Nigeria risks FIFA ban as government haunts soccer president


By Olukayode Thomas
Since Nigeria failed to qualify for the World Cup in Germany, the country’s soccer politics has been marked by all the features of a bad crime novel and now is at risk of being banned from FIFA.

Olukayode Thomas, the Acting Group Sports Editor of The Guardian in Nigeria and a Play the Game speaker in 2002, depicts the background for the crisis. 

To fully grasp the current crisis that has put Nigerian Football into a gridlock, one needs to understand how government officials enrich themselves in Nigeria.

Though it may be one of the more corrupt countries in the world, senior government officials, the most corrupt set of officials in Nigeria, don’t just dip their hands into the till and take public money. They need projects to do so. 

At Federal Ministries, where the main duty of the Minister is to formulate policies and give direction for so-called government parastatals to follow, it is often the head of the parastatals that are in charge of projects, contracts and other large-scale government ventures. The ministry just performs supervisory role. 

So for a minister to enrich himself, he has to either get his friend, family, party member or a trusted ally to head the most lucrative parastatals in his ministry. With a trusted aide as head, money will be funnelled to that parastatal and bogus contracts will then be awarded to the same circle of friends.

These will give the minister and the head of the parastatals their cut and everybody will be happy.

The Ministry of Sports and Social Development, the ministry that supervises the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) is not above this ‘camaraderie’.

In fact, in a country like Nigeria where football commands more followers than religion, sport is a fertile ground not only to make money, but to exercise enormous influence and use it for political gains.

So, every chairman of National Sports Commission (NSC) and every Sports Minister always have their stooge as NFA chairmen.

This is understandable. Of all the over 30 parastatals under the Ministry of Sports, football is the most lucrative. Apart from millions of dollars that comes into it from FIFA and other international organisations, money is also brought in by private individuals, corporate sponsors, sportswear companies and players’ transfers.

Nigeria has thousands of players in Europe and in other countries with low football pedigree like Malaysia, India and China.

The government itself spends millions of dollars yearly on football. The sport has proved to be an important political weapon. Nigeria is multi-ethnic and multi-religious. Football is, therefore, the singular thing that unites Nigerians. Late Nigerian dictator, General Sani Abacha lasted for about five years, largely because he was able to manipulate Nigerians following the football team’s success in US ’94 finals.

The present crisis is not the first. When Emeka Omeruah became too big, as the NFA chairman, then Sports Minister Jim Nwobodo threw him out. The same fate befell other chairman such as Abdulmumuni Aminu, Kodjo Williams and Dominic Oneya.

Failure to qualify: A national disaster 
The principal actors in the current crisis, Sports Minister Sumaila Sambawa and NFA Chairman Ibrahim Galadima, used to be best of friends. Galadima was then contented to play ‘good boy.’

The genesis of their problem could be traced to September 5, 2005: the day Angola beat Nigeria to the Group D ticket for the Germany 2006 World Cup. 

Grouped with Angola, Zimbabwe, Gabon, Rwanda and Algeria, Nigerians believed that their qualification for the World Cup was a foregone conclusion. When the Super Eagles failed to qualify, it was a national tragedy and people started calling for the heads of Galadima, team captain Austin Okocha, playmaker Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Coach Christian Chukwu.

Aware of the wrath of Nigerians, especially when it comes to football, Sambawa, who had earlier wanted to get Galadima re-elected for anther four years term, quickly dumped him.

He started shopping for a new NFA chairman that would be elected when the association met at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in December.

Normally before an AGM, all the delegates will assemble in the capital Abuja, the Minister will address them and tell them that Mr. XYZ is the government’s candidate as next chairman. And like obedient servants, the delegates will vote according to the script and everybody will go home happy.

Sambawa lined up three candidates for the 2005 elections: Lumumbah Adeh, a former legislator and a presidential aide. Adeh’s candidacy was also backed by the deputy president of the Senate, Ibrahim Mantu.

Then there was Segun Odegbami, a football legend who has made several previous attempts to win the NFA chairmanship. He was however sure he would get the job this last time because his candidacy was backed by two retired military men, who were former governors, members of the ruling party’s board of trustees, and close aides of President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Then there was the third candidate, who happens to be the Minister’s favourite. Mallam Sanni Lulu is the Director of Sports, FederalCapitalTerritory, Abuja. He was also backed by the Minister of Abuja, Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai.

Brought in national icon to defy minister 
With the stage set for election, Sambawa was confident that all he needed do is call all the delegates into a hall, and like his predecessors, tell them that Lulu is the government’s candidate and he will be elected.

But Galadima, a consummate politician, was smarter.

The moment the minister dumped him, he started a campaign targeted at members of the football family all over Nigeria. He apologised for the Super Eagles’ failure to qualify for the World Cup and promised to rebuild the team.

But Galadima’s masterstroke was not his campaign.

Rather, it was the appointment of Nduka Irabor as chairman of the electoral committee of the NFA. Irabor, a former journalist, became a national icon in the early 1980s when he, alongside Tunde Thompson, were jailed for refusing to disclose to the then military government of Generals Buhari and Idiagbon the source of their information for a published article.

Irabor later joined politics, where he became a national lawmaker. Presently, he is a successful businessman.

Irabor assembled a team of credible Nigerians from diverse professional background to conduct the election. Shortly after their first meeting, it was suggested that they should see the minister, but Irabor told them that they don’t have any business with the minister, all they have to do is just organise the election. The minister made many moves to meet the Irabor Committee and tell them how the election should be organised, but the committee did not grant his wish.

Police intervention in congress planning 
Initially, the NFA election was slated for the city of Katsina.

The minister Sambawa, however, ordered the electoral committee chairman, members of the committee and the delegates to stop the election in Katsina and come to Abuja.

They refused.

The then got the Katsina State Police Commissioner to stop the election. They then moved to the neighbouring state of Kano. Before they could settle down in Kano, the police commissioner called them and told them he could not guarantee their safety. They reached out to the state governor, who assured them of his personal guarantee of their security.

When the electoral committee chairman wanted to start proceeding, a letter came from Abuja ordering all the delegates back to Abuja. However, it was put to vote and a majority of the delegates voted that the election should go on.

The election went ahead, and Galadima was re-elected for another four years term.

Released from prison to take power from president 
Winning at the pool was the beginning of another war. The following week the minister ordered that the NFA secretariat be sealed up.

Fanny Amun, the acting Secretary General of the NFA who was in police net over allegation of forgery, was brought out of detention and made Director General of NFA. Amun’s first action was to sack all the staff of the NFA.

What the minister could not achieve by getting Sanni Lulu elected as NFA Chairman has now been achieved by making Amun the director of NFA. Amun, a staff of the Ministry, takes directive from Sambawa.

They then established a body called ‘the stakeholders,’ which proceeded to denounce the election of Galadima and set the machinery in motion for the organisation of fresh elections.

The minister Sambawa travelled to the Nations Cup in Cairo in January and February 2006 with the stakeholders, parading them as authentic NFA board members. Galadima was prevented from travelling with them.

After the Nations Cup, the stakeholders’ Electoral Committee were on the verge of organising a fresh election into the NFA board. But when they took their case to FIFA in Cairo, FIFA pronounced its recognition of Galadima as de facto NFA chairman.

The stakeholders rejected FIFA’s verdict and appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS). It was fruitless as CAS told the stakeholders and the Minister to recognise Galadima and allow him to operate as NFA chairman.

An expert president remover enters 
Instead of allowing Galadima to operate, however, the minister, with the connivance of his friends in the House of Representatives, indicted Galadima of corruption and asked him to resign from office. Also, EFCC and ICPC, both national anti-corruption agencies, were said to have documented corrupt charges against Galadima.

Galadima said he is ready to be prosecuted and jailed rather than resign. Efforts were also made force the board to resign, divide their ranks. All these failed.

When all moves to sack the Galadima-led board failed, Sambawa now contracted the job to Amos Adamu, a director in the Ministry of Sports.

Adamu, also known as Tunde Aremu, claims he is Hausa, from Zuru, KebbiState. The truth, however, is that he is a Yoruba from Ogbomosho, OyoState. Reputed to be the richest civil servant in Nigeria, Adamu came into limelight when he was appointed Director of Sports Development in the early 1990’s.

This period are generally referred to as the years of the locust in Nigerian sports. When he headed the COJA, the body that organised the Abuja 2003 All Africa Games, allegations of fraud running into several millions of dollars almost overshadowed the games.

He is, however, a smooth operator and many says the main reason why Sambawa gave Adamu the task of removing Galadima was because, over the years, Adamu has successfully removed stubborn FA Chairmen.

When Jim Nwobodo, then sports Minister, wanted Omeruah removed as NFA chairman in 1996, Adamu performed the operation without blemish. When it was time to remove Abdulmumini Aminu, Adamu eased out the former military governor without any problem.

Kojo Williams’ removal when he decided to assert himself took Adamu only one week. The chairman before Galadima, Dominic Oneya never lived to tell the story when Adamu moved against him.

It did not stop there. Bosses in Athletics, boxing, cricket, volleyball and basketball have at one time or the other had a dose of Adamu’s medicine.

He soon swung into operation to get Galadima out.

Using threats, intimidation, blackmail and other weapons that have worked for him in the past, Adamu gave the board members seven days within which they should tell him the option they are ready to take.

The first thing Adamu did was to call a peace meeting with the Galadima-led board. At the meeting, Adamu asked the board to come up with ideas that could help resolve the crisis, but in his view they couldn’t.

FIFA rejects government intrigues 
Adamu quietly left for Zurich and told FIFA that they should give him the mandate to resolve the crisis. FIFA officials told him no, that reports from Nigeria indicated he is part of the problem and that he is acting a script written by Sambawa, the Minister. FIFA had earlier snubbed Sambawa.

FIFA then told Adamu they would be sending their General Secretary, Urs Linsi to Nigeria to investigate the crisis.

After the meeting in Zürich, Adamu mandated one of his foot soldiers to meet with the Sports Editors.

At this meeting, held penultimate week, the foot soldier told us why Galadima had to be sacrificed so that Nigerian football can move forward. Journalists’ assistance, he said, was needed so that the project could be a success.

He also told us that we stand to benefit a lot if we support the project. But Sports Editors from key newspapers told him we would not support the project. Even his threats fail to have any impact. The problem he said, could be resolved before Urs Linsi arrives, but he was rebuffed. 

Blatter had earlier said Nigeria could be suspended at the congress in Germany June 4 and 5. With a FIFA ban  hanging on Nigeria, Sambawa quickly disbanded the stakeholders. The Sambawa camp is finally ready to allow Galadima to run football.

In the next few days Sambawa and Galadima will embrace so that FIFA will not suspend Nigeria. But it is no lasting peace. As long as corruption remains in Nigeria, ministers will want to control football. If the FA Chairmen want to assert themselves, there will be fresh crisis. The root of the crisis is not the love of the game, but the love for money.

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