By Fred Edoreh
Egged on by the likes of Segun Odegbami, Harrison Jalla and a few retired functionaries of our sports who have been unable to get on to different life, the Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, is riding roughshod to dismantle the structures of Nigerian football, from the statutes of the NFF to the composition of its Congress and, recently, the League Management Company.
His propagandists make it look altruistic and in national interest, but those who have followed Nigeria football from 2010, at the least, will know that it is all a facade.
Dare’s sole objective, like some Ministers before him, is to rehab his disgruntled, self-entitled friends and associates in the leadership of our football organs and for the Sports Ministry to exercise day to day control of the operations of sports federations.
It is a trend in Nigerian sports administration, even though against international best practices. Sadly, it is the only pride and legacy Dare craves, to be seen as the Conquistador.
He experimented it with the sacking of the boards of major sports federations and the setting up of Caretaker Committees to substitute their leaderships in the prosecution of the last Olympic Games. We also saw all the afflictions brought upon the Nigeria Basketball Federation.
These antics are neither novel nor noble. Under Tammy Danagogo, we saw how the the Ministry dragged the NFF elections with the Congress and Executive Committee, how, at Chida Hotel, they schemed to forcefully impose Chris Giwa as NFF President.
It was just like they did in removing Kojo Williams, Ibrahim Galadima, Sani Lulu and Aminu Maigari as NFA Chairmen or NFF Presidents.
In Solomon Dalung’s obsession to similarly substitute Amaju Pinnick with Giwa, he resurrected an old, settled conflict and shamelessly flaunted a non-existent Supreme Court order to support the take over of the NFF Secretariat on two occasions. He similarly schemed to commit the leadership of the LMC to jail, to get them out of the way for his personal persons.
Dare’s present onslaught is also just about the same politics of securing leadership command for proxies. Nothing else.
The sordid part is the official lies about Supreme Court orders. For the records, just as it happened with Dalung, there is also presently no Supreme Court decision against the establishment of the LMC as they uncannily tried to make Nigerians believe last week.
But, we know where this all is headed. Anyone who read Odegbami’s April 2021 article titled: “Re-Setting the Button of Nigeria Sports Administration,” will discover the whole plot and the script.
Pretending to be promoting but a warped sense of entitlement of Nigeria ex-internationals to take over the leadership and management of Nigerian football, he and his co-travellers are charging and applauding the Minister to tear down the structures and statutes of the football organs to provide them easy win in elections, otherwise, like the other woman in King Solomon’s Court, kill and divide the child.
They employ all manners of blackmail with appeals to “national sovereignty, the law of the land” and all such gain says in the tow, urging us to damn the relationship of our sports federations with their international bodies.
It is such a regression from civilisation but worse is that they want to sell us the disappointment, anger and pain of their personal misfortune in sports politics as state policy.
For several years, Odegbami tried to get into the NFF board as President, Secretary or just member but he admits that he couldn’t play the politics.
When Ibrahim Galadima wanted to return as NFA Chairman, against the preference of the Sports Ministry, Odegbami, in same desperation, ran to Kano to participate in Galadima’s election and back to Abuja to the Ministry.
He also once feigned to want to contest as FIFA President for which he wrote the Presidency to destroy the NFF for not supporting him even though he admitted that Pinnick endorsed him but could not secure the endorsement of four other countries for him. What he didn’t tell us is his own personal efforts to secure endorsements by himself but, for his failures, he blames the composition of the NFF Congress for being mostly populated by state associations.
He allegedly in same desperation tried to impress former President Sani Abacha by joining a Million Man March, possibly in return for selection as Government nominee into the NFF board.
He has recently pointed out to Minister Dare, in a self piteous article titled: “The Facts, Fables and Foibles of NFF Elections,”
that Government nominees must always win the elections. That is the regime he wants the Minister to revert.
He wants the Minister to slash the number of the state associations in the NFF Congress and put in more ex-internationals to ease the politics for him and his people.
Worrisome is that we have long known that being a good footballer do not translate to being a good administrator nor coach nor manager. It is just as neither foreign nor home based coach guarantees the success of any national team.
Off pitch, many of them have been given leadership opportunities in administration and coaching and we know only few who brought competence and maturity to the bargain.
Odegbami himself has severally been tested and tried in various sports governance roles: from Gateway FC to Shooting Stars and as Chairman of the Governing Council of the Nigeria Institute for Sports. He failed to deliver in all.
We have seen Sunday Oliseh as coach of the Super Eagles and of some foreign clubs. We have seen Daniel Amokachi at Nasarawa United, Enyimba FC, Ifeanyi Ubah FC, JS Hercules of Finland and at age grade team. We have seen Jay Jay gifted the chairmanship of Delta State FA. We know the story of Harrison Jalla’s defunct National Association of Nigerian Footballers (NANF) and why the international players union, FifPro, ex-communicated it. The list goes on.
Through the cacophony, we have come to recognise reality from appearance and we are no longer timidly charmed nor taken in, as Dare seems to be, about the capacity of ex-internationals to deliver in sports adminstration and management.
No doubt, our football needs reforms but we must be honest to ourselves about the real issues.
While we lament the present quality of our footballers and the recent nosedive in the performance of our national teams, we must recognise that the situation affects all sports. We seem no longer to have boxing, weightlifting and taekwondo. Even athletics is struggling. From all statistics our men’s folk are doing so badly in international sports. Only the women are managing to keep up.
We know how badly we performed in the last three – London 2012, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020- Olympic Games, forget the false celebration of a silver and a bronze.
For years, we had only Blessing Okagbare to show. Even as we celebrate Tobi Amusan and Ese Brume, Dare knows he met them as elite athletes and had no input in their development. They both had returned 4th and 2nd, respectively, in their sports at the Doha 2019 World Championships, just about the time Dare was appointed Minister.
In response to the declining rate of quality athletes, including footballers, we must learn that champions are developed from the cradle. This presupposes that, as a matter of Child’s Right, the government has a duty to provide or ensure the provision of playgrounds, facilities and equipment for children to engage in sports play.
These should go round communities, primary and secondary schools, and upgraded at district and zonal levels for identified young and intermediate talents.
There has to be a robust sports education system with virile institutions for the training of trainers.
Perhaps the only visible institution for the training of trainers is the National Institute for Sports which, though inadequate, is even sadly being run in deficit, in every sense.
These should be the critical areas of concern for a Sports Minister who wants to be taken seriously, not the cosmeticism and haughtiness that presently prevail.
We once had a League Board composed mostly of club owners. After Chief Oyuki Obaseki’s chairmanship, even with its faults, they ran the league completely aground. The facts are well known.
There is nothing upbeat, therefore, about club owners exclusively running the league board.
Their embarrassingly abysmal failure prompted Minister Bolaji Abdullahi to support the Maigari-led NFF’s decision to set up the Interim Management Committee that translated to the League Management Company to handle our league, in line with FIFA and NFF Statutes that clearly state that the league is the property of the football association which can designate any of its organs, including licencing and mandating a third party, to manage it or any of its competitions and programmes on its behalf.
It was therefore not out of place for the LMC to have been registered as a private company under the holding and security of shares for the clubs by the NFF.
The English Premier League, the Spanish LaLiga are registered as private companies too, with the clubs as majority or full shareholders.
Just like in the foreign leagues, the NPFL Club Owners form the Congress which decides and approves the league policies, programmes, directions and transactions while appointed independent professionals – Chairmen, CEOs, COOs – manage the league on their behalf.
The problem of the Nigerian league is not about the structure or particular individuals in its governance.
Structures vary slightly from one league to another and individuals run them according to institutionalised principles.
The ownership, establishment and governance structures of the German Bundesliga, Spanish LaLiga, EPL, Lique 1, Serie A, the American NBA, NFL, Formula 1, etc, are not exactly the same, but the success factors of any league are largely relative to their operating environment, the synergy with government with regards to enabling infrastructure, and economic realities.
Everyone knows that the state governments which own most of Nigeria’s league clubs are not in it for business. The stadium facilities are hugely deficient. The know-how and competence of most of the club administrators are lacking in requisite professionalism for the delivery of the business of club ownership.
Beyond the drawbacks with the clubs, the league cannot thrive in the absence of an equally thriving broadcast industry with capable sports brand sponsorship private sector as partners.
We have seen that no indigenous broadcast company has shown capacity for successful production and transmission of live matches at current global TV standards nor to afford to pay standard broadcast right fees for the league and other sports properties.
Even when the LMC attempted to support and partner with the NTA, their output was horrible. It also experimentally left the broadcast right free of fee but none of the private and states’ radio and TVs could even provide coverage for even their own home clubs to make money for their organisations and their clubs through their home fans.
The consequence of all these has been the drift of our fans and brand sponsorship community to the foreign leagues with the flight of derivable sports revenue to the foreign leagues and clubs, against our domestic game.
A primary condition for development is political will and, seeing the scenario – the business contradiction in the corporate ownership, management philosophy and facilities of our clubs, the huge disparity between our league and the imported leagues – a serious Minister would have used the political capacity he now brazenly flaunts to engage the club owning state Governors to begin to aim at more business-like approach in our domestic clubs, rather than vain gloriously preening with power.
The deficiencies in the broadcast sector as well as in the clubs is mostly about capacity in funds, equipments, expertise and patronage to upgrade their operations
A serious Minister ought to have thought of supporting the football house to engage the Broadcasting Association of Nigeria to build a working relationship and possibly provide them government support through tax incentives, duty waivers, grants or loans on equipment.
Such is also required for the clubs. They need huge investments to upgrade not just their stadiums, facilities and equipment but also their personal, production, marketing and communication systems.
I feel too that the Minister of Trade, Industry and Investment should also have been concerned and involved in driving this process, seeing the present status of sports as a huge export product in the global economy.
The strategy in achieving these can be by establishing a Sports Development Fund with mandate for development and provision of sports facilities, nationwide, support for the clubs, sports education institutions and complementary sectors like the broadcast industry. After all, at the end of the day, the strengthening of the sports industry and supportive sectors to achieve a vibrant domestic league and the recovery of our fans from the foreign leagues will translate to nation building with massive employment, business, enterprise and various wealth creation opportunities in construction and services, all contributing to GDP.
The LMC leadership had on a couple of occasions engaged the National Economic Council and the Securities and Exchange Commission to understand the imperative for a concerted national action on these issues
The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, seemed to understand better as we saw in his proposal to upgrade the capacity of the NTA to respond to the imperative of promoting our national sports.
Lai also attempted to conditioning the corporate community and brands to first invest, promote and support the broadcast of domestic sports before investing in the promotion of foreign sports for marketing communications.
Somehow, we lost all that crucial conversation in which Dare’s political clout and influence at the Presidency were needed. It t seems, unfortunately, that his cleverness is only to the extent of invoking and intimidating sports federation leaderships with the name and office of the President, rather than owning and standing up for critical imperatives.
Interestingly, he started by setting up an Inter-Ministerial Committee with a view to creating sectorial synergy to drive sports development but, pitifully, he left that noble quest for the fancy (or infancy) of imposing his friends and associates in leadership positions.
In every corporate sense, ordering the NFF to sack its licenced competition management agency with immediate effect is not any good signal for existing and prospective businesses that may be interested in our sports. It was the same way the Minister summarily dismissed an existing $2.7m three-year kit deal between the Athletics Federation of Nigeria and PUMA ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Such jackboots actions do not create any confidence for partners, be they local or foreign, but this concern is even belated seeing that the Minister has seized every opportunity to de-market the NFF and other federations in the public place.
To be sure, I am aware of the brutality of power and its intoxication. I learnt from Chief MKO Abiola that if you are a man and government says you are a woman, then you are a woman. That is perhaps Dare’s enchantment, but I hate it when people leave leprosy to treat eczema, leave substance for technicality, content for form and dwell in facades and make-believes as Dare is currently doing in Nigerian sports.
Minister Musa Mohammed set up the old League Board of club owners. It survived only through Chief Obaseki. Bolaji Abdullahi understood to regard the necessary administrative and management autonomy of sports federations and supported, not ordered, the NFF to set up the LMC which Dare is dismantling today.
The lesson is that such just ministerialy occasioned policy inconsistencies and sumersaults that have beleaguered our sports speaks to the ephemeral nature of power. It also indicates that whatever Dare is “Frankensteinly” doing today can also be dismantled by another minister in time.
The lesson from that, again, is that we are continuosly failing to discern, focus and drive at true and sustainable solutions for our sports. We have remained enchanted and stuck with the pride of power and, perhaps out of laziness or infantile braggadocio, we dodge the real issues and merely continue to chest out in vain glory.