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The Voice of the people is the Voice of God

Yet in the midst of this cacophonous atmosphere I hear the voice of the Nigerian people rise above the din. I hear their voices everywhere…

Yet in the midst of this cacophonous atmosphere I hear the voice of the Nigerian people rise above the din. I hear their voices everywhere I turn to, in the streets, in conversations in restaurants, supermarkets, shopping malls, taxis, everywhere! I hear them on radio, during several television programmes, in reports in the newspapers. The message is the same, resounding like a broken record – Nigerians are tired of the pain of underachievement; of winning through cheating; of being subjected to unnecessary ‘hypertension every time their senior national team plays; of the stories of neglect of their heroes that have served their country and are languishing in poverty and neglect, denied the fruits of their labour by those that have done nothing but feed fat. Nigerians support the present clamour for change in the manner football is being administered in the country. Of late, the conversations about the elections have been loudest. Why the desperation to hold elections whose procedure is faulty?  What is wrong in taking our time to make the necessary corrections, and get things done the right way if there is no hidden agenda?

The congress of the NFF is not infallible. It obviously made a mistake in Makurdi in 2008 as several members of that congress have confessed to me in the past few days. Fair enough, we are coming newly into the era of true democratisation of our administration, and many of us (including myself) do not yet fully understand the rules and do not see the long term implications of some of the decisions we take. Some others in the system use that to railroad us into decisions cleverly designed to achieve their narrow   pre-conceived agenda. Obviously, the Makurdi decisions were wrong. The legal heads in the NFF saw the mistakes earlier and quietly expunged them from the Statutes where they had earlier inserted them. Some people are not willing to make the sacrifice and pay the price that will usher in good governance, credibility and justice.  

The battle is not really about who wins the elections. There are a whole number of good people that can take Nigerian football to new heights. The battle is about starting the change and reforms in Nigerian football through an authentic process of elections. We must set new standards of morality and good conduct in administration. If we go about it by doing wuru wuru to the answer we will end up with a wuru wuru board that will continue in the same old tradition that has brought us to the diadem that we presently find ourselves. One of the contestants for the NFF presidency told me the other day that he is fed up with the crisis and that he is supporting that the elections take place today so that we can get it over and done with and he can return to the peace of his business. I told him that he is lucky to have another life outside of football, that for some of us our lives are inextricably tied to the game having spent the best part of our formative years serving the game and the country and do not have any other business outside of football. We are the club owners, the players, the coaches, the sports journalists, the groundsmen, the games masters, the referees, the supporters, in short, the genuine stakeholders in the game. We do well only when the country’s football is doing well.  I told him he has no business taking part in the elections in the first place, not with his shallow commitment to the cause of integrity and fair play. Nigerian football at this point does not need leaders who want to embrace ‘wrong’ just so that ‘peace’ will reign!  Fortunately, such persons are in the minority. The vast majority want change starting with a correct process of electing the leadership of the football house. We heard it when many of those that spoke on the issue at the football stakeholders summit organised by the House of Representatives Committee on sports, held in Abuja two weeks ago, overwhelmingly supported holding State elections before national elections. We heard the voice of the people when the same House of Representatives Committee on Sports later passed a resolution advising the NFF to postpone the elections to allow for the State elections to come first. We heard it in the communiqué issued by commissioners of sports from all over the country when they met two weeks ago. We heard the people’s voices also in the several cases in court instituted by some aggrieved stakeholders that are unhappy with the election process and statutes, and seeking an injunction that the national elections be stopped from taking place until State elections are first conducted to produce legitimate delegates for the national elections.

There have been dissenting voices also.  Dr. Amos Adamu, CAF and FIFA executive member, sees it differently and insists that the we must live with the mistake of the congress and must hold the elections on August 21.  The Electoral Committee understandably also would want to go on with its mandate to conduct the national elections even if they know the process is irregular. The Chairmen of State FA’s who would be most affected by any corrections would not hear of not holding the elections so that they can remain in power in their States.  Any attempt to conduct State elections will see many of them not returning to the congress. So, the outgoing NFF Executive Committee, on its part, has simply turned a deaf ear to the loud voices of Nigerians.

I remind them all of that simple wise old saying: ‘Vox populi, vox deus’. It is Latin for ‘the voice of the people is the voice of God’.  The Nigerian people have spoken. He that has ears let him hear.

The labour of our heroes past, must never be in vain

I am in deep thought as I get to this point in writing this page.  Suddenly, I am feeling melancholic!  Pictures flash through my mind, of generations of Nigerians that committed their lives to the service of the beautiful game in Nigeria from players to administrators, to coaches, referees and even supporters of the game. I remember Rev Father Dennis Slattery of St. Finbarr’s College and his work with Nigerian football and Nigerian footballers. He was coach, referee, administrator, teacher and games master all in one. I remember other administrators in that mould: Oyo Orok Oyo, whose conduct and support for the cause of Nigerian and African football as the first Nigerian member of the CAF and FIFA executive committees should serve as a standard and example for us all today.  I remember player and coach, Joseph Deshi, one of the first Nigerians to handle the national team. I recall the sacrifices of great Nigerians like Chief Akin Deko, Chief Olalekan Salami, Alhaji Mohammed Danwawu, Mr. Godwin Amachree, Chief Jerry Enyeazu, Mr. J.K. Tandoh, Mr. Patrick Okpomo, and so on, men who gave up huge portions of their lives to grow Nigerian football.

I recall the players that sprouted from the sandy playing fields of Calabar, Jos, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Kano and several other parts of the country, players who paid the ultimate price giving up the better part of the youth to serving the national cause. The list is too long but I will name a few through the generations – Teslim Balogun, Dan Anyiam,  Jide Johnson, Fabian Duru, Sunday Atuma, David Dankaro, Joe Erewa, Carl O’dwyer, Samuel Garba, Yakubu Mambo, Emeka Onyedika, Haruna Ilerika, Tunde Bamidele, Best Ogedegbe, Mudashiru Lawal, Samuel Okwaraji, Ali Jeje, and hundreds of others that have passed on, now only occasionally remembered in passing comments. I recall many great referees that officiated with courage, diligence and integrity through the formative years of Nigerian football. They include B. J. Oni, Augustine Anisha, Sunday Woghiren, Eyo Honesty, Hammed Salaudeen, Alhaji Oyeyemi, and many still alive today like Sunny Badru, Festus Okubule and Linus Mba, who traversed the football fields with dignity and great authority. They kept watch over the game and set such high standards that we can hardly match even today.  

I recall the role of the media in all of this. The voices that gave life to games on radio, the faces on television, and the pens that painted pictures in our minds with words. We hardly remember them any more even though without them there would not have been us. They include Ishola Folorunsho, Ernest Okonkwo, Sebastine Offurum, Sam Akpabot, Young Harry, Yinka Craig, Kere Ahmed, Horatio Agedah, Esbee Oshuntolu, and so many others.  

There is a whole battalion of other Nigerians across the fields of football that served the game through the generations whose footprints have become a blur simply because we have neglected to build monuments in their names to serve as inspiration to the succeeding generations – Deacon Osho, Baba Eleran, Madam Rangers, Zeal Onyia, and many others. In forgetting all these people we now come up with administrators and managers without a grasp and appreciation of the history of the game, without a commitment to the game, and whose dedication is to their pockets only.

I remember all these great patriots and heroes with some melancholy this day. And I dedicate the present struggle for integrity and credibility in Nigerian football administration to their memories. Their seedlings are still around and alive, wasting in the neglect of non-recognition of their fathers past roles.  

Amongst us also are a generation of football people alive and ageing but broken in spirit and in body, neglected by a system in place that never provides for them even with the vast opportunities that the football industry provides in this day and age.  Football can become a huge industry in this country that can absorb and engage all members of the football fraternity in one profitable activity or the other. It merely needs a visionary, a clear road map and the intellectual capacity to perform. I picture in my head the future of the football planet and the promise it holds for the youths of Nigeria. A see a new world football order with Nigeria one of the countries at the apex, with Nigerian players armed with intellectualism, power, fame and fortune.

In short, the dead shall be remembered and their living wards supported. The poor and the living shall be offered opportunities to live decently and to fend for themselves. The next generation shall be empowered with education and an excellent football foundation.  Some of us lucky to still be alive today have responsibility to all those that are alive and in need of one kind of support or the other. We are determined to leave a legacy of standards and models for the generations to come. We give thanks to God Almighty.

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