By Akinbode Oguntuyi
Nigeria Football is heading for another crisis. That is not news if you have been following the different storylines for the past ten years, and the loud grumblings of the past two years; maybe even beyond.
Some will argue that the present crisis was always going to happen, given the way elections have been conducted (some will use the word ‘hijacked’) the last few years by the different power-players who are attracted by the huge influence and the massive resources, at the disposal of whoever occupies the top post of the beautiful game in Nigeria. The crisis in Nigeria football comes like the FIFA World Cup or the Olympics; it has a four-year cycle.
And every time, it has a government or ministry undertone.
In the past, it was easy to predict whoever will emerge victorious as President in the Nigeria Football Elections; anybody with the desire to occupy that (exalted) office, needed only one thing – the approval of the Nigerian government, via the office of the sitting Minister of Sports.
A ‘government list’ of potential candidates for the office is usually released prior to the elections, with members of the Board choosing one of them via an open secret vote. However, there was an unwritten rule: when the list is released, the candidate preferred by the government always occupies a certain position on that privileged document. Always.
What this means is that for most people with the knowledge of what to look for, the man who would be President is known as soon as the list is made public. That was in the past, before world football governing body, FIFA became heavily interested and invested in Nigeria Football, and the NFF (partly) secured its independence from vice-like government involvement.
Before now, it was an unwritten rule that the President of the NFF serve only one term; the government gives, and the government dictates. The office, like any other government appointment, was reserved for a political appointee. That one-term rule was broken by Amaju Pinnick, because of his alliance with the President of FIFA.
But that is story for another day.
The subject of this discourse, is the constant involvement of government security and financial agencies (the second one, mostly for football officials) in the affairs of sports associations. The EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission), the Police and the DSS (Department of State Services) have all been wielded at various times, as the battle for the control of one or the other of the more popular Federations.
We saw a massive up-tick in the involvement of government agencies 8-years ago, when one of the contestants surrounded himself with police officers, and took over the offices of the NFF. All the while threatening the other contestants with the DSS. The fact that nobody could stop him, was a clear pointer to some sort of government backing. It took the involvement of FIFA, to bring that saga to an end.
We seem to be heading in that direction again.
The latest incident of direct intervention was the sealing of the offices of the League Management Company, the body that had been organizing the Football League since 2012, following a (hurried) court order that (suddenly) declared it ‘illegal’.
The major concern here is that this may be the first step, in a grand plan to (again) use these same means to ensure that the will of the government is done when(ever) the elections hold. In the past, we have seen instances where candidates were detained by the EFCC, arrested by State Security operatives on their way to the airport while going to election cities, and physically restrained and prevented from going to election venues.
Also only recently, the offices of the Lagos State arm of the Sports Writers’ Association (SWAN) were sealed, and their officers harassed by state security officials, they were accused of being ‘illegal’ occupants of the offices. All orchestrated by an official of a state government
What all these means, is that when the government wants to influence these supposedly ‘independent’ Federations, they will stop at nothing to get their demands met. The coming NFF elections may not be exempt. and there are loopholes that can be exploited to make an ‘invasion’ or the sealing of the election venue likely.
First, NFF statues state that notice of election has to be given a full 90 days before the elections, the notice for this one was far less than that. Secondly, there is (already) a court injunction in place (some say it’s frivolous, therefore inconsequential); and given that any excuse at all can be used as trigger…. finally, there is the undisguised acrimony (towards the current NFF President) and the obvious interest by the Sports Minister in the affairs of the NFF.
These are more than enough reasons, given that the Sports Ministry and the minister needed far less excuse to throw the Nigeria Basketball Federation into confusion, and engineer the disqualification of the Women’s National team from the FIBA Women’s World Cup tipping off in Australia on Wednesday.
All these point to an interesting few weeks ahead of us, even if the minister (and the ‘government’ have not shown their hands yet. This is therefore an appeal: the crisis is brewing, but it can still be averted – but the minister must step away from the fray even as it seems difficult to do so.