Why football in Nigeria is on its deathbed

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Ex-international, Sunday Oliseh, wrote in his SundayOliseh.tv webpage sometimes ago that, “To some people in Nigeria, football is no longer a sport, but rather it is all about money, nepotism, and politics”. In fact, this is the apt description of what we have just witnessed during the last Super Eagles home and away group “L” African Cup of Nations qualifying matches. Institutional nepotism and administrative incompetency have deprived the nation of her best football experts, ruined talented local footballers’ careers as they are not given chances to play. In another vein, most ex-footballers are side-lined and forgotten. The bribe-taking stories of old national coaches and administrators are still fresh in our collective psyche.

The twin evils of nepotism and corruption have conspired to destroy Nigeria’s chances of unearthing and producing the best football talents in the last two decades. If you are still doubting the state of Nigerian football development, please name two or three ‘complete’ talented players that emerged in our pride Super Eagles since the last four World Cup competitions that Nigeria participated in? This is an insult to our motherland´s standing globally and the integrity of a country with more than 200 million people!

To be precise, both the Minister of Youth and Sports, Mr. Dare and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) President, Mr. Amaju Pinnick were responsible for the shoddy performances of the Super Eagles matches against Sierra Leone national team. It was published in some Nigerian local dailies which concluded ignorantly that both the NFF President and the Minister of Youth joined the Super Eagles players in their round up training routine at Ogbemudia Stadium before their 4-4 match encounter as a way to motivate the players. That act was a total distraction for the players and not a morale booster. That kind of “show-off” intrusion in a training session was unnecessary for any competitive football match. The coaching crew, including the team psychologist and physiotherapist acted unprofessional to have allowed both sports ‘chiefs’ to be included in their training plan before a tournament at the boys` risk of injury. In fact, they should ask if any of the players have ever experienced such a “novelty” training situation with their respective teams abroad in preparation for a “serious” football match? No wonder at the Ogbemudia Stadium, the Super Eagles led by 4-0 against the visiting Sierra-Leone team, which came back to level up (4-4). The only vital “technical or tactical” contribution made by the Nigeria’s Coach (Gernot Rohr) was to bring in another striker when the roaring Sierra Leone players have replied with three goals in a few minutes. We have a pool of talents to tap from. Ndubuisi Egbo, an ex-international, now a coach, recently led his football team to win a league in Albania, Europe (first Nigerian). He certainly can do better than the present Nigerian Eagles team coach. Let us give qualified and tested ex-footballers the opportunity to run our football ministry.

Meanwhile, before the return leg in Sierra Leone, Mr, Pinnick regarded the Sierra-Leone return encounter as a ‘picnic’ (like his name sounds!) novelty football match or what is called a “dead rubber” in the English Premiership when he made a “newspapers-seller-stand” statement that “It is for us to go to Sierra Leone and beat them that 4-0” in major newspapers. This statement and his words (after the ex-senate president’s monetary motivation words) in the Super Eagles dressing room during the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia encounter with Argentina’s soccer team which the Eagles finally lost 1-2 showed him not a qualified football administration expert. The video went viral, and it was totally different from how ex-international, Kanu Nwankwo motivated the Super Eagles that same day. When the purpose of a thing is unknown, abuse of it is inevitable. It is not only abuse but a waste of time and resources of the nation.

Furthermore, in a recent video released via YouTube, the Minister of Youth and Sports said: “In every sport and football, there are unpredictable outcomes…” I have a news flash for the Minister: Success and failure are predictable. Sports and Football outcomes are predictable as well. Road traffic accidents are also predictable. I hope our Transportation minister would not say next time that road accidents are unpredictable. Nepotism is vastly ‘destroying’ our football in Nigeria. According to Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. Sadly, extinction beckons if drastic steps are not taken. Presently, many Nigerian youths prefer pool-betting, scamming, kidnapping, raping, looting, ritualizing, “religionfaking” 419, stealing and robbery, and joining bad groups, as government refused to provide variety of sporting activities. This is also to remind the Minister of Youth and Sports that Nigerians are expecting how the Youth Investment Fund of 75 billion Naira released by the Federal Government in July this year, will benefit the development of grass-root sports among the youths in all 774 local government authorities in Nigeria.

Furthermore, we have witnessed deep-rooted corruption in players selection resulting in empty stadia during league matches! Millions of football lovers in Nigeria are now supporting foreign teams with much passion, including leading Nigerian football fans have shifted base spiritually to the foreign land because of our incompetent administrators. Husbands, wives, and kids fight themselves because of foreign teams. Local administrators in Nigeria sponsored foreign teams’ win celebrations. Most reputable and old football clubs in other parts of Africa own their stadium. Where are our old football clubs’ stadia? You cannot point to Shooting Stars FC or Rangers FC or Kano Pillars FC stadium after many years of their establishment and fame in Africa? No stadium museum to let our younger generation see and know more about our past and present great and talented players. Private companies and government parastatals are no more interested in owning or sponsoring sporting activities, thereby denying our sports, the much need injection of private funds, social responsibility, and sponsorship.

What kind of football administration are we running now? Who are those managing the Sports Ministry that serves up to 200 million people? I remember with a feeling of nostalgia, how old famous private football clubs dotted our landscape. Names such as ACB of Lagos, First Banks FC, Racca Rover FC, Police Soccer team, Railway FC, P & T FC, Army soccer team, NEPA, Stationery Stores FC, Leventis United FC, Water Corporation. This was complemented by a virile, time-tested inter-house sports, school sports games, and competition of varying degrees. I remember the Olubadan Football Cup competition for primary school pupils and Principal Football Cup competition for secondary schools’ student. When last did you see children playing table-tennis? Apart from popular kids’ playing devices, local governments in abroad provide “cemented” table-tennis stand in the parks. Most of our schools have rented out their playing ground to shop owners.

Nepotism is threatening football in Nigeria and yet, this game is one of the most vital variables that could be used to unite Nigerians. We have witnessed many years without good policies to promote football from the grassroots level. We have been denied having technocrats and professionals in charge of the nation’s sport portfolio through executive fiat. You cannot get the best from the wrong people- especially from the people who cannot give what they do not have. Nigeria and Nigerians need experts and ex-football professionals to run Nigerian federal and state sports ministries. Since 1960, they have never allowed those qualified and tested Nigerian ex-footballers to head our sports ministry. These tested and qualified ex-footballers know more about football better than anybody. A football expert can never make such a prediction or statement of defeating those serious-minded Sierra-Leone team by 4-0 in Freetown. This country has been grappling with poor football policies for decades. What kind of people are we if we cannot do the right thing at the right time? We are witnessing nepotism and it is the order of the day ‘everywhere’ in Nigeria. Godfatherism and man-knows-man recruitment policy that is destroying all sectors of the economy.
We can only get good results from the best people!!!

Written by,
Adewale T. Akande, a researcher at the University of Barcelona, Spain.

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