Six months into the life of the new board of the Nigeria Football Federation, the much-desired restoration of the glory of soccer in the country is fast becoming a mirage but the infamous Super Eagles’ 1-0 loss to the less-fancied Guinea-Bissau understandably exacerbated the feelings of dejection and hopelessness among football-loving Nigerians.
The Super Eagles’ loss to the Wild Dogs in the African Cup of Nations qualifier at the Moshood Abiola Stadium, Abuja last Friday was their fourth consecutive defeat under the new manager Jose Peseiro.
Such a disgracefully poor run is unprecedented in the history of Nigeria’s national team and with the Super Falcons, Flying Eagles and Golden Eaglets also struggling to shine on the international stage in recent months, the jury is out on whether Ibrahim Gusau-led board has the capacity to jab football out of doldrums.
However, considering the enormity of the burden he inherited and the chaos created by his predecessor, it will be harsh and hasty to completely scapegoat the Zamfara-born football administrator.
The general belief is that the eight-year reign of Amaju Pinnick-led board was characterised by monumental stealing and brazen embezzlement that led to the castration of Nigerian football with the main actors, the footballers, being heavily short-changed.
It is difficult to entirely blame the Super Eagles for lacklustre showing in matches, realising that the players are owed a whopping 19 match bonuses and allowances. This is by far the biggest backlog of outstanding bonuses to hit the Super Eagles which dates back to the time of Pinnick at the saddle.
Sadly, instead of admitting its monumental failure, the Pinnick-led board, through some of its hatchmen in the media, has blamed the sports ministry for not providing enough funds to perform its statutory role and responsibility to the players.
It is preposterous for the NFF under Pinnick to blame the sports ministry for its failure to perform its duty, a development that abundantly underlined the incompetence and corruption that robustly defined that administration.
A bribe-induced report in the media suggested that the federal government through the ministry of sports had abandoned the national teams by not providing the funds to prosecute matches when in reality it has advanced the biggest financial patronage to the NFF in recent years.
It is on record that the NFF under Pinnick received a whopping over N16bn from the Federal Government; both in budgetary allocation and presidential intervention funds.
Data seen by this writer showed that the NFF received N1.5 billion in January 2022 while it got two trenches of N750 million totalling another N1.5 billion in 2021. These funds are presidential intervention which is outside of the yearly budgetary allocations.
A source in the ministry reliably told this writer that despite not having the power to disburse funds, the minister Sunday Dare uses his influence to facilitate disbursement from the ministry of finance.
“The Ministry secured Presidential approval of N800 million for them in December last year; that is N3.8 billion in just two years, you can be tempted to ask what the federation has done with the money so much so that they are owing the players that amount in match bonuses. The Minister’s work is to secure the approvals, he is not the Minister of Finance and is not in control of when and how much is released,” the source said.
It is instructive to note that most of the bonuses owed to the players are for matches that are not competitive; most of them are friendly matches for which the NFF is paid by the organisers of these games.
The football authorities received thousands of dollars for each of these matches but they would wickedly refuse to pay the players. Many of these stars who are aware of the deals surrounding these matches complained to journalists about how they were shortchanged by an institution that should have protected them.
In some other climes, subventions from governments to football associations are used to augment the money realised from sponsorships and other commercial rights; while FAs in many countries have ostracised their operations from the financial involvement of their government but in Nigeria’s case, the NFF relies almost solely on the government funding to prosecute matches.
For instance, the English FA’s main source of funding comes from the commercial maximization of its national teams and the FA Cup. It generates massive income from the broadcasting of the matches of its national teams and the FA Cup. It is on record that football authorities made a whopping £425 million from TV rights alone outside of sponsorships deals and always declare profits at the end of each year. It is important to also state that this money has nothing to do with the English Premier League which is a different business entity that the FA has no control over.
South Africa has always maintained a healthy financial status despite not receiving a Rand from the government of that country. In a report on its website, SAFA (South Africa Football Association) said its financial stability is hinged on three key factors namely long-term sponsorship contracts, FIFA funding and its money-spinning assets.
One could be tempted to ask what happened to the much-vaunted marketing drive of Pinnick’s administration and how monies realised were spent. It is on record that the NFF has a lot of sponsorship partnerships with corporate brands, such as Nigerian Breweries, Air Peace, Cadbury, MTN, Emzor Pharmaceuticals, Aiteo, Coca-Cola, Revolution Plus and Premier Lotto with values running into billions of naira but the federation will still shamelessly go cap in hand to the government for money for each match and competition.
While SAFA has utilised FIFA Forward funds to build facilities including National Technical Centre, High-Performance Centre, and KwaZulu Natal Academy among others, there is nothing to show by the NFF for similar funding from the world football governing body. It received about $10 million from FIFA for Forward 1 and 2 in the last eight years but where are the stadia, sporting centres even new players’ buses?
While football authorities in other climes deployed money from sponsors to the development of their football, Pinnick and co entrenched a reign of massive looting of public funds which has led to the dire strait football has found itself in Nigeria.
As a matter of exigency, the minister should embark on two tasks; he needs to order a forensic audit on the N17.8 billion the NFF received from the government in the past eight years and must also write FIFA to provide Nigeria with the amount the football federation got from the world football governing body within the period. Reports from these two exercises could save Nigeria from further chaos and eventually entrench probity and transparency into the system.
However, it is no brainer to know that the Gusau-led board inherited a deep financial mess but it is obviously not doing enough to paddle the federation out of the crisis and the attempt to use a lack of funds as the reason for the failure of the Eagles is absolutely untenable.
One wonders why the federation still relies on inviting wholly foreign-based players for matches when it knows it has no financial capacity to handle that. One year ago, after the World Cup ouster, the Minister insisted on a fusion of home-based and foreign-based for the national team but the NFF is yet to implement that.
It is sad that six months after the new NFF leadership came on board, it is yet to inaugurate a competent Technical Committee while other relevant committees are still not functioning.
Gusau’s board is also not doing anything about the racketeering taking place around our national teams and the agents’ distractions visibly noticed in hotels and stadiums where the teams practice and play. These are some of the elements responsible for the chaotic results from the national teams.
“When the minister talks the NFF will run to FIFA to report interference whereas the same NFF writes the Minister for money and blame the government it calls a third party for not getting enough funds,” another stakeholder who sought anonymity said.