SINCE the end of the World Cup things have gone relatively quiet in football on the African continent.
The only exception may be in Nigeria where internal crisis in the administration of the game has shifted attention from the field to the boardroom.
Incidentally, in a rather strange way, Nigerian football often mirrors the state of the country without influencing it!
That’s why I dare to contemplate in the very near future telling Nigeria’s political story through my experiences as a Nigerian football player, a project that is still quietly going on behind the gloomy scenes of infighting within the football house.
Let me confess that I do not fully understand what is going on now. I have only read about how the Executive Committee impeached the President of the Federation and the reactions after. Beyond that I know little else.
Let me state clearly first that as a previous victim of the present system of sacking and electing administrators I am not holding brief for anyone. But of the present state of affairs a few things are not clear to me. Dictionary definition of ‘impeachment’ interprets as a process set in motion to try someone for some alleged offense. Impeachment is not automatic removal.
That being so, in the case of the Nigerian Football Association, the President can be removed after impeachment only by confirmation of the General Assembly or Congress of the Federation that elected him in the first place.
That means that until Congress ratifies the decision of the Executive Committee, Alhaji Aminu Maigari, even though impeached, remains the President.
Maigari must mandatorily call for the next Congress or General Assembly of the Federation within a specific period clearly stated within the statutes. It is only when he fails to do so that the Executive Committee, with the approval of a specific percentage of the General Assembly, can call for the Congress.
Now, there appears to be confusion over what ‘impeachment’ means and who between the Acting President and the impeached President can call the General Assembly of the Federation. With the hardline position taken by both contending parties, I see an escalation of the crisis.
In the past two weeks, just as I have struggled in vain to make sense of the state of affairs in politics in the country, so have I grappled with understanding what is going on around Nigerian football.
The election into the next board of the Nigeria Football Association is the crux of the present crisis!
The crisis is an offshoot of the previous two elections, the unfinished businesses, the injustices, the product of government interventions and interferences, sentiments, political and tribal interests, and so on. In short, everything comes into play except what is in the best interest of the country and its footballers!
As the drama continues to unfold at an almost dizzying pace, it is amazing that all I can do is look on in total helplessness.
Inevitably, of course, because I have no other life outside of the sports sector, I must become a participant in the search for peace and justice within the chaotic labyrinth. I cannot siddon look.
My immediate thoughts are these: The present situation presents the country with an opportunity to right past wrongs, to do things correctly so that the future will match the people’s expectations for football. This kind of change comes with a price, of course. It cannot be painless. Some things must give. Some sacrifices must be made.
So, Alhaji Aminu Maigari must be treated decently and his position as President not disrespected, for what goes around comes around. Looking at the records and achievements of past Federation boards, surely his has done well!
Let us go through the correct process of elections and let the true representatives of the Nigerian people in the football sector decide his fate and that of the game.
We have damaged too many administrators in the past through hounding and allegations that were never substantiated.
We must seize the present situation and start again on a clean slate with determination, fairness and justice to all. Beyond partisanship, beyond tribal, ethnic and religious sentiments and biases, beyond a zoning arrangement that has only benefited a few, the present Minister must intervene now, and direct a new course for Nigerian football without interference!
Nigerian Football, A Metaphor For Nigeria!
During the World Cup I met Asari Dokubo, the freedom fighter of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. For a few days in Sao Paolo we chatted. I recall his diatribe on the state of Nigeria. It was a revealing conversation.
He spoke glowingly about the Republic of Benin where he now lives, a little country hugging Nigeria’s western borders. The country is one of the poorest countries in the world, dependent largely for economic survival on the crumbs from Nigeria’s table. It is a country that could economically grind to a halt should Nigeria shut her borders with it for a few weeks! Life in Benin is that perilous!
But across the Seme border, he told me, into Cotonou, the capital city, lies a reality that tells a shocking story!
Benin’s contrast with Nigeria is stark. It is like the difference between night and daylight. Only this time Nigeria is the ‘night’ and Benin Republic, the ‘daylight!’
In Benin Republic there is effective law and order, the major roads including the one leading to the border are well tarred and lit, power supply is regular, the traffic lights work, the security agencies are feared and respected, the courts and their laws are obeyed and respected. In short, life is well organized.
Enter Nigeria and immediately the senses are assaulted – chaos thrives, rowdiness pervades the environment, the roads are some of the worst in the world, security agencies openly receive bribes making a ridicule of law and order, power outages are rampant, court orders are disregarded with impunity, and so on and so forth. In short, life is chaotic!
Asari’s conclusion was so simple and yet so profound: with the way Nigeria was ‘constructed’ by the British, the country has not worked, is not working and will not work, unless and until there is a fundamental structural and cultural reconstruction!
I am not a political scientist so I put on my sports lenses and start to look into his assertions through them.
Football cannot but be a reflection of the state of the country. It has always been. We pretend football is immune from the rest of the country. So we allow cheating, falsehood, disregard of the law, ethnic and tribal considerations, power zoning (when it is convenient), corruption and impunity to thrive within the game and drive its development.
We hope football will grow and reflect the best of who we are by being insincere and inauthentic.
I believe that football has served Nigeria much more than governments have served football.
Football has projected the country better than any other aspect of our lives. Football has reflected our capability to be the best in the world if only we would do things correctly and with integrity. We always show great promise and potential. Even our ‘second eleven’ demonstrated this in Brazil and the whole world lamented, for a moment, what Nigeria could have achieved if only we presented our best based on our capabilities and potentials. We shortchange ourselves.
Asari Dokubo got it absolutely right. Nigerian football, like Nigeria, cannot work the way it is currently.
I have always believed, without empirical evidence, that football is a microcosm of the country, a metaphor – a country of tremendous energy, valued traditions, vast riches in natural and human resources and great potentials, but languishing in the gloom of wasted opportunities, celebration of mediocrity, impudence, squandering of its riches, endemic poverty and corruption.
I have known for a while now that Nigeria is generally in bad shape. I have lived in the country and experienced most of it all – the good, the bad and the ugly – through the period of the country’s modern political history. So I know!
Yet, the depth of how bad the situation is does not fully register in the psyche until something, an incident, comes along to throw a light unto the ‘darkness’ that is, as surely as night follows day, engulfing Africa’s most populous country and fastest growing economy!
In the middle of such a lavish global expression the situation at ground- level-zero is that things have never been this bad for the man on the street. Football and, indeed, sports as a whole, cannot be immune from the influences and vagaries of the national political explosions that have held Nigeria by the jugular in recent times.
A friend, a political scientist, described what is going on in these rather scathing words: ‘My people have gone mad o!’
I had no answer for him!