By Segun Odegbami
It appears the train of the elections into the board of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, has left the Terminus.
The contestants are gearing up for the elections despite an overwhelming ‘consensus’ that some changes need to be made to the election rules in order to be able to usher in a new era and regime of football development following the failure of the out-going board as evidenced in the empty shelf for trophies in the football house.
Only those directly involved in the affairs of the football federation in the past 8 years of the board would consider the period anything else but a failure.
That major players in that board have the audacity to seek to become the next President raises questions about the process of the elections. Ordinarily, they should or would not secure a single vote if the public sentiments about them is to be interpreted. Even the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, had to take the unprecedented step of pointing out that amendments are needed and should be effected to provide the platform for more equitable elections to take place.
To all intents and purposes his wise counsel is being disregarded, totally ignored. The elections by the same old ‘failed’ people and process are expected to produce a different result. Who is fooling who?
It follows that the process will continue to attract forensic scrutiny and demand an audit until something is done to halt the disturbing decline in the development of the country’s number one sport.
Acquiescing to a flawed electoral process would never yield a different and better harvest of leadership and direction for Nigerian football.
How can any ‘outsider’ believe they can win with a lopsided electorate that gives absolute control of the levers of power to 37 persons that should not be in the Elective Congress in the first place.
The State Football Association Chairmen will surely not give up power and release their stranglehold on Nigerian football.
The big question is: how did they become so powerful and dominant in the board of Nigerian football? They will determine who becomes the next President of the NFA. They have 37 of 44 votes!
How did the country get to this flawed state ?
The most important, the most powerful, the largest contributor, the biggest stakeholder and biggest investor in Nigerian football today has been rendered impotent by time, ignorance and inexperience in dealing with the failed system, and fixing the problems of Nigerian football administration.
The Ministry in charge of Sports, superintending over all sports in the country, is a direct stakeholder and a legal member of the General Assembly as well as of the Elective Congress of the Board of the football association and every other sports association in the country except, probably, Golf and Boxing.
The Ministry was muscled out and outsmarted by State Association Chairmen at the General Assembly held in Port Harcourt in 2004.
To achieve a specific narrow purpose, the General Assembly reasoned to change the name of the Nigeria Football Association to the Nigerian Football Federation, and ‘Chairman’ of the Association to ‘President’ of a new Federation.
By these innocuous change in name and title the association of Nigerian Clubs legally registered and called the Nigeria Football Association was changed to Nigeria Football Federation to represent the assembly of State football associations, without any legal authority in the laws of Nigeria.
To date the Nigeria Football Federation does not exist in Nigerian law. The body is not registered as a private corporate body. Its change of name from Association to Federation is only on paper, a smokescreen with which the NFF has been operating as an illegitimate organisation in Nigeria, collecting funds from the Federal Government of Nigeria illegally, removing from power the legitimate owners and stakeholders of Nigerian football from the board, and tagging the Sports Ministry an interfering ‘Third party’.
That change of name and title, created the basis for a power shift that has removed, or diminished, the role and place of the following bodies from the Board of the football organisation – the Sports Ministry, the School Sports Federation of Nigeria, the Coaches Association, The Physical and Health constituency of Tertiary Institutions, the Referees Association, the Players Association, the Military and Para Military Constituency, the Youth federation, the body of Academies, and any other registered members or intending members directly involved as stakeholders in Nigerian football.
The body least qualified as members or even stakeholders of the Nigerian Football Association are now in the absolute majority with the present system introduced at the General Assembly of the NFA, in Port Harcourt, in 2004.
That’s where the train of Nigerian football derailed. To fix it, for football development to return to its right track, the country must re-visit what transpired in Port Harcourt and make corrections.
It is only after that that an Idah Peterside, an Abba Yola, a Christian Emeruwa, or any one of the outsiders attempting to win the elections into the next board, all genuinely qualified stakeholders, can contest for, and hope to win the election and become President of the NFF.
The Nigeria Football Federation, as presently constituted, is an association of State Football Associations. That title must revert back to Nigeria Football Association, an association for Nigerian Clubs.
The State football Associations are set up by State governments. They have no investment in Nigerian football. They do not own clubs. They do not own stadia. They do not own anything. They are not registered corporate bodies with the Corporate Affairs Commission.
They do not even pay registration fees as members of the Nigeria Football Association. Their role apart from registering their local clubs for Nigeria Football Association competitions, do not go beyond organising domestic football within their States.
They are members of the General Assembly of Nigerian football to be part of general policy formulation and auditing, but not members of the Elective Congress. As a member of the General Assembly, any member of any State Association can contest for any football office in the land.
So, how come they became so powerful as a group?
Once again, it is that change of name from Association to Federation that presented them as the ‘feeder’ to the national association, a representative of the national association in the States.
These days I even hear some aspirants as part of their manifesto, planning to fund State Football Association programmes! That’s how distorted the roles and being of the different bodies within the football organisation have become.
The changes in name and titles were used to achieve a specific diabolical objective at a point in time in 2004. They were deployed to halt a particular Chairman of the NFA in his quest to retain power. The weapon was never sheathed back to its original place.
With time, the error became the norm, and here we are almost 30 years later confronted by the Monster we created. We are now face to face with the almost impossible action of returning to the Nigeria Football Association that existed, thrived and gave powers to the real members of the association, not State Associations that have absolutely no direct role to play in football development at National level, beyond what they are doing now – installing one of their own to become President and further enslaving Nigerian football development and other members.
Once again, in our particular peculiar situation in Nigeria that no body on earth can fault, the Ministry of Sports owns the Nigerian national teams, owns the secretariat of the NFF, owns several of the stadia being used in the country’s football, and is, therefore, a legal and legitimate member of the General Assembly, member of the Congress as well as the elective Congress of the Nigerian Football Association.
That’s why from inception of the NFA the ministry has always occupied a place as a Member of the Association. That’s why its representative on the board has won more elections than any other constituency in Nigerian football history.
The ‘Federation’ that the NFF bears today is illegal. It carries a mis-representation of real owners and members of the Nigerian football body. It feeds the erroneous impression that the football house is an association of State football associations, whereas it is an association of registered football clubs and affiliated bodies.
Unfortunately, the situation has become so muddled up in the mind that the ministry actually now positions itself as an outsider, and a supervisor over the Nigerian Football Association, giving teeth to the dummy being sold to CAF and to FIFA that it is an external body, or a Third party.
That’s what all this is, selling a dummy, given and living with a false impression, one fuelled by fear that the country would be suspended for interference in the affairs of an organisation that does not exist in Nigerian law?
This mumu must stop.
If I were to be the current Minister of Sports, the present elections would be the tool and perfect opportunity to right the wrongs and halt the slide into the sustenance of failure that lies ahead if we let the President of Nigeria to eat his words of wisdom and advise, and allow illegality to reign over equity and justice.
We cannot be doing the same failed things over and over again and expect a different result.
Unfortunately, I am not Sunday Dare. The ball is entirely in his court.