–Football veterans take Nigeria president-elect to task on football development as the NFF contract talks with Stephen Keshi remains at the crossroads
Completesportsnigeria.com sets up a Jury amidst the unending Super Eagles coaching job palaver. The NFF, still awed by the influence of the presidency in recalling out of contract coach Stephen Keshi after the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, still can’t do without the dissent Big Boss who later made a public apology on Saturday. How intriguing! And our jury returned almost unanimously with a proactive recommendation: that Nigeria’s president-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) must learn from the mistake of the incumbent, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, and not interfere in the affairs of the Nigeria Football Federation, instead must provide the enabling environment for the development of football, nay sports in Nigeria. Adegboye Onigbinde, Adokiye Amiesimaka, Felix Owolabi and Mike Umeh spoke to Completesportsnigeria.com about moving Nigerian football forward without any presidency interferance.
Nigerian football, nay sports fraternity are already looking forward to seeing what the president-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari’s slant for or against sports will look like after assuming office on May 29. But particularly, the larger population of the football-crazy Nigerians has been expectant. There is a consensus that Nigerian football which has plummeted terribly needs a serious revamping.
Buharism is the sobriquet ascribed to Buhari’s military regime of December 1983 to August 1985, for its peculiar no-nonsense and steadfast approach to issues in governance. Nigerians who voted him in massively now hold that firmness of character in his honour and expect that the retired General will uncork that formula yet as a civilian Head of State, to sanitize Nigeria. And the ailing Nigerian football is virtually begging to feel the sweeping effect of Buharism and spring back to life. But “how” is is the concern of Completesportsnigeria.com’s Jury in this discourse.
Most of our jury members condemned the the mistake of the incumbent head of state: going too far in meddling in the affairs of the NFF, influencing the body to recall Stephen Keshi for his Super Eagles contract extension. About nine months after that presidential ‘mediation’, the NFF and Stephen Keshi are yet to find a common ground to formalize a new contract. And Nigerian football has suffered the setbacks induced by the prolonged saga.
Unknown to many, President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari is an ambitious football lover. Leadership newspaper on January 22, 2015 quoted General Buhari’s secondary school classmate: former Inspector. General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomassie as saying that the President elect Will grab any good opportunity to express his love for football.
Coomassie said: “…While we were in school, Buhari was the head boy. He loves playing football. We were all close friends in school. After we finished secondary school, General Buhari decided to join the military, I joined the police and Justice Abdullahi decided to go to the university…”
As a military Head of state, Buhari had the honour of motivating the national team, the Green Eagles to Silver medal feat at the 1984 Nations Cup hosted by Côte d’Ivoire. Nigeria’s cadet team, the Golden Eaglets made Buhari’s government proud by winning the first ever cadet (now U-17) World Cup in China. In fact, Buhari reportedly nicknamed the Ngeria’s national U17 side the Golden Eaglets when he staged a reception in honour of the triumphant team captained by the current Flying Eagles assistant coach, Nduka Ugbade.
General Ibrahim Babangida’s military setup dethroned Buhari’s regime immediately after that cadet World Cup triumph.
Another pointer to Buhari’s unwavering love for football was recorded when he turned up at the Abuja National Stadium on June 11 2003 (during General Olusegun Obasanjo’ regime), to cheer the Super Eagles during an international friendly match with Brazil.
General Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) manifestos during their 2015 Presidential electioneering campaign may have been silent on sports, but there is no ruling out the possibility of his innate passion for football holding sway after assuming office at Aso Rock.
Our jury cautions the president-elect, Muhammad Buhari to desist from being over-ambitious this time around as the civilian President, to avoid derailing Nigerian football the Jonathan way.
Former Super Eagles and CAF Instructor, Adegboye Onigbinde condemns in strong terms the ‘interference’ of President Jonathan over who becomes the national team coach. And he hopes the president-elect Muhammadu Buhari does not meddle in the affairs of the national team in the same vein.
“No preeident in the world can go into all aspect of governance. We have qualified people who can run our football,”Onigbinde, a former FIFA instructor and member of FIFA Study Group begins unequivocally on the floor of Completesportsnigeria.com Jury.
“That was why I said it was a shame that the (current) president of Nigeria will decide the appointment of a coach for the national team.
He continues: “At a point, the president said they should allow Keshi to continue as the coach of the national. A president coming to that level? It means that the people who are directly in charge are missing few things.
“When did you hear that the Prime Minister of England or the queen of England came down to run football for their country? No president have to come in to say that a coach should be allowed to continue. And that was why when that instruction came, I sent a text message to Keshi that if I were you, I will thank the president profusely and bow out.
“I said this (to Keshi) because the president will not come down to work with you, there are people who will work with him, but we have been on the matter for over eight months now.
Former NFF Vice-President, Chief Mike Umeh Corroborates: “Talking about national team coaches, and more specifically, the Super Eagles as has been reported in the media, no, the government should not interfere in who becomes the national team coach – that is not the duty of the President or the National Sports Commission.
On his part, 1980 AFCON winner Felix Owolabi posits that the president should limit himself to providing the enabling environments for football to develop rather than direct involvement in the decisions of the federation.
“It is a profession that has made me, and I will not have any course to regret it. So this is where we have to look into it and get the best person with the personality that will manage the position. So it will be better if the president-elect will have interest so that he will put the right person there as minister, that should be the only focus of the president.”
One time Green Eagles Captain and former Rivers State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Adokiye Amiesimaka agrees that a president should have no business with the decisions of a sports body like the NFF, but is not convinced that President Jonathan actually dabbled into it as has been widely reported.
Amiesimaka insists: “President Jonathan never said that he imposed Stephen Keshi on the Nigeria Football Federation as the Head coach of the Super Eagles. It’s just the press that have written a lot of things. That was not the situation.
“Why not ask Amaju Pinnick (NFF President) who is stopping you from taking a decision on hiring or firing a national team coach. If they have to hire Keshi. they should hire him, and if they have to fire him, they should fire him.
“The NFF is not even properly incorporated. That is what they have to do just like FIFA which is not created by Swiss law, but are only incoroprated in Switzerland because that is where they are based.”
Adokiye Amiesimaka flaunts his football development blueprint for the President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari (retd).
“The question is going back to the basics. We need to get a youth development programme that works. Its not about having a competition and bringing players together, preparing two months to the competition. I mean preparation at the grassroots level,” the one nicknamed Chief Justice of football offers on the Completesportsnigeria.com Jury.
“We want to be the best in the world, but we don’t know what it takes to be there. You start from level A.
“The press is part of the problem. You focus too much on results and not preparation. If you want to produce a professor in Law, you start from the nursery school, then to the secondary school, perhaps High School, then the University. When you identify talented players, you need to take them through their formative years. That is the case in Europe and South America, but not at the expense of their education though.
Amisimaka quips: “As it is now, are the Super Eagles not strong? Are we not one of the most powerful teams in Africa.”
He continues seriously: “You see, we dream a lot in this part of the world. We say we are one of the best teams in the world, one of the best to be reckoned with; that is not true. That’s a wishful thinking.
“I’ve been asked this question a lot of times, but nobody wants to do the needful and I feel it is a waste of time. Yes, we have potentials but we now sound like broken records.”
Onigbinde is pointing to the way forward with a firm optimism that the new president-elect will affect football and sports in general positively, going by the retired General’s reputation of steadfast action.
“If you permit me to be sentimental here, I remember the type of support he gave us in 1984 in Cote d’Ivoire at the Africa Cup of Nations. Buhari (as military Head of State) sent a personal message of goodwill to me before we played the final which unfortunately we lost (against Cote d’ Ivoire).
“He is a silent burner. He is not the boisterous type. He is very effective and active, and that is why one is expecting a lot of improvement in our sports in particular,” Onigbinde submits to Completesportsnigeria.com Jury.
Owolabi expects General Buhari to ring the right changes at the federal level of sports administration if he must get it right with his football and other sports development agenda in Nigeria.
“For a very long time, the sports fraternity has clamoured for a better reference as far as our sports is concerned. What I mean is that when you have a new government like this, the sports family will want to expect that when they are choosing who is who, like the minister of sports, it should be people who are relevant to the course of sports,” Owolabi states.
“For example in Europe, a minister is made the head of works or something like that, accordingly in his area of specialization. But in Nigeria, you pick a medical doctor to be a sports minister. These are some of the problems we have been facing. So, you will find out that we are not moving ahead, instead we are always stagnant.
“Unfortunately,cwe don’t have a blueprint on the way forward for Nigerian sports, different administrations with different view, especially on how to run football, which is not supposed to be the case. In a nutshell, let us put it to the new government, that it should be a challenge to them that they are coming to make a reform.”
Mike Umeh wants the President-elect to make football and sports in general benefit from the private sector participation.
“I expect the President-elect to reorganise Nigerian sports and football in particular. Sponsorship is key in sports. And to curtail government interference in Nigerian sports, we need the active participation of the private sector. That is where the enabling economical environment in the country will help sports. In some parts of the world, there are laws that compel multinational organisations to set aside certain percentage of their profit for sports development.
“The incoming President is known to be a disciplined and focused man. We hope that he will bring the change that will move our sports forward.
Speaking further on the idea of the Presidency having a direct say in the affairs of sports bodies, Umeh adds: “Are you saying that we should not have a sports minister or that accountability is not a key word in sports?
“There should be checks and balances and we expect fairness by the sports officials. “