I have received only a few responses to my last two articles on the NFF elections. I had hoped there would be a deluge of letters screaming blue murder. Instead I am thoroughly shocked by the muted reactions. It is either that people are afraid to express what they know or feel about the matter, are not aware of the magnitude and implications of the situation, or are simply benumbed by the realisation that they now know they have been taken for a ride for too long by a few Nigerians in the corridor of football and do not now know how best to even respond. Anyway which way, it appears to me that the elections into the NFF board have been kept so remote from the ordinary Nigerian that he no longer feels connected to its dynamics. He is dazed by the manipulative skills of the puppeteers and the situation makes him feel like a fool. The elections no longer interest as many Nigerians as one would have expected at this time and with the way things are presently in Nigerian football. Sentiments and bias apart, things have not been this bad with the performances of the entire national teams. Only the domestic clubs in continental competitions have performed with any glint of hope that things could still be better despite the ceaseless depletion of local teams of their best players.
The true story of the politics of Nigerian football is that in the past few months the football federation, with one of the poorest records of achievement in the history of the game in the country, has put in place the machinery to break a jinx, make history and become the first board to succeed itself! A few people in the NFF have played a fast one, railroading members of the congress distracted by other pecuniary things, into signing documents that are not scrutinised well enough to ensure they reflect the best interest of Nigerians and the game, and not that of a set of people with ulterior personal motives.
It is, therefore, my humble determination not to tire of saying those things that are deliberately designed machinations by a few people to secure a second-term for the present board. There is nothing wrong with having such an objective, what is wrong is changing the rules, altering the statutes and using FIFA to legitimise what should not be. Some of the people can be fooled some of the time; all the people can be fooled some of the time; but surely it is foolhardy to think that all the people can be fooled all the time! The issues are so simple it is annoying.
FIFA does not give specific statutes to member associations for the conduct of their activities. Each member is a separate and independent organisation operating within the laws and constitution of their own country. No statutes, including FIFA’s, supersedes the laws of any country. Each independent organisation is required to give FIFA two guarantees in order to be a member of the family. The first is that its activities will be strictly those of association football. The second is a guarantee that there shall be no third party interference in its activities. Finish. Period. Every thing else is secondary and flexible according to the peculiarity of environment, culture and laws of the land. For example, the contents of Decree 101 could easily pass for acceptable statutes by FIFA of the NFF if the word ‘decree’ is replaced with ‘statutes’. The contents need not change! The NFF could simply replace any references to government and replace them with nomenclatures that do not blatantly reflect they are government or its agencies! Even through the long existence of decree 101 FIFA never raised any query about it until the issues were raised by conflicts and its attention drawn to it. Till this day the act has not been repealed or replaced or erased. There cant be a better evidence of FIFA’s aloofness from the activities of its members. Otherwise FIFA has no business with how Nigerian football is run. That’s why State governments own clubs and FIFA does nothing. Thats why government officials occupy association and federation positions and nothing happens to them. That’s why whole associations and federations are appointed by governments and FIFA turns the other way and does nothing…unless and until its attention is drawn or its intervention is sought by an involved party.
What therefore would be any federation’s motivation for writing to or petitioning FIFA? Or seeking FIFA’s interpretation of simple articles or rules or guidelines in its statutes? Why would an association ask FIFA how or when to organise the elections of its members in an environment unfamiliar to FIFA? Why would an association indirectly seek FIFA’s approval to hold State elections before or after national federation elections, or at any specific time? Where is independence if FIFA provides an answer? Why would an association seek FIFA’s opinion on the membership of government agencies (named as such in their request) as voting or non-voting members in its elections, when FIFA’s negative response over such an issue is known by all? Is this not all a ploy to use FIFA’s contribution on certain issues, silence on other issues, acquiescence to certain issues as approval for the resultant product, when in reality no federation requires FIFA to determine or approve their statutes. There is a rat smelling here! Why would a board elected under the supervision of government (majority of the delegates were government appointees or civil servants) at the end of its tenure now seek protection by seeking to prevent any government input in the process of the next election?
From past experience bringing FIFA into the discourse of Nigerian football is usually to use fear to secure a narrow interest. The fear of FIFA-sanction is the beginning of wisdom. yet FIFA never interferes unless invited. You get the drift? The NFF sought FIFA’s ‘approval’ to legitimise the process and steps ‘buried’ cleverly in the statutes and to use an unwritten FIFA ‘approval’ to keep away any external intervention. Thats why the statutes as submitted for ‘approval’ to FIFA were never presented to the National Sports Commission that supervises by law the NFF, and the sports committees of the national assembly that approve funding for it. The NFF wants no government interference, yet it is almost entirely made up of members that got there backed by one government or the other! Why?
What I am saying here is that elections into the NFF must not have any threat of a FIFA sanction hanging over it for some clandestine objective. That is what all this seeking of approvals from FIFA, changing the rules towards the end of the game, not getting input from the NSC and the national assembly is all about.
The statutes that the NFF intends to use to run Nigerian football and to guide the elections next August is the product of a preconceived agenda designed to retain the present board in office. No threat by FIFA should stop the supervisory bodies for sports in Nigeria from looking at the statutes carefully and ensuring that it reflects the best interest of the game, of the people and of government. No threat of a FIFA sanction should debar this intervention! Indeed the NFF should be sanctioned by government should it take anything to FIFA without the knowledge of government that set it up, supervised the elections of its members and provides most of the funds for its activities. No statutes are superior to the laws of the country.
The national assembly and the NSC must call for the proposed statues, study them closely, make input into them and pass them as fit for use by the NFF. Both bodies must intervene in the election matter as a matter of urgency. The composition of the electoral committee must be done with the full knowledge and input of the NSC, and it must reflect neutrality, experience, integrity and no conflicting interest. All the State Footbal Associations must disregard the dubious inclusion of the indirect elongation of their tenures by situating their next elections in November/December. Most of their tenures end this month. State FA’s should and must conduct their elections immediately or they would be illegitimate and unqualified to do so in November/December. Just as FIFA refused to elongate the tenure of South Africa’s FA Executive Committee a few ekes ago and ordered elections so also must the NSC rise to their responsibilities and call the NFF to order. The NFF has no owe to set date and time of election for State FA’s or any of the members of the NFF. This time government must intervene to stop the NFF in its macabre dance.
NNPC/Shell Cup comes to an end
I am very happy to report that Monday Odigie, the coach of Nigeria’s under-17 national team tells me he will be in Port Harcourt this weekend. Thats where he should be. It tells us that the NFF is reacting wisely already to the suggestion from many quarters that Nigeria’s junior teams should be drawn from schools. That is where the genuinely young players can be found.
For 12 years Shell has invested in promoting this national football competition amongst all interested secondary schools in Nigeria. To a large extent that investment has yielded some dividends. A few lucky players have been discovered through that system and have gone on to play at higher levels in the game. But not enough! The amount of attention paid to the NNPC/Shell Cup has hardly been enough. Even up till now the NFF has limited its look-in at the players to the last 80 players from an initial number of over 60,000 that participate every year in the championship from all over the country.
Even then, that any interest is shown at all is a giant step in the right direction by the NFF.
It is heart-warming to observe that the new Sports Minister, Mr. Isa Bio, started his reign by finding the time to come to Port Harcourt to look at the juniors. He was a guest at the semi-finals matches played last night in Port Harcourt. With that singular act he left many with a good impression that he would start his sports development march from the grassroots.
Tomorrow, Peter Rufai and Jay Jay Okocha will lead a host of other great Nigerian football legends, Ebiyan Dediare, Josiah Dombraye, Adokie Amiasimaka, Apollo, Mike Okotie and, so on, all in Rivers State, to watch the finals of the competition where the next generation of Eagles will be showcased!
The NNPC/Shell Cup final, the 12th in the edition, with Governor Rotimi Amaechi as Chief Host, comes up tomorrow, Sunday, April 18, in Port Harcourt. There may just be a new Jay Jay waiting to be discovered.