Why Nigeria Gives FIFA Headache

The crisis witnessed in Nigerian football industry in recent weeks is a reflection of the state of the country’s football

 

By ANTHONY AKAEZE

FIFA-executive-committee-at-a-meeting

FIFA-executive-committee-at-a-meeting

It was the fourth time within one month that the Federation of International Football Association, FIFA, was forced to intervene in Nigerian football. The first was last July, after a high court in Jos, the Plateau State capital, sacked Aminu Maigari, the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, president from office shortly after the end of the World Cup in Brazil.  Following the court’s ruling, FIFA threatened to ban Nigeria from all football-related activities unless the ban was reversed. The plaintiff, Ebiakpo Baribote, who had sought the court’s relief against Maigari over the management of her club, Nembe Football Club, later withdrew the case from court.

But that did not end the matter. As soon as Maigari was reinstated, members of the NFF executive committee impeached him for alleged financial impropriety.  Then Mike Umeh, the vice president of the NFF, stepped in as acting president. FIFA again intervened. It refused to recognise Umeh’s leadership and asked that Maigari preside over the next NFF election slated for August 26.  That did not happen, as Maigari soon resigned. Then a congress was organised where Chris Giwa was declared winner. Before the congress could hold however, the NFF office went up in flames! A new date, September 4, which FIFA had earlier fixed for a new election, was adopted by a faction of the NFF, but Giwa insisted that he approved already been elected.  On September 3, FIFA again fixed this Monday September 8 as the new date to elect a new NFF president.

Tammy-Danagogo

Tammy-Danagogo

FIFA’s constant intervention each time was based on its belief that its statutes regarding how football should be run was breached either by forces outside the NFF or within it. The July 2 court order, for instance, was considered by FIFA as a violation of rules such as Article 13, paragraph 1, and article 17, paragraph 1, all of which abhor external influence in football matters. Rather than the normal court, FIFA prefers that disputes concerning the game should be taken to the Court of Arbitration for sports. These developments in the NFF, within such a short time, were a source of embarrassment for some Nigerians and even FIFA, as this is not the first time FIFA would threaten Nigeria with a ban should it fail to get its act together. In 2004 and 2010, the soccer ruling body also threatened to wield the big stick should the country fail to conform to its norm.

Like the parents of a problem child whose antics are a source of pain, FIFA is often forced to leave other duties to mediate in Nigerian football, which for years has been plagued by poor management, government interference and corruption.   In 1989, FIFA banned Nigeria for two years after discrepancies were spotted in the age record of three Nigerian players: Andrew Uwe, Samson Siasia and Dahiru Sadi. In 2005, Obafemi Martins faced one of the embarrassments of his life after it was discovered that the date of birth on his passport was different from NFF’s record. While Martins’ passport bore October 28, 1984 as his date of birth, the NFF website listed it as May 1,1978. The NFF later described the contradiction as an “administrative error” but Martins wasn’t happy about it.   To him, the blunder showed that the NFF was “not well organised.” The same administrative error was responsible for a young Nigerian footballer in 2003 suddenly bearing the name “Mikel” rather than “Michael” his father named him. But the player, sensing that the former was more poetic than his original name, decided to adopt it and is today known as Mikel Obi or John Obi Mikel. These are some of the howlers associated with the NFF.

Aminu-Maigari

Aminu-Maigari

But corruption is also thought to be rampant in the system. In fact, many analysts insist it is the endless jostling for positions in the organisation for largesse that is at the heart of the current crisis in the organisation. One of those who feel so is Kayode Tijani, a journalist. “Everybody is going there just because of the money. They know the budget that is given to sports every other year is attractive; that is why they are falling over one another in order to make it to the Glass House,” said Tijani.

A letter written to Maigari by the sports ministry shortly after Nigeria crashed out of the World Cup gives an idea of the NFF budget. Not long after Nigeria qualified for the second round, news suddenly made the rounds that the Super Eagles players refused to train for their upcoming match against France unless they were paid their bonus. The NFF didn’t appear to have an answer to their demand until the federal government intervened by making money available, which led to the players changing their position. But the team crashed out of the competition after losing 0-2 to their opponents. Perhaps irked by the embarrassment of the Super Eagles holding the nation to ransom, the ministry of sports, in search of answers to certain questions that had bogged not a few minds, asked the NFF to account for monies it had received over a period of time. In the letter dated July 2 titled, Account for Funds, and signed byJustice Joffa on behalf of Tamuno Danagogo, sports minister, Maigari was asked to “give a detailed statement of account of all monies received from the federal government, other sponsors/donor companies and FIFA by the Nigeria Football Federation…within 48 hours.”

The monies Danagogo wanted clarification for were “N150,000,000 monthly federal government subvention from January 2013 to date; N850,000,000 released by the federal government for the preparation and participation of the Super Eagles in the first round of matches at the FIFA World Cup, Brazil 2014; $1,500,000 FIFA grant the federation received for the preparation of the Super Eagles for the World Cup; and receipts from various donors and sponsor companies for the prosecution of the 2014 World Cup and management of our leagues.” That was not all. Danagogo also demanded a refund of the “$3,600,000 Mr. President graciously advanced for the appearance fees of players” in Brazil.

It was unclear whether Maigari responded to this letter as demanded. Efforts to interview him last week were unsuccessful as calls and text messages to his phone were not replied.

Fire-gutted-the-NFF-Glass-House,-Abuja

Fire-gutted-the-NFF-Glass-House,-Abuja

To many Nigerians, the issues raised in the letter are all too familiar as they border on accountability, which many observers feel is in short supply in the NFF.  Before the latest inquest, a case of probity had been brought against Sani Lulu Abdulahi, former NFF president and Maigari’s predecessor; Amanze Uchegbulam, vice president of the organisation; Bolaji Ojo-Oba, secretary general; and Taiwo Ogunjobi, head, technical committee of the NFF, who were all arraigned in court not long after the Super Eagles crashed out of the 2010 World Cup hosted by South Africa. They were quizzed and paraded in court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

Contrary to initial belief that they were quizzed for misappropriation of funds during the World Cup, the EFCC was to charge them for allegations of financial misconduct prior to the FIFA event. In the case which first came up in the federal high court in Abuja in 2010, and which is yet to be concluded, Abdulahi, Uchegbulam, Ojo-Oba and Ogunjobi were charged with a number of offences including conspiracy to wit: “refusing to follow due process by not requesting for quotations from suppliers, but rather without legal justification opted for emergency procurement procedure in the procurement of 2 numbers Mercedes-Benz Irizar (sic) buses and thereby committed an offence contrary to and punishable under S.518(1) and (7) of the Criminal Code Act cap.c., 38, Laws of the Federation, 2004.”

The list further shows that  “on or about the month of December, 2008” the four top NFF officials were alleged to have breached “public procurement procedures to wit: approving the payment of the sum of 82,000,000 (Eighty Two Million Naira) as part payment for the supply of 2 nos Mercedes Benz Marcopolo buses, over and above the maximum payment limit of 15% of the value of the contract sum as mobilization to CNBC Nigeria Limited…”

Similarly, Abdulahi, Uchegbulam, Ojo-Oba and Ogunjobi were also accused of abusing the authority of their offices by “not buying the particular specification of 2 nos Mercedes Benz Marco polo buses stated in the contract of supply between the Nigeria Football Federation and CNBC Limited, but rather opted for the purchase of a 2 nos. Mercedes Benz Irizar (sic) (Century 15500) model buses, a model cheaper and inferior to the Mercedes Benz Marcopolo buses at the same rate of 99,000,000 (ninety nine million naira)…”

The NFF bigwigs were also alleged to have “on or about the month of April 2010 used their “offices and positions to corruptly confer unfair advantage upon” themselves by “issuing 1,263 tickets as complementary to friends, associates, political support groups and family relations.” In the same April 2010, Abdulahi was accused of procuring “the services of one Mr Tunde Adelakun as a consultant for chartering and hiring of an aircraft to convey Nigerian national football team (Super Eagles) to South Africa for the purpose of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, without required notice…”

Still on the South Africa trip, Abdulahi, Uchegbulam, Ojo-Oba and Ogunjobi were accused of exploiting their positions as board and executive members of NFF by “booking the Hampshire Hotel, being a cheap, substandard, unbefitting and an unlisted hotel not among the approved list of hotels by the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) for lodging by participating teams and caused the federal government to pay a fine to the tune of $125,000 for breach of contract.”

That was not all. They were also charged with “misappropriating the sum of N900 million, $1 million, $200,000 released to the Nigerian Football Federation at various times without giving proper accounts as to how the monies were spent in South Africa” and “paying esta code allowance of $800,000 to 220 delegates out of which only 49 persons are authorised Nigerian Football Federation officials and 171 persons were friends, associates, political support groups and family relations.”

These allegations, though still in court, offer insight into the activities in the Glass House and some analysts argue that the fire that gutted the Glass House recently may be the handiwork of people bent on ensuring that records of financial transactions in the secretariat are destroyed.  And in a bid to unravel the matter, officials of the Department of State Service, DSS, were reported to have arrested and questioned Maigari and two other principal members of the NFF over the matter. Not a few people wonder why the NFF secretariat should be gutted at a time questions were being asked about financial matters concerning his tenure that was set to expire in a few days’ time.

Maigari’s sympathisers however say that the man has done no wrong and that he was merely being hounded by powerful forces in authority. Although Danagogo has just been in office for only six months, some observers feel the relationship between him and Maigari is far from cordial and that Danagogo has been the secret hand behind Maigari’s recent problems which began with a court judgment in Jos on July 2, truncating the Bauchi-born administrator’s appointment, leading to his replacement by Danagogo with Lawrence Katken.  That was the genesis of Maigari’s travails that led to FIFA issuing a statement demanding his reinstatement.  That issue is now a foregone matter as Maigari curiously forwarded a letter of resignation.

As is typical of many issues in Nigeria, the ethnic card is also playing out, as the matter is interpreted in some quarters as a fight for control of the nation’s football hierarchy between the North and South. Danagogo is from Rivers State. But a journalist who covered the FIFA World Cup in Brazil said the no love lost relationship between Danagogo and Maigari probably has its roots in personality clashes. However, Patrick Omorodion, the special assistant on media to Danagogo, insists there’s nothing personal to it and that his boss has nothing to do with the crisis in NFF.

Besides the squabble or allegations of misappropriation of funds, some monies had been reported missing in the NFF secretariat in the past. In March 2009, the media was awash with tales that $236,000 was stolen in the NFF office. While many were at a loss how this happened, not a few people suspected insider collaboration. Following that scandal, a committee was allegedly set up by the National Sports Commission to probe the incident.  Asked what became of the matter, Omorodion, whose principal is also the chairman of the National Sports Commission, told the magazine that the case is in court.

That, however, was not the only reported case of missing money as it concerns the NFF. In June 2012, $80,000 belonging to the federation meant to cater for allowances and bonuses for Nigerian U-20 women’s football team was reportedly stolen during an international engagement. But Musa Amadu, the NFF general secretary, denied that any such money was missing. “If our money was missing, we would be the first to declare so and state where and how that happened. This is a case of outright mischief. The so-called story was posted on the social network by a fellow known for his lies and despicable invention,” Amadu was quoted as saying after the story broke.

The denial notwithstanding, stories of missing money, of fat estacodes enjoyed on international trips, lack of transparency and accountability have, over the years, been associated with the NFF. This is besides the fact that some of those who find themselves occupying important position in the football house appear to lack the vision to improve the game, which explains why there seems to be no grassroots development agenda, why the nation’s league remains unattractive, and why the body is unable to attract adequate sponsorship from companies. In many countries around the world, football associations are independently run, allowing the bodies to generate money, which is ploughed back to the game. But Nigeria’s case is different as the government largely funds the sector. This, some analysts say, accounts for the corruption in the sector, as “government money,” as one of them put it, is “easy money.”

It is in fact because of government’s role in funding football in Nigeria that some people have questioned FIFA’s constant intervention in the country’s football, as the popular argument by those unhappy with FIFA’s intervention is that whoever funds a venture should be interested in how the money is spent.

But Tijani does not share such sentiment. In an interview with TELL last week, Tijani said: “The first FIFA ban we had was in 1971; and it is still the same problem of government interference. You would hear people say he who pays the piper dictates the tune; yes it is true. But, you know what? The FIFA issue is like joining the United Nations or some other international organisations. FIFA did not beg us to come and join them.  Nigeria went there with an application, saying, please we would like to join you. And there are rules and regulations that must be strictly followed. And it is on the basis of accepting to follow these rules and regulations that you would be allowed to be a bona fide member. So, it is not a question of whether the government is funding football or not.”

As far as Tijani is concerned, FIFA’s intervention is meant to put Nigeria in check. “It is for our own benefit, not FIFA’s. There are so many anomalies and (so much) madness going on in NFF because of the money involved and they are so annoying.” As a way out of the crisis, Tijani wants the Nigerian government to hands off sponsorship of football.   “There is only one solution to all manner of intrigues playing out in the NFF. The government should just gradually try to distance itself from funding Nigerian football.”

Etim Esin, a former football star, on his part, feels that ex-footballers can do a better job if offered the chance. “In some other countries, ex-internationals are allowed to run their football associations, FAs. A good case in point is Zambia, where Kalusha Bwalya, an ex-international of that country, is the current president of their FA. It is about time Nigeria toed that path. It is about time they allowed an ex-international, who has a firm technical knowledge of the game to run the FA.”

But the ex-internationals would need to work to occupy the positions and not wait for it to be handed to them on a silver platter. With the exceptions of a few ex-internationals like Segun Odegbami who had previously served as a football administrator, many successful but now retired footballers are not associated with football management.  In 2010, Odegbami made efforts to contest for the NFF presidency but was allegedly frustrated.  The former Green Eagles winger, in a recent article, said he was “stopped by the order of a high court of competent jurisdiction that suspended the process on the very day of the election” and that the “NFA leadership at the time, eager to execute a scripted plot, disregarded the court order, held the elections, and have remained in power since then despite all the crisis that ensued as a product of that ignoble action.”

Efforts to speak to Odegbami last week did not yield fruit as he said he was billed to go on a trip. Odegbami may be one former footballer confident to vie for election due to his educational background given his qualification as an engineer and columnist but there are many former footballers with extensive knowledge of the game who probably are reluctant to aspire to management positions in the football industry due to a feeling of inferiority complex traceable to poor educational qualification as well as the dirty politics in the system.

To Omorodion however, being an ex-international does not necessarily make one a good manager.  And to those who also question the credentials of Danagogo, even with his past stint as commissioner of sport in Rivers State, Omorodion says: “You really don’t have to be a professional sports man or woman to qualify to be sports minister. You just have to be a good administrator from any field but must have passion for sports to be able to understand what to do… All he needs are technocrats to advise him on the policies to formulate,” he said, adding that Danagogo’s vision for sports is to ensure that it is removed from government sponsorship and taken to a level where it will generate its own funds. “That is why he is calling on the private sector and individuals to support sports so that government will gradually withdraw but provide the enabling environment for sports to thrive.”

That should put the country on a secure footing.

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