Sometimes I think Bill Shankly, legendary manger of Liverpool Football Club, had Nigeria and Nigerians in mind when he uttered these immortal words, “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.”
We just love football. An average Nigerian can do anything and I mean anything to watch football. I remember vividly historical moments like the Nations Cup final in 1980, our victory at the maiden U-17 tournament by Nduka Ugbade and his mates, the Dammam miracle of Saudi Arabia in 1989 against a USSR team at the U-20 tournament, our exploits at the Atlanta 96 Olympics and our first appearance at the Wolrd Cup in 1994. Like most Nigerians who were of age at those moments, I could say exactly where I watched these games and what I did afterwards. I listed these moments to remind us how important and fanatical we could be whenever football is involved. An average Nigerian can go to any length to watch football and nothing, absolutely nothing, could stop him from doing so.
Anytime any of our national football teams play, we forget our fault lines and such moments are clearly when we are truly united as a country. It is even said that robbers go on holiday at such moments. A year ago, I think, we gave the globe that iconic image of Nigerians climbing floodlights to watch a game at the Sani Abacha stadium in Kano. Sadly, our security agents saw nothing wrong in people doing so as some of them even joined, but FIFA thought otherwise and promptly slammed a fine on us.
Last week, we faced another fine and points deduction. After we had applauded Gernot Rohr with the achievement of ensuring our qualification for the 2018 World Cup with a game to spare, most Nigerians, except those saddled with superintending over our football affairs, never saw what came last week. FIFA sanctioned us for fielding an ineligible player and also fined the NFF 6, 000 Swiss francs – a little over N2 million – and awarded the game 3-0 to the Desert Foxes of Algeria. Fortunately, it was a dead rubber, which to the uninitiated means the game had no bearing on the eventual result and we thereby get to keep our ticket. From my findings, however, some NFF top honchos were aware of the gaffe and were only waiting for FIFA’s hammer as they were told that fielding Shehu Abdullahi would lead to serious consequences.
Good enough that Amaju Pinnick, the NFF president, has apologised for this terrible action and also ordered an investigation into the issue. However, we need more than an apology in this instance and the NFF is not competent to be a judge in its own matter. Over the weekend, I learnt that FIFA routinely send information to its member countries before important games on eligibility of players, those with yellow cards and who are close to suspension or those who are on red card and cannot play in the impending games. Sources informed me that such information was send to the NFF before the Algeria game and the NFF later confirmed this but added that the official was away on sick leave and so could not access his mails. So only one person can read official emails on behalf of NFF and when he was not available, the country’s football body ceased functioning. It was also gathered that while this official was truly away, it was not because of any life-threatening ailment that required surgery but was actually at his wife’s bedside as the woman gave birth. As a father, I perfectly understand how precious such moment could be but not at the expense of a country.
As one of those who thought Rohr was not a good choice to lead us to the World Cup, it was humbling watching him proved me wrong. But to now expect him to keep such record like players who are eligible or not is definitely expecting too much from a coach who could be said to have performed a miracle. But the NFF is not alone in this fiasco. Regularly, our leaders are not bothered about little things as they focus more on the big picture forgetting that it’s the little things that make the big picture. Sadly too, they don’t see the big picture clearly. It’s been tough explaining to folks on social media that this fiasco should result in the resignation of the official involved and the person who superintends him in the NFF.
Some of us still don’t get it that failure in such issues speaks a lot about us as a country. It is, however, sad to determine which is more painful: the fact that NFF is run like a typical Nigerian establishment or that citizens refuse to demand more from the NFF?