A Former Super Eagles player and president of Professional Footballers Association of Nigeria (PFAN), Tijanni Babangida, has decried the recent face-off between some of his members and the Nigeria Football Federation as he said players’ unions shouldn’t dip themselves into Nigerian football politics.. In this interview with Trust Sports, the 1996 Olympics gold medalist spoke on the need for peace in Nigerian football, the need to enhance players’ welfare, his expectation from the Super Eagles against the Lone Stars and how young strikers can send Odion Ighalo out of the national team.
What is your position on the recent decision by some members of PFAN to take NFF to court?
I am working silently to find a lasting solution to the problems between some of our members and the Nigeria Football Federation. The truth is that it is not PFAN that has taken the NFF to court. As you rightly said, it is some members of the union that have taken that action. The union will make its position on the matter known after its EXCO meeting. But I want to say we must sit at a round table to discuss. As president of PFAN, I am for peace not court cases and unnecessary fighting.
Your members are fighting for inclusivity in membership of the NFF board. Do you believe in what they are fighting for?
As a union, we have our own constitution and we also believe in consultations. Before we act, we must first seek the consent of other members. As the president of PFAN, I will make our position known after we are done with our EXCO meeting. PFAN is not taking the NFF to court. For now, what is happening is that few members of PFAN have taken the NFF to court but I am calling for peace between former players and the NFF.
You are for peace but some people may see your position as selling out your union. What do you have to say?
As the elected president of PFAN, I will always defend our constitution and the interest of the union. We are going to hold our EXCO meeting and whatever we decide will be binding on every member of the association. Whatever anyone feels won’t stop me from preaching peace and unity.
What are you doing to bring back your aggrieved members who have left PFAN to join the other players’ Union, ANFPU?
Those who have left us to join the new group are still my friends and we relate as brothers. There is no problem that can’t be solved, if we accept dialogue. I have been talking to them day and night. We are going to dialogue for amicable resolutions.
Are you not worried that players’ unions are becoming politicised?
It is indeed a worrisome trend. What I want to see is the growth of Nigerian football and players’ welfare. It is rather unfortunate that players’ union has found itself in the middle of politics of Nigerian football. It is also unfortunate that most people have this misconception that players’ union is for rehabilitation of ex-players. The primary responsibility of any players’ union is the welfare and development of young players. We are supposed to protect their career and life in retirement. We are not supposed to be involved in Nigerian football politics. Even The Fédération Internationale des Associations de Footballeurs Professionnels, generally referred to as FIFPro, which we are affiliated to, has given us the mandate to concentrate only on players’ welfare now and when they retire from active football. They won’t encourage us to dabble into local politics of football.
Why has it been difficult for you to convince the NFF to constitute the much talked about Players Welfare and Status Committee?
I had written to the NFF and they were about acting on my letter when these problems started. As a matter of fact, I have spoken at different fora where I shouted and accused the NFF of paying lip service on the issue of players welfare and status committee. If nothing is done, it will be my only problem with the NFF. We cannot compromise on the important issue of the players’ welfare and status committee.
In a few hours, the Super Eagles will take on the Lone Star of Liberia in the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying match in Morocco. What are your expectations?
My expectation is high and I am praying that what is happening presently shouldn’t get to the players. They should concentrate on playing. As a former international and elected president of PFAN, I join other Nigerians in wishing the Super Eagles success in their World Cup qualifiers. Nigerians are not going to accept anything less than a Qatar 2022 ticket from them. They will get a slim win over Liberia but what is important is victory.
If they reach the final playoff, do you see the Super Eagles holding their own against some of the best teams in the race for the five World Cup slots for Africa?
We should win our remaining qualifying matches comfortably so as to be seeded. This will help the Super Eagles to avoid some of our perennial rivals. I, therefore, call on the strikers to convert their chances because in the end, goals would count. This is why Odion Ighalo has been recalled to lead the young ones in scoring the much needed goals.
Don’t you think Ighalo’s presence will distract the young strikers as feared by some football pundits?
That is their opinion. Personally, I am in support of the decision to recall Ighalo because we need more goals. The strikers we have are good but Ighalo will make his own contribution. Ighalo will soon retire again. The young strikers have so many years to play. In fact, Ighalo’s presence should challenge the young players to put in their best. They must perform to keep him on the bench or retire him permanently. This can happen only if they prove in words and deeds that they are better than him.