One of the grievous mistakes of those who administer our football here is arrant recklessness. In the past five elections into the executive board of the Nigeria Football Federation, this had conspicuously manifested. The very last exercise was not just a disgrace but a misnomer!
Any Nigerian who follows events in our football today knows that Nigeria will not play in the 2015 Nation’s Cup tournament because our football house simply could not organize a free and fair election. The Super Eagles will not be in Equatorial Guinea because the NFF and those who wanted to sit at its helm of affairs were busy politicking and witch-hunting one another in order to seize power in the football house.
While this was happening, the very aim of establishing the agency was sadly jeopardized.
It is clear that one of the major objectives of establishing the Nigeria Football Federation is to ensure Nigeria’s full, regular and effective participation in all football events locally and internationally.
Locally, our football leagues were the focus. Internationally, all competitions organized by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) were the target.
But while efforts to organize the last elections into the NFF lasted, the duties of the NFF were thrown overboard. Petitions, protests, litigations and arson flew from the remotest parts of this country to the Presidency, the National Assembly, Nigeria Police Headquarters, the Directorate of Security Service and our judiciary!
That arrests were made while these lasted is no more news. That court injunctions were given is also not new. That part of the Glass House, the building housing the NFF in Abuja was burnt, is also not painful. What was painful and is still painful, is the ouster of our national team, the Super Eagles, from the CAF-organized African Cup of Nations tournament scheduled for Equatorial Guinea in January next year.
Equatorial Guinea is Nigeria’s close-door neighbours. Very little differences exist between the cultures of both nations. They share common borders. They prepare and eat common dishes. Nigerians, especially the Ibos, indigenes of Niger Delta particularly those of Cross- River and Akwa Ibom States, mostly use Equatorial Guinea as second home.
During the immediate past century, the Ibo nation particularly, contributed so much to the development of Equatorial Guinea through the provision of physical labour in rubber plantations in that country. Then, the area was simply referred to as “Panya”. Many young men from Nigeria’s south- east, particularly the Owerri and Aba axes, physically began life in that country, living and working in rubber plantations. So many became very successful that the south-south communities of Uyo, Ikot-Ekpene and Calabar soon had their indigenes jostling in the scramble for rubber plantation jobs in Equatorial Guinea.
The result was a very heavy Nigerian presence in that country. Nigerian communities sprang up in many cities inside Equatorial Guinea. So was our culture, our food and lifestyle.
The consequences of this effort by hard working Nigerians soon led to the “Nigerianisation” of Equatorial Guinea until independence beckoned.
Our fore fathers, in demanding for Nigeria’s independence, unfortunately extricated “Panya” in order to have a defined focus in their struggle. And with that, the desire by Nigerians to physically annex “Panya” into our life-style waned. And subsequently died!
However, those whose fathers made very strong economic success in that country still live there till this day.
It is to play in this country that the recklessness of those who organize our football has cost us. To those who understand the situation, playing in Equatorial Guinea is like playing in Nigeria. Our administrator have made us lose that opportunity. It is like absenting oneself from a feast in which one would have had all the opportunities to get a share of the best.
Today, the future leaders of our football are watching. They are observing the selfishness of their elders. They are learning the peculiar pattern of things in football administration, Nigerian version. They will see more.
The only point is, will they be able to separate the wheat from the chaff? The way it is now, Nigerian football is on the slaughter slab. Yes, our youths are naturally talented in the game. But because those who administer the game are selfish and reckless, Nigerian football has found itself at the mercy of failure.
Those who regulate the game in FIFA and CAF are aware. It is common knowledge amongst them that Nigeria lacks the prowess to reap the glowing opportunities inherent in her football and that is how serious they take our administrators.
Issah Hayatou, a Camerounian and President of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), summed up Nigeria’s ineptitude in football administration last month when asked about the crisis in Nigerian football: “Honestly, we don’t discuss issues in Nigerian football any more,” Hayatou offered. “All of us in CAF are tired of Nigeria.”
Hayatou’s remarks are quite instructive. CAF is tired. Events in Nigerian football are so unpredictable that CAF does not know how to offer solutions. Stake holders in Nigerian football are so self centred that CAF and FIFA are always short changed in taking decisions that will provide permanent solutions.
“We have decided to let them solve their problems by themselves,” Hayatou continued. “The only thing is, wherever and whenever their crises clashes with the rules of CAF and FIFA, we will definitely resist.”
We are on our own! Until we raise football leaders with selfless nationalistic instincts, we will continue to struggle with our football.
Festus Adegboyega Onigbinde, Super Eagles’ technical adviser to the African Cup of Nations held in Cote d’Ivoire in 1983, waved his head after our 2-2 draw with South Africa in Uyo and simply offered: “We are not doing a lot of things right. I think the day we instill the right developmental programme in place as well as right administration, we will stop to struggle to qualify for major championships.”
Sone Aluko, the Hull City boy whose brace saved us from imminent home disgrace against South Africa, was more philosophical; “Our team and Nigerians will learn from this experience and be stronger. You win or you learn.”
Aluko said so much in few words. And it is left for Nigeria to win, or to learn to win the hard way.