The number of friends I have in Nigerian football dwindles in direct proportion to the number of times I express what is considered an unfavourable opinion about any personality in the sector. Thus, I avoid doing so as much as possible without shirking my responsibility to the public as a writer and commentator on my triple passions – sports, education and youth empowerment!
For example, there are several issues on the front burner of Nigerian football at the moment that not participating in the conversations would be tantamount to endorsing what I believe could portend some danger in the days ahead!
These are very testy times for the Nigeria Football Federation.
Vincent Enyeama Versus The NFF!
Take the case of Vincent Enyeama for example. To start with, who could have imagined that a small innocent comment by the captain of the national team and the longest serving player in the history of the game in Nigeria, on his personal fears about security in Kaduna, a city once an active centre for sporadic insurgent attacks and ethnic conflagration but now enjoying a season of peace, could boomerang and become an issue that could consume an authentic Nigerian hero, affect the fortunes of the national team, dampen the spirits of those in the team that support and look up to their captain, turn fanatical fans into an angry mob, and make a State governor extremely angry. To appease the enraged army of fans and the government of the State, the leadership of the NFF decided to put up Vincent Enyeama as sacrifice!
Haba, for whatever reason, the NFF went for a giant hammer to crush an ant. They either damned the consequence of their own reaction, or did not even think there would be one. Either way, they sent a written query to the man, and also invited him through the media to face a disciplinary panel.
Needless to go into what his own reactions were. But it was reported he tore the query in anger and proceeded on his holiday.
In the past few days, after it dawned on him that his illustrious career could end on a very sour note through a suspension or ban, Vincent Enyeama has been vigorously defending himself. The NFF are obviously enraged. It was bad PR that their Kaduna host whose munificence in supporting and providing the Super Eagles with a base to play their last match was paid back in Vincent’s politically uncomplimentary comments.
Vincent obviously did not mean any harm. He did not envisage that his statement would trigger the avalanche of reactions that it did. He must find it incomprehensible how a simple reference to the fear of insecurity in an environment with a previously poor record would generate such opprobrium. He ignorantly played into hands of political enemies of Kaduna State. Who says that Nigeria’s next opponents would not pick on Enyeama’s words and demand that the match be taken to another venue?
It is a lesson for him and the other players. Words, once expressed, cannot be taken back. So, as ambassadors of Nigeria, players must be very careful and let their boots do all the talking and their officials to do all the ‘fighting’ for them outside the field of play!
Having said that, the NFF overreacted by issuing the footballer with a written query. You do not write letters to footballers over such non-technical matters. They are footballers, not politicians! What response would they give to political questions?
Without doubt, Vincent was right to have had such fears, but, then, he was politically wrong to have publicly expressed them! Vincent apologized to the NFF immediately his error was pointed out to him. He assumed the matter was over. The invitation, thereafter, to appear before a panel is unnecessary. It only elongates and escalates a very simple and settled matter.
The Eagles won, and doused all the anger and tension of the period before the match. In the euphoria of that victory, all sins are forgotten and forgiven. Any action after that match is a distraction for everyone. Humiliating the captain of the Super Eagles should not be the intention of the NFF, even though that is what it looks like right now.
My humble take is that the NFF could have quietly and diplomatically dealt with the matter without playing to the gallery and raising other issues that can affect rational thinking as has already happened with the confirmation of Kaduna again as the venue for the next qualifying match.
Kaduna is now a safe and beautiful city with a very fanatical troop of football enthusiasts who will support the Super Eagles very well. But unless and until the bad turf of the stadium is made to be less sandy, less undulating, lush green and flat, I will join Vincent’s clarion call for seeking another ground outside Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna. My call would not be on the basis of insecurity but on the poor pitch. Playing with the present condition of the Kaduna turf that the Eagles barely managed to defeat a very ordinary Chadian side, they would find the Pharaohs of Egypt, their next opponents, much more difficult. The Kaduna turf, unless fixed properly will neutralise any home advantage the Super Eagles may have. Those who have ears, let them hear!
Stephen Keshi and the NFF!
The other matter is that of Stephen Okechukwu Keshi. I watched him a few days ago on television and could hardly recognize him. He looked bored, tired and subdued. The once proud and confident ‘Big Boss’ has been reduced to a humble, bumbling, mumbling and insecure person. Almost in tears, he was trying to defend himself over a serious charge of breach of his contract and unethical practice.
The NFF invited him to explain how his name was listed amongst those that have applied for the job of coaching the Ivory Coast national team whilst he is still in the employment of the NFF. Keshi insists neither he nor his agent applied for the job.
It is hard to explain why a national federation would publish a list of applicants for a position when receiving their application. The federation could actually be sued in court should that happen. Yet, Keshi insists neither he nor his agent applied for the job. So what happens?
There is still another issue.
It was reported that Keshi’s powers as coach of the Super Eagles have been reduced. He would now no longer have the final word on players invited to camp and the final team list for matches. Both decisions would now be sanctioned by the Head of the Technical department of the NFF, manned by a man whom Keshi succeeded in the national team.
Were it to be in any other country outside of Africa, a coach of Keshi’s credentials and achievements would immediately have resigned from the position rather than suffer the indignity and humiliation of reporting to anyone. The Head of the Technical Department of the football association now takes responsibility for the invitation of players, the selection of the players for matches and for the team’s success! This is preposterous!
I have never read or heard about such an arrangement anywhere. It is obvious it is designed to humiliate and infuriate Keshi and make him to voluntarily resign. The most surprising and shocking aspect of this is that Keshi, through his silence, has accepted the ‘poisoned’ arrangement and his fate. I understand that the price he would have had to pay to keep his dignity, would be to forfeit a guaranteed N5.0million naira monthly pay packet, when there is no other job in his horizon for him. His struggle now is that of survival.
Having said that, Stephen Keshi is dancing on a tight rope. His re-appointment did not go down well with a lot of Nigerians, particularly the leadership of the NFF. So, since they could not get rid of him due to the political forces that gave him the job at the time, the NFF now want to frustrate him into submission by making life difficult and impossible for him to work well and succeed!
The NFF must think beyond sentiments and narrow intentions. They must act maturely and not play the typical politician’s game of looking good before the public at the expense of equity, justice, merit, fair play and good old common sense!
These are more than enough unwanted distractions for the Super Eagles officials and players. At the end of the day, they are the ones that really matter!