SPORTS: Politics and corruption in NFF

BY: Gaffar Olatunji

The skeletal graphics and cries at IDP camps of starved families who have been displaced from their homes as a result of terrorists activities and violence in the North eastern part of the country, is a stark glimpse of the Nigerian government’s total disregard to the value of human life.

This negligence of the Nigerian citizenry by their government is not peculiar to the welfare sector; we see it in all the sectors. Take for instance, sports. Back in the 90s; the days of Rashidi Yekini, Babayaro and the likes, the Nigerian football team was formidable to the rest of the world. The super eagles dominated every pitch like they owned it. The performances of 1994 and 1998, and the sweet victory at the Olympics in Atlanta 1996 are a memory worth reliving.

The country’s football sport seemed to have started on a right path to a brighter future, but years into that future and that hope has been dashed. The question that needs answers is, how did the once world number five (the highest rank ever achieved by any African football team) end up 67th?

The problem of sport like other sectors in Nigeria are numerous, but age long institutionalized corruption, ‘round pegs in square holes’, maladministration, politicking and lack of accountability among others are still the ugly roots on which the poor performance of the national team rests.

Corruption and politics in the Nigerian Football Federation, NFF, is rampant and has spread like terminal cancer. An average Nigerian with a kindred mind to football knows that the NFF has done greater damage to the country’s sporting reputation than the atomic bomb did to Hiroshima.

No thanks to the NFF, today’s Super Eagle is a relic of what it used to be in the 90s. The corruption in the NFF has not allowed our football to grow in spite of the myriad of skilled talents that abound in Nigeria. Football players are rarely chosen by merit but by their connection to top politicians.

Corruption has eaten deep even into the election of the management, which in turn affect how they run the NFF. For instance, Sani Lulu, former president of NFF; Amanze Uchegbulam, a former first vice president; Taiwo Ogunjobi, a former executive committee member and NFF former Secretary-General, Bolaji Ojo-Oba all faced trial for mismanaging N1.3 billion.

Some of the charges leveled against them include the illegal payment of allowances of $800,000 to 220 delegates to the World Cup in South Africa as against 47 delegates made available for the journey.

They were also accused of misusing N900 million World Cup funds meant for the NFF, procurement of two Marcopolo luxury buses for the Super Eagles without following due process and at over-inflated costs.

Nemesis caught up with the Nigerian/African representative in FIFA, Dr. Amos Adamu, who was banned from all football related activities for demanding bribe. Also, Taiwo Ogunjobi was banned for 10 years.

Corruption of age cheat in youth football development is another factor that has stunned the growth of Nigeria’s national football. Men are recruited into the national team as boys – a 30 year old playing for Under 17. We the citizens are normally wooed by the momentary outcome of these over-aged men on the pitch, but what should trouble us is the effect at the long run.

According to stakeholders, because Nigeria always field players older than their ‘football age’, many of them disappear after each competition. Only a negligible percentage of them play football for five or ten years more afterwards. This has crippled the effort to implement a developmental program that will nurture youths into forming the nucleus of our national team.

Nigeria can regain its past glory as Africa’s champion if things are done right. The present administration’s anti-corruption war has exposed corrupt practices inherent in the Glass House of the nation’s soccer governing body, the NFF. But more cohesive steps must be taken to ensure proper use of sporting allocations and also check excesses of the officials in the Glass House.

The officials of the NFF must be held accountable for how the sporting allocations are spent. Every year we have large chunk of money budgeted for sports but which end up in the bank accounts of corrupt sport officers. This ugly attitude where money meant for sporting equipment, training tours, facility development and maintenance is stolen must be addressed.

Since sport in Nigeria is intrinsically linked to politics, and as such, most people in administrative positions are not there on merit but through patronage, this poses many problems especially given the many administrative challenges facing the NFF. This must be stopped too for any development to take place.

Football will remain popular and an integral part of the social fabric in Nigeria. However, the development of the game as a viable commercial entity will never be realised if the current organisational malfeasance continues. MA