now been thrown out of the window of reality. With the new President of CAF underperforming the way he has done, with some of the outlandish decisions taken by CAF under him, with the reports of CAF’s accounts and accounting system, with the shameful and humiliating invitation of FIFA to take over the administrative affairs of CAF, even from my remote corner of my village in Wasimi Orile, far from the madness in Cairo, I can smell the rotten entrails of CAF under Ahmad Ahmad.
It is so pungent that African football may actually be missing Issa Hayatou, warts and all.
For my 6 years in CAF Issa made it a point of duty to attend all Players’ Committee meetings. He would listen intently, and once or twice acknowledged to us the difference in the quality of players’ meetings compared to other meetings.
Our views about football were always so different and radical. Even as I sat through those meetings, it was refreshing to learn and appreciate the content of the discourse by amazingly intelligent players from different countries and generations.
The tragedy, something that I found out during my final days in the committee, was that very few innovative ideas ever saw the light of day, particularly those coming from the Players who became CAF decor, ‘mantlepieces’ to be seen and displayed for public consumption, but their perspectives never to be taken seriously.
As far as my knowledge of CAF takes me, not a single one of the technical recommendations, as far-reaching as most of them were, proposed by the Players was ever adopted for implementation. Not one.
It became so bad, and we voiced it out during some of the later sessions, that several of the players decided they would not honour future meetings, or accept membership of the committee again. When I was there, Roger Miller attended a meeting only once, saw through the shenanigans, and never came again.
Theophile Abega, now late, knew what was going on and loudly expressed it during the only session he attended. Of course, Abedi Pele and I were very close, being the only two English-speaking members in the committee at a time. He was always at loggerheads with the CAF leadership because of his radical ideas about taking African football to the next level. Many of these players would fall out with the CAF leadership as soon as they expressed anything contrary to the President’s personal interest.
It appeared as if there was an unwritten rule in CAF to diminish African players outside the football field and prevent them from coming near administration.
Had Issa Hayatou used the players better, had he implemented some of their brilliant ideas, had he left office when the ovation was loudest, his exit would not have thrown up a man without capacity, a man that has surrounded himself with Lilliputians in football administration, without the experience, knowledge and a clear vision on how to thread safely through the minefields planted all over CAF by Issa Hayatou.
So, the ‘coup plotters’, without a concrete plan and experience to manage the period beyond Hayatou, came into power empty of how the future would be. They too have failed woefully.
The immediate future of CAF looks bleak. That’s what I have been observing these days – darkening clouds.
CAF has now become a sea of confusion! African football is now in tatters. CAF may go down if more knowledgeable National Federation Presidents do not come together quickly and steady the ship, domesticate new solutions to fit into a unique African situation and eco-system and steer the continent’s football away from looming catastrophe.
CAF requires a new leadership after Ahmad Ahmad who must never be allowed to seek re-election at the end of his tenure as he admittedly lacks the capacity to run African football. Federation Presidents must start to look for a new leader that can navigate CAF through the dangerous rocks that lie in its path like landmines buried in the sand.