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The crackdown on indiscipline by the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) has taken a hit at high profile officials and players of the senior national team and its outcome is likely to have far-reaching consequences, writes Olisemeka Obeche.

Super Eagles Chief Coach, Stephen Keshi, Skipper and first choice goal-keeper, Vincent Enyeama as well as midfield maestro, Ogenyi Onazi have all come under NFF disciplinary actions for various acts of indiscipline in the wake of the 2017 African Cup of Nation’s qualifiers against Chad. But the question remains will the football body sustain its war against indiscipline or using the trio as scapegoats? Will it extend it to other national teams and officials as well?

Keshi’s short listing for Ivorian coaching job

The newly established cordial working relationship between the Amanju Pinnick-led NFF and Super Eagles head coach, Keshi took a dramatic twist and tumble when news of appearance of Keshi’s name on the list of 59 candidates who had applied for the vacant position of Cote d’Ivoire’s national team coach went viral.

Nigerians were stunned that the 53-year-old coach could forward his application for the Ivorien coaching job barely two months after signing a two-year contract for a second stint as Super Eagles’ gaffer. To many observers, it was a classical case of betrayal and breach of contract.

Piqued by the development, the NFF decided launch an investigation into the matter. Pronto, Keshi was issued a summon to appear before an NFF Disciplinary Committee headed by Chris Green on June 23 to explain how his name appeared on the list of candidates to replace Herve Renard as coach of the Elephants.

Soon after the news hit home, Keshi’s manager, Emmanuel Ado had hurriedly issued a statement via his social media platform- Facebook, in a failed attempt to brush off the allegation as media creation.  Ado’s statement reads in part:

“My client is very happy with his job as the Head Coach of the Super Eagles of Nigeria. He has a two-year contract with the Nigeria Football Federation. And as a professional, he will see out his contract.

“My client feels highly honoured to be short listed by Cote d’Ivore – a great footballing country. Like you all know he has a very good relationship with Cote d’Ivore since his playing days. It is a relationship that he cherishes and would continue to cherish all the days of his life.”

He went further: “We want to use this opportunity to call on all stakeholders and indeed all Nigerians to deny enemies of peace the chance they are looking for to cause distractions. We don’t need these distractions.”

Keshi subsequently appeared before NFF Committee and denied applying for the Ivorien coaching job. “I never applied for Cote d’Ivoire job. My name is in almost every nation. Should I take countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania to court. It happens to every coach, it is not a big deal,” the former Mali and Togo coach claimed in his reaction to press questions after meeting the panel.

While Keshi and Ado claimed he didn’t submit application for a coaching job with the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire, sources inside the Côte d’Ivoire Football Federation (FIF) disclosed that Keshi’s agent actually submitted an application to the Ivorian FA on his behalf on June 11.

Expectedly, the NFF Disciplinary Committee has said that its probe into the matter will continue: “We will investigate the issue, and take it further by going to Ivory Coast to get to the root of the matter,” Chris Green said.

As the NFF probe team digs further into the imbroglio, analysts view the Ivorien coaching job fiasco as another let down on Keshi’s chequered stint as Super Eagles manager. To some observers, the failed attempt by Keshi and his agent to blame the bizarre application issue on mystery enemies of peace who want to cause ‘distractions’ added to the mess.

“Assuming they exist, did the ‘enemies of peace’ apply for the CIV job on Keshi’s behalf? In the same vein, did the same ‘enemies of peace’ publish Keshi’s name on the official website of the Côte d’Ivoire Football Federation?,” asked  Collin Udoh, influential football analyst.

Enyeama’s alleged misconduct

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Also facing NFF’s disciplinary action is the national team captain and first choice goal keeper, Vincent Enyeama. The goal keeper who became the most capped Nigerian player with 101 games for the Super Eagles is facing a ‘misconduct’ charge which could cut short his

The Lille OSC of France goalie stirred the hornets’ nest when he raised concerns about the safety of Kaduna as venue of Nigeria’s opening 2017 Africa Nation’s Cup (Afcon) qualifying game against Chad in his pre-match press interview with Brilla FM. “I’m not satisfied with the choice of Kaduna and you know I’m a very outspoken person. I don’t like the choice of Kaduna based on what is happening in the country but then the government knows exactly what to do make us safe.”

But the football body viewed his comments as a ‘misconduct’ that must not be condoned and promptly issued Enyeama a query; but he reportedly tore the document to shreds to the chagrin of NFF officials.

Piqued by the development, the NFF announced on June 20 that Enyeama has been summoned to appear before its legal/disciplinary committee on Tuesday, June 23 to explain his comments and subsequent actions. The summon letter signed by chairman of the committee, Chris Green read: “You will recall that you were queried by the Nigeria Football Federation for your uncomplimentary remarks with regards to safety and security in Kaduna State, host of the Nations Cup qualifying match between Nigeria and Chad Republic.

“You received the query letter on June 13th, 2015 and refused to reply to the query up till now, which is well over the 48-hour deadline given to you to reply to the query.

“Consequently, the NFF has referred the matter to the Disciplinary Committee for adjudication. You are by this, invited to appear before the Disciplinary Committee of Nigeria Football Federation sitting on Tuesday, 23rd June, 2015 at the Federation’s Secretariat in Abuja. The committee sitting will commence at 11am prompt.”

But Enyeama failed to show up on his appointment date, prompting speculations that the player may have made up his mind not to play for Nigeria again. However, just as the news was gathering momentum, the embattled skipper offered an explanation over what transpired, claiming that he did not receive the NFF’s summon letter. “I only found out about a disciplinary hearing in the media but I didn’t get any letter to that effect,” he explained.

According to him, the brouhaha was fuelled by misunderstanding as he never intended to denigrate the football authority or the country. His words:  “As the captain I only raised our concerns about the venue before our game which didn’t go down well with the football authority. I was told to apologise for my comments, which I did immediately and they told me that’s fine. I respect my country and those in charge of our football, which is why I find the whole thing strange.”

Onazi’s red card palaver

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Midfielder Ogenyi Onazi also came under the NFF hammer for earning a straight red card and two-game ban for an act of retaliation during the Nigeria-Chad African Cup of Nations qualification match on June 13.

The SS Lazio star was sent off for tangling with Les Sao’s Massama Asselmo in the 81st minute, forcing Super Eagles to finish the game with 10 players. Although, Onazi claimed afterwards that he was elbowed by Asselmo forcing him to retaliate, the NFF felt he was guilty of premeditated misconduct. “Would Onazi have done that if he was playing at his club?, ” asked Green, head of NFF disciplinary Committee.

“The truth is some of our players don’t show the required amount of discipline when they play for the national team. These things will no longer be condoned because without discipline, nothing positive can be achieved,” he said.

Onazi has been issued a letter of reprimand and ordered to produce a written apology. He was also fined the sum of $5 000. The football authority in a letter signed by Tunde Aderibigbe on behalf of the General Secretary and dated 19th June, conveyed its decision to wield the stick on the erring player:

“The board of the Nigeria Football Federation has viewed your behaviour and conduct during the Nigeria/Chad match as tantamount to gross indiscipline and unprofessional, which undermined the discipline of the team in its totality and a breach of ethics for players as well as the Code of Conduct for players and officials.

“Consequently, the NFF having reviewed the situation hereby imposes a fine of $5 000 (Five Thousand American Dollars Only) on you as well as a written apology. We believe that subsequently you will be of good behaviour and conduct, for a repeat of this behaviour shall earn you even stiffer punishment.

“We hope that this action shall serve as a deterrent to others in our future engagements,” the letter adds.

Although many soccer fans believe that it is necessary to enforce discipline in the Super Eagles to raise Nigerian football to the next level, they have cautioned that it should be handled with caution so as not to sow the seed of discord in the national team.

By Olisemeka Obeche

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