NFF crisis and the future of Super Eagles

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Twice in about four years now, Nigeria’s senior national team – the Super Eagles – have been caught in a web of leadership tussles, intrigues and power-play involving the Nigerian Football Federation. The latest crisis which erupted in the Glass House shortly after the Super Eagles were eliminated from the 2014 World Cup has raised a gig-saw-puzzle as to whether the team would emerge from it unscathed

By Olisemeka Obeche

From a near historic Quarter-Finals berth in Brazil, Nigeria’s 2014 World Cup campaign took a tumble. The Super Eagles looked forward to be coasting home for a memorable victory against ‘Les Blues’ of France in the round of 16 that fateful Monday, June 29 evening until Paul Pogba latched onto a loose tip from goal keeper, Vincent Enyeama to head the French in front in 79th minute before a Joseph Yobo’s own goal in stoppage time ensured that Nigeria ended the campaign on a 2-0 defeat.

Although, many viewed the performance of the Stephen Keshi- tutored team in Brazil as an improvement of the country’s two previous World Cup records (2002 and 2010), it soon emerged that the nation’s football house was embroiled in another crisis.  The Super Eagles had won a match, drew one and lost one during the 2014 World Cup.  The controversy that degenerated into the latest crisis began when Keshi had told his players after the team’s loss to France that his tenure had ended because there was no new contract offer at the table. This sparked off frenzied media that ‘The Big-Boss’, as he is fondly called, had resigned  his appointment and was poised to take up a lucrative offer as the coach of  South Africa’s national team  – Bafana Bafana.

The following day, Keshi granted an interview at the Brasilia Palace Hotel-Brazil, chronicling the circumstances forcing him to call off his stewardship to his country. “I am tired of all the intrigues and backbiting and insinuations I get. In this job sometimes it goes overboard and my family and those of my players get called names,” declared Keshi.

He disclosed that besides the inability of the NFF leadership to initiate contract renewal talks, contributing to his decision to dump the Super Eagles, he was equally miffed by poor handling of his welfare and the team’s logistics. According to Keshi,  apart from the salary arrears he had endured , the NFF forced him (Keshi) to fund the salary of his foreign assistant coach, Valery Houandinou while Sylvanus Okpala, one of his assistant coaches was  fired for inexplicable reasons. “In two and half years, I had no official residence. I stayed in a hotel. I had no official car. However, these federation officials will continue to trumpet that ‘they gave Keshi everything to succeed’. Mali is one of the poorest countries in Africa but I was given my place of residence and an official car within three days of me taking on the job. I also had a house in Togo and was never owed salaries,” Keshi recounted.

On the logistics, he lamented lack of a training centre and facility for the national team to train. “We never had anywhere decent to train. The Abuja National stadium is filled with sand and the worst kind of sand. That means when someone goes to the ground he will have skin wounds. I and my assistants spend our own money to buy training cones and some of the things we use for training sessions,” he added.

But NFF in a swift reaction denounced Keshi’s resignation report as a rumour. “Keshi has not officially informed the federation. We don’t have any official communication from Keshi that he is stepping down,” Emeka Inyama, an NFF executive member declared. Although the Minister of Sports, Tamuno Danagogo also described Keshi’s resignation report as ‘not true’, it soon became clear that a major showdown was imminent over the World Cup finance fiasco, and the major sacrificial lamb would be NFF top dogs.

Power-play in Glass House

Soon after he got wind of the crisis brewing around his job back in Brazil, Aminu Maigari, Chairman of Nigeria’s Football Federation (NFF), had quickly packaged a goodwill message to massage the ego of his employer. “We must applaud Mr. President and the Government of Nigeria for the massive support the NFA and the team received all through the qualifying series and the tournament proper. Mr. President’s personal keen interest in the team saw us qualify for the finals and put up a credible campaign in Brazil,” Mr. Maigari said in a statement issued through Ademola Olajire, Assistant Director, Communications of NFA.

But the authorities in Abuja were not swayed by the message as plans were already at advanced stage on how to pull the rug off the Maigari-led NFF. On July 2, the authorities struck: a High Court in Jos, the Plateau State capital issued an order banning the Maigari-led executive committee and its congress from presiding over the affairs of the country’s football until it has dispensed a suit filed by Mr. Ebiakpo Rumson Baribote, Chairman of Nembe City Football Club in Bayelsa State on July 11.

Hours after Justice P.L. Lot granted the controversial order of interlocutory injunction restraining the elected FA board from performing its functions, Danagogo appointed Lawrence Longyir Katken as acting Secretary-General of the NFF, vesting him with overall managerial and administrative powers of the FA. “You are to hold this position pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice in the referenced suit (No. PLD/J 342/2014),” Mr. Longyir Katken was instructed.

When the Maigari-led entourage arrived Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja on July 4, the embattled FA chairman was detained by the State Security Service (SSS) operatives, quizzed on a number of undisclosed matters regarding his stewardship and later released. Sources within the Nigerian football delegation had disclosed that as soon as the aircraft touched down in London en route Abuja, Maigari and his colleagues spent much of the interval making frantic calls ostensibly to get full gist of the crisis and devise defensive strategies.

The ruffling of Maigari’s feathers at the airport became a tell-tale sign that his reign at the ‘Glass-House’ widely adjudged as the most successful in recent times, had hit a terrible anti-climax. But the crisis took a dramatic twist when FIFA wrote to the federal government ordering it to reinstate the Maigari-led FA before July 8, 2014 or risk sanctions. The world football governing body described the travails of the Maigari-led body as ‘undue interference in the affairs of the supposed independent federation as stipulated in articles 13, par. 1 and 17, par. 1 of the FIFA Statutes.

“Fifa will not recognize any person or organ not elected in compliance with the NFF statutes (article 17, par 2 and 3 of the FIFA statutes) and therefore it will not consider the appointment made by the minister of sports. An elective congress has been duly convened by the NFF for August 26, 2014 and only decisions and persons elected then will be considered legitimate,” a statement from FIFA reads in part.

But Danagogo denied that the Presidency was orchestrating the crisis. Instead of interference, Danagogo claimed, government was rather bothered about maintaining peace and order among the parties involved in the case. “I will not play any role in what is happening because we try as much as possible as government to allow the law to take its course,” the minister said at NFF’s Extra Ordinary Congress called by the government to deliberate on the Maigari-led board issue on July 5.

Expectedly, the controversial congress held at the Bolingo Hotels and Towers, Abuja endorsed the sacking of the Maigari-led executive committee and immediate termination of the employment of all management staff as well as dissolution of the boards of the Nigerian National League, Nigerian Women League and the Nigerian Nationwide League, among other sweeping changes. Besides putting its seal over the NFF board sack, the congress chaired by Mr. Obinna Ogba also listed a number of transgressions committed by the Maigari-led NFF to include short-changing grassroots development, starving state FAs of annual grants, and flagrant abuse of the NFF status in its constitution of the NFF Electoral Committee by altering the list of persons approved by the congress at the 2013 AGM in Warri, Delta State, and inaugurating a different committee.

The congress also bemoaned the international embarrassment caused the nation by the NFF’s poor handling of the finance of the World Cup. “This (international embarrassment caused the country) was because the Aminu Maigari-led NFA failed to fully and firmly resolve the issues of finance with the Super Eagles ahead of the championship,” Ogba said.

NFF Dejavu

This is not the first time the NFF is involved in crisis. Shortly after Nigeria crashed out of World Cup in South Africa four years ago (2010) after a poor showing at the preliminary round, finishing bottom of the group, President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration took a unilateral decision to disband the Super Eagles as well as ban the nation’s football team from international competition for two years to enable the country re-organize its football.

The Presidency had also announced plans to probe the country’s World Cup organising committee, vowing that “If any financial misappropriation is discovered, all officials responsible will be held accountable.” However, barely five days later (on July 5, 2010), the government overturned its decision, just in time to meet the deadline given by FIFA for Nigerian government to lift the ban or risk expulsion from world football for meddlesomeness in the affairs of NFF.  “The NFF assured the president of their commitment to evolving an enduring football development programme, and grow a new senior national team that will bring glory rather than consistent embarrassment to Nigeria on the world stage. Based on these assurances, and the appeals of well-meaning Nigerians, including former leaders, President Jonathan decided to review the earlier two-year ban on the country from all international football competitions,” a statement released by the Presidency read in parts.

The matter was subsequently resolved, but not without culminating in the controversial impeachment of the former NFF president and vice president, Sani Lulu and Amanze Uchegbulam, alongside the technical committee chairman, Taiwo Ogunjobi to face criminal prosecution, paving the way for the appointment of Aminu Maigari and Obinna Ogba as acting president and vice president respectively.

During Maigari reign, Nigeria climbed back to the pinnacle of African football, with the Super Eagles winning the 2013 African Cup of Nations, and went on to progress beyond the first round of the 2014 FIFA World Cup for the first time in 16 years as well as winning the 2013 Under 17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirate (UAE).  Under Maigari, there has been an improved level of professionalism in all tiers of the local leagues, and the youth development and result-oriented approach of the administration has led the various national teams to qualify for and excel in various international competitions.

Despite these modest achievements, the NFF has come under hammer for its alleged poor prosecution of the world cup campaign, especially finances. In a letter to the embattled maigari, Danagogo demanded explanations to a number of expenses and grants released to the FA. The letter dated July 2, 2014 and signed by Justice Joffa, asked the NFF chairman to account for all monies received from the federal government, sponsors and the Federation of International Football (FIFA).

The funds under probe include the N2.850 billion subvention to the NFF from January 2013 to date; another N850 million grant released by the federal government for the preparation and participation of the Super Eagles in the first round of matches for World Cup, Brazil 2014 as well as the $1.5 million (about N240 million) FIFA grant it received for the preparation of Super Eagles for the World Cup. The NFF was also ordered to provide details of how it intended to spend the $14 million expected from FIFA for Super Eagles’ participation in the second round of the World Cup as well as refund the sum of $3.6 million advanced by President Jonathan for payment of players’ appearance fees.

Whether Nigeria would navigate through this crisis without the dreaded FIFA sanction remains a matter of conjecture, but observers fear that the leadership crisis in the FA could derail the development strides of the country’s national teams, especially the Super Eagles. “It would be a big blow if FIFA sanctions Nigeria because of the current crisis as it would drag the country’s football backwards,” Mr. Larry Adeniyi, a football analyst told TheEconomy.   He explained that even if Nigeria escapes FIFA’s hammer and  the Keshi-led crew is eventually retained, the crisis could still impact negatively on the teams, especially the Super Eagles as certain things that ought to be put in place for the smooth qualifications for the African Cup of nations won’t be there, “meaning  that we would  be going back to square-one.”

Soccer pundits believe that if Maigari’s stay at the helm of Nigerian football is to be halted, it should be at the polls when elections are due in August and not through malicious suit that not only embarrasses the nation, but a blatant abuse of  the court process.

The management of the South African national team is said to have been monitoring Keshi’s performance for two years now and had offered him a contract with seven times more pay than he gets in the Eagles job. If the crisis continues, Keshi may be compelled to dump the Super Eagles and pitch his tent with Bafana Bafana of South Africa. Analysts believe that if the crisis is not quickly resolved, it could take Nigerian football 10 steps back, and will once again bring the nation’s football under a negative spotlight in international circles.

Fifa Bans Nigeria

Following the NFF crisis, FIFA, the world football governing body had on July 9 banned Nigeria from all international football activities with immediate effect.  FIFA’s Emergency Committee said it decided “to suspend the Nigeria Football Federation with immediate effect, on account of government interference. Article 13, par. 1 and article 17, par. 1 of the FIFA Statutes oblige member associations to manage their affairs independently and with no influence from third parties.”

The decision, according to FIFA, “follows a letter sent by FIFA to the NFF on 4 July 2014, in which it expressed its great concern after the NFF was served with court proceedings and consequently an order preventing the president of the NFF, the NFF Executive Committee members and the NFF Congress from running the affairs of Nigerian football was granted by a High Court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” FIFA insist the ban will only be lifted once the court action is withdrawn, and the elected executive committee members are reinstated.

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