August 7, 2022

Remembering Fela Anikulapo-Kuti

Checking hooliganism in the League

I was in my early teens when I started hearing this great musician from Abeokuta in Ogun state. I listened to his music till he died in 1997 and still listens to it till date.

Like Bob Marley, also late, Fela was not just a great musician but also a great philosopher mostly misunderstood by those who found themselves in power because his songs centered mostly on their misdeeds.

And two Nigerians reminded me of Fela in the last couple of weeks or is it days? The two of them hold positions vital to the welfare and happiness of Nigerians and I wonder how they thought Nigerians would feel by their actions.

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They are President Muhammadu Buhari and the second, also a president but in charge of our football federation, the NFF, Amaju Melvin Pinnick.

They reminded me of two great songs by the legendary Fela who was detained uncountable times for being a ‘rebel’. Yes he was a rebel with a cause.

President Buhari reminded me of Fela’s song, ‘Teacher don’t teach me nonsense’. I couldn’t understand why, at a time the insecurity in our country had grown so palpable that everyone could feel it with the terrorists closing in on us, our president accepted to go to Liberia to lecture them on security. What was he going to tell them? The tactics to intercept information from the terrorists camp and puncturing their dastardly plans before they carry it out or how his government has been able to   smoke them out from their hiding places and made Nigeria a peaceful haven for tourism to strive now better than before?

While Nigerians were still pondering on why President Buhari would accept that kind of role that would have made Fela laugh hysterically, we heard that Pinnick had assured the Confederation of African Football, CAF, that Nigeria was ready to step into the place of Guinea to co-host the 2025 edition of the AFCON with Benin Republic.

I wondered where the authority came from for him to make such a pronouncement because in such matters, only the Federal Government can guarantee it before CAF could even announce it.

Two things came to mind. One, how will a government still battling with a lingering ASUU strike that has kept students at home for six months explain to Nigerians that it is going to spend a humongous amount of tax payers money to host a football event under an excruciating economy where the dollar has risen to over N700 to the United States’ dollar.

Secondly, Nigerians are still seething with anger over the Super Eagles non qualification for the 2022 World Cup later this year, the first in the Middle East and the first to be played outside the traditional summer period in Qatar. The average Nigerian fan has not forgiven the NFF which they blame for the loss of the ticket right before their eyes at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja. And even if they love football, hosting of the AFCON they are not sure the present crop of players in the Super Eagles are capable of winning is not the same as seeing their team compete among the best in the world at the World Cup.

Again, that would have amounted to what Fela sang about ‘suffering and smiling’, hosting football while the people are suffering hardship occasioned by lack of basic amenities that will make life worth living for them.

Thank God CAF rose up quickly to deny ever discussing a change of venue of the 2025 AFCON, assuring that Guinea remains the host for now. CAF had only shifted the next edition scheduled for Cote d’Ivoire in July 2023 to January 2024, citing the weather condition in that part of the continent at that time of every year as the reason.

Again Nigerians have not forgotten how the Super Falcons who were seeking to increase their leadership in women’s football by gunning to win their 10th African title   flopped even against Zambia and lost the bronze medal.

Apart from the fact that the team’s standard was not good enough to get them to the final and so couldn’t retain the title, the players even sat out during a training session in preparation for the bronze medal match. Why? They were protesting against unpaid allowances.

Meanwhile the same NFF which couldn’t pay players their allowances, which was dragged by former Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr to FIFA for unpaid salary is the same body that wanted to commit the Federal Government that is battling with a myriad of problems into hosting a continental football competition.

It hasn’t occurred to the same NFF that its football leagues, for both men and women have no sponsor and their clubs don’t earn anything playing in the leagues while officiating officials are owed backlog of allowances. Rather than repackage the league to make it attractive for sponsors, the NFF is seeking to waste money hosting competitions to satisfy both CAF and those of them that may directly or indirectly benefit from it. 

We must begin to do things right as a country, be it on the political front with the government or sports. That is why from now going forward, we must learn to put square pegs in square holes and stop the idea of encouraging mediocrity through the quota system which over the years have thrown up incompetent and desperate leaders in positions of authority.

Leadership of football deserves to be looked at holistically. When the delegates meet in September to elect new leaders to manage our football for the next four years, in the first instance, they must look beyond ethnicity and religion but look out for those with competence, creativity and vision on how to turn our football management around.

Football should not be competition driven because those who manage the game want to travel to amass allowances but must be developmental so that hidden talents that abound in the country could be discovered and nurtured to stardom.