By Nurudeen Obalola:
After the Super Eagles passed up the chance to defend their 2013 Africa Cup of Nations title by failing to qualify for last year’s edition of Africa’s biggest and most important competition, the last thing the country’s football needs is an unnecessary crisis.
What should have been dealt it by the Nigeria Football Federation firmly and decisively has been allowed to become a mirthless circus that will likely not end well.
The Vincent Enyeama and Stephen Keshi situations have shown the NFF hierarchy up as attention-seeking leaders apparently struggling to control impudent subordinates.
All the parties have played their unsavoury parts in the show of shame that promises only a slippery descent into ultimate failure.
First, Enyeama should have been careful in making statements about any part of Nigeria because our country is deeply divided along ethnic and regional lines, and comments from public figures are often taken out of context.
If the Super Eagles captain’s concerns about the playing surface were the only ones he had, few eyebrows would have been raised. After all, the best players would rather play on the best pitches, and Nigeria is too big not to have a proper pitch for its senior national team.
But when he questioned the choice of Kaduna over security issues, Enyeama – perhaps unwittingly – crossed a line. Some oversensitive people would say he was complaining only because the match was in the north.
Perhaps he meant no harm, but Enyeama really had no cause to condemn Kaduna based on fears of insecurity. On the surface, the statement may seem harmless, but if you are from Kaduna or based there, you would probably not be happy to hear something like that about your state.
Enyeama reportedly said: “I don’t like the choice of Kaduna based on what is happening in the country but then the government knows exactly what to do to make us safe.”
If Enyeama knew the government was capable of making himself and his colleagues safe, why then did he publicly question the choice of Kaduna? Couldn’t he have raised these concerns privately with the NFF and even the Kaduna State government and demand extra security?
Anyway, what exactly is “happening in the country” that is peculiar to Kaduna?
Obviously, Enyeama meant the Boko Haram insurgency that has terrorised some parts of Nigeria, but Kaduna has been relatively safe for the past one year.
Kaduna last suffered from a major terrorist attack in June 2014 and has been safe since.
Of course some might say the fact that Kaduna even suffered any attacks at all meant one should be worried about its state of security.
But, last year too, Abuja suffered THREE major terrorist attacks between May and June. And Enyeama had no problems camping in that same city or even playing there if the stadium was available.
If Abuja was okay, what then was wrong with Kaduna?
Abuja was so unsafe at a point last year that a friend of mine fell out with her mum because the mum insisted she quit her job in the federal capital and return to Lagos.
Besides, Enyeama played in Israel for years in spite of the never-ending conflict between that country and Palestine, and the Hamas rockets.
Some of those rockets have hit Tel-Aviv and killed people. There have been reports of suicide bombings in Tel-Aviv, a city he lived and played in for years.
And Enyeama would always tell you he had absolutely no security and safety worries about Israel.
Anyway, Kaduna people will also tell you they are far from Borno and Yobe, the major hotbeds of Boko Haram’s insurgency.
As for the NFF under the leadership of Amaju Pinnick, they appear to love a public show of power; they seem to thrive on pissing contests.
Instead of quietly dealing with Enyeama by giving him a strong verbal warning and letting him know he would not get away with such statements in future, they have turned the matter into a joyless soap opera.
It has become a drama where there are no heroes, only villains.
Now, opinions are sharply divided, some backing Enyeama, others supporting the NFF.
Rather than a written query and an invitation to a needless hearing, the matter would have died a natural death with a meeting on the night of the match with the whole team. The NFF should have then warned all the players of the implications of making such statements and made them promise not to have a repeat.
With that prompt and humane approach, there would be no need for queries being (allegedly) torn or disciplinary hearings ignored.
Even if the NFF felt the need to punish Enyeama to serve as a strong deterrent to others, they should have gone ahead and done so. No need for the melodrama.
Ireland dropped their best player Roy Keane for dissent in the run-up to the 2002 World Cup, yet they had a decent outing.
Ghana punished Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng at the World Cup last year for disrespecting FA officials, Ghana were not disgraced.
Even our own FA sent three important players – Celestine Babayaro, Victor Agali and Yakubu Ayegbeni – home from the Tunisia 2004 AFCON for breaking camp curfew. The Super Eagles still won their standard bronze. The world did not end.
The NFF should have either verbally warned Enyeama (considering he apparently meant no harm) or punished him (if they felt he was not remorseful) and drawn the line.
Enyeama has given years of meritorious service to Nigeria and bashing him in public is not the way to go.
On the other hand, Enyeama is answerable to the NFF so long as he remains a Nigeria international and he should respect their authority. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
The public show has done nobody any favours, just like in the Keshi case.
If Keshi did apply for the Cote d’Ivoire job as was reported, it is easy to find out.
Instead of the waste-of-money fact-finding trip to Abidjan being muted, why not contact the Ivorian FA through any of a number of communication channels available these days that would cost little or nothing.
If he did indeed apply, has he broken any clause in his contract? Is there a stipulated penalty if he did?
If his claim of not applying is true, forget the matter and move on.
We’re delving into dangerous territory if we allow this perception that the FA is on one side and the players and coaches are on the other.
If the cat and mouse relationship that has existed between the NFF and Keshi spreads to include the players, the country will ultimately be the loser.
While the NFF needs to stamp its authority, it does not have to humiliate the coach and players in doing so.
For instance, there is nothing wrong in fining Ogenyi Onazi for that rather silly red card against Chad that could have cost his team dear. But, instead of announcing the fine and making a huge deal of it, the NFF could simply have deducted it from his bonus or allowances and let him know why the action was taken.
The announcement of the fine and Onazi’s joking about it on Instagram with Enyeama (as reported exclusively by completesportsnigeria.com) show that there is disharmony and mutual disrespect in the Super Eagles set-up.
Now, there are serious speculations that Enyeama’s international career may have ended and Keshi‘s job is on the line.
If this toxic situation continues to build until the qualifiers against Tanzania and Egypt in September, it would blow up in our faces. And missing the 2017 AFCON would be a distinct possibility.
All concerned in this matter must grow up and act like the adults they are supposed to be.
By Nurudeen Obalola: