By Jacob Ajom

There are strong indications that the forthcoming elections into the Executive Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation will not be business as usual. 

And should the wishes of genuinely concerned Nigerians come to pass, the elections are bound to usher in a fresh start to all we have known, for almost a decade now, about Nigerian football. 

This assertion stems from facts on ground particularly the general show of concern by Nigerians, especially former Nigeria internationals who have come up to acknowledge the downward slide of Nigeria’s football and openly condemn the status quo, calling for reforms.

Last weekend, we published the views of Jonathan Akpoborie, a former international who called for the total repositioning of Nigeria football through the dismantling of existing structure that has its survival in the current statutes that govern the local game. It was his opinion that nothing meaningful can be achieved without rewriting the NFF Statutes. He called for unity among ex-internationals in the bid to wrestle the reins of Nigerian football from “those who know nothing about football.” 

It appears Akpoborie’s appeal is beginning to yield results, as the election which has been fixed for September, 2022 draws closer.

Sports Vanguard is in possession of a letter of protest (or a position paper) from a group of Nigerian ex-footballers in the diaspora. 

In their statement, signed by Francis Moniedafe(chairman) and Charles Okoye as secretary General, the group which goes by the name Nigeria Ex-Footballers Association lamented the state of football in the country and cried for change. The association was formed about six years ago with the primary aim of assisting indigent colleagues in times of need. For sometime now the group has been making silent donations to members who needed help. Piloted by Francis Onome Moniedafe, Charles Okoye, Chief Femi Olukanmi, the Nigeria Ex-Footballers Association, NE-FA, has other notable names like Paul Okoku, Charles Okoye, Godwin Odiye, Godwin Iwelomu, Ikechukwu Ifoje, Totty O Totty, Emeka Nsuk, Patrick Olalere, among others in their fold.

In what they termed as their “initial response to the issues affecting our football back home,” the NE-FA said, “we write with pains in our fingers, anger in our hearts and our minds full of disgust.” 

The group noted, with resignation, how the country’s football development has stagnated since the advent of the current board  of the Nigeria Football Federation. Restating their relevance in the scheme of Nigeria football, the group described ideas of the current board as “conditioned by a warped sense of neo-colonization” which has “captured and gripped our football and asphyxiated it.” The ex-footballers identified key areas where the board has failed. 

They stated: “Poor grassroots development and a nonchalant attitude to the developmental aspects of Nigeria’s football,” adding, “their two terms underline a disastrous period for football in the country with the abandonment of previous structures that took Nigeria to the pinnacle of global youth soccer. Nigeria’s dominance in youth football where the Golden Eaglets are the U-17 kings in global soccer has disappeared.”

They also observed that under the current NFF administration, Nigeria struggles to qualify major competitions, including continental tournaments, citing the Super Eagles failure to qualify for the Qatar 2022 World Cup as a case in point although many would not agree with them on that as Nigeria qualified for the Russia World Cup with a game in hand. The ex-footballers’ body also noted that the downturn in the fortunes of Nigeria’s football stemmed from NFF’s total abandonment of previous youth-oriented programmes.

“Instead, the board has shifted attention to seeking youth talent from the European academy structure. A total neglect of the local professional league.” This, the group maintained, has been carried on with high intensity. “The board has led a systemic neglect of the NPFL and has window-dressed this with perfunctory invitations of local players to the national team. At every turn, the board has undermined the importance of local football. 

Yet, the  focus of Amaju Pinnick, the current board President on oversea-based talent has led to creating a national team laden with players that are not ready to fight with tears and blood for the country’s colors.”

Furthermore, the former footballers lamented the  the absence of the league on television, attributing it to  lack of league sponsors.

They accused the leadership of the NFF of championing “an NFF Guideline that excludes and shuts the gate against ex-Nigerian footballers.” They asked, “Why is it that a former footballer cannot have multiple or a single vote to determine who administers football in the country?”

They claim that excluding them from the game and how it is being run was not only damning but a big disservice to the development of the country’s football. “Their deep experiences in the game cannot be found among career politicians and those they described as “football hangers on.”

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.