There is a popular adage that life is not fair. Who does not understand the reality of that aphorism? Be that as it may, there are life circumstances that each of us finds intolerable from time to time. There are times when some of us get sick and tired of being sick and tired. I am almost chokingly sick and tired of the imperial hubris that’s displayed, from time to time, by the world’s football governing body, popularly known as FIFA. The acronym “FIFA” stands for “The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)." According to its official website, FIFA “is an association governed by Swiss law founded in 1904 and based in Zurich. It has 209 member associations and its goal, enshrined in its Statutes, is the constant improvement of football” (http://www.fifa.com/aboutfifa/organisation/index.html).
That website documents that “FIFA employs some 310 people from over 35 nations and is composed of a Congress (legislative body), Executive Committee (executive body), General Secretariat (administrative body) and committees (assisting the Executive Committee).”
FIFA’s football governance role is also articulated on that website:
In the meantime, once again, entrenched interests within NFF fished out their usual weapon—a call to FIFA to ban Nigeria. As one news report puts it, “The Nigeria Football Association (NFA) has warned that the country could be suspended by FIFA on Oct. 27, if all pending football matters were not withdrawn from the nation's civil courts" (http://allafrica.com/stories/201410272384.html).
Despite a pending Giwa’s court challenge of Pinnick’s election and inspite of the fact that Giwa had already been elected as NFF’ s president before Pinnick’s organized rebellion of 09/30/14, FIFA’s President, Mr. Sepp Blatter went ahead, on October 3, 2014, to endorse the latter. As reported in the news media, Blatter extended to Pinnick, his “sincere congratulations and best wishes of success on the occasion of your election as the new president of the Nigeria Football Federation" (http://allafrica.com/stories/201410030200.html). But Blatter did more than just endorse Pinnick. In what seemed like an imperial condescension towards Nigeria, FIFAs Secretary General, Jerome Valcke, followed up with a warning, albeit one to which Nigeria had gotten accustomed: "we now expect the NFF and its new leadership to carry out its activities without any hindrance in order to avoid having to again refer the case to the appropriate Fifa bodies for an automatic suspension" (http://allafrica.com/stories/201410030200.html). When I read that condescending and threatening statement, I said silently to myself that FIFA was up to something fishy as far as the management of Nigeria’s soccer was concerned.
Well, in the wake of the recent court-annulment of Pinnick’s election, FIFA is reported to have, once again, dangled the sword of suspension in the face of Nigeria, reportedly giving “Nigerian football a last opportunity to avoid a lengthy suspension.” According to a news report, FIFA has demanded that the lawsuit that nullified Pinnick’s election should be withdrawn from court so that the board [which was rebelliously] elected on September 30 should carry on “its activities without any hindrance.” If the court action is not withdrawn by October 30, FIFA’s Emergency Committee would suspend Nigeria from participation in international soccer competitions (http://allafrica.com/stories/201410290339.html).
Well, some commentators who, apparently, could not read the tea leaves, have opined, rather incorrectly, that the current uncertainty surrounding NFF’s leadership began when Sports Minister, Tammy Danagogo appointed a sole administrator in July, 2014 to run the affairs of Nigeria’s football federation immediately after the Summer, 2014 Soccer World Cup Competition in Brazil. Though the Super Eagles reached the elite round of 16 in that competition (down from the 32 teams that started out the 2014 World Cup Soccer finals), in the middle of that tournament, there erupted a bonus-related dispute between Super Eagles’ players and NFF’s erstwhile leadership headed by Aminu Maigari, to the chargrin of soccer enthusiasts, like me. To soccer fans in general, this bonus dispute was an avoidable situation: NFF had months to plan for the World Cup and should have left no stone unturned to make sure that all bonuses due to the Super Eagles were paid on time. Nigerians had gotten tired of reading news stories of NFF allegedly reneging on promised bonus payments to not only the Super Eagles but also to other Nigerian teams that fall under the auspices of Nigeria’s football federation. This time around, Nigerian soccer fans were even more furious because news had it that Nigeria’s presidency had, prior to the start of the World Cup finals, provided NFF with a special budget meant for a smooth execution of the World Cup contest (http://www.kickoff.com/news/43819/president-goodluck-jonathan-approves-nigeria-2014-world-cup-budget). Against that backdrop, to see the Super Eagles mount a bonus-related protest ahead of a crucial World Cup game against France, came across as an insufferable blunder on the part of NFF (http://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/07/fg-probing-non-payment-super-eagles-entitlements/). Observers, like me, saw all of this as reflective of a chronic problem of mis-management on the part of NFF. So, in appointing a sole administrator, after the World Cup, to try to make needed changes within NFF, the sports minister did not necessarily act inappropriately. To some of us, his action was long over-due: NFF needed to be cleaned up; it needed an overhaul. And, that sole administrator appointment meant that the then NFF President, Aminu Maigari was effectively relieved of his post. To me, the sports minister’s action was meant to serve Nigeria’s national interest in putting its troubled soccer house in order. But Maigari appealed to FIFA which, in an obvious disregard or lack of understanding of that national interest, reacted by ordering his re-instatement and also threatening to ban Nigeria if she did not succumb to her blackmail. Initially, Nigeria stood her ground and refused to bow to FIFA’s antics, and in July, 2014, FIFA then banned Nigeria from participation in all international football contests. In the middle of all this, Nigeria’s Under-17 women’s World Cup team, which had continentally qualified for the under-17 world cup finals, was waiting to fly to Canada, the venue of those finals. Apparently in order to pave way for this team’s participation, Nigeria relented and re-instated Maigari as president of NFF. FIFA then unbanned Nigeria and the women’s Under-17 team proceeded to Canada where it subsequently excelled and won the Silver medal for that global soccer contest.
In the weeks that followed and against the backdrop of investigations of NFF’s finances being conducted by Nigeria’s government, fire broke out, on August 20, 2014, at the Abuja-based headquarters of NFF (http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/08/20/uk-soccer-nigeria-fire-idUKKBN0GK1Y220140820).
Maigari’s term eventually expired, and a process for replacing him factionalized the association. First, Chris Giwa was elected on August 26, 2014 as a new NFF president, but a counter-election that took place on September 30 pronounced Pinnick as new president. Oddly, FIFA chose to endorse Pinnick as NFF’s president despite the fact that Chris Giwa had already been elected to that office. So, in a sense, FIFA helped to set the stage for the mess in which NFF’s leadership is now engulfed.
On October 16, 2014, Pinnick’s faction of NFF unceremoniously dismissed Stephen Keshi as interim coach of Nigeria’s men’s national soccer team known as the Super Eagles, moments after that team defeated its Sudanese counterpart in a qualifying AFCON return match that was played in Abuja (Nigeria’s federal capital) on October 15, 2014. Earlier on, on October 11, Nigeria lost the away match to Sudan, 0-1. Prior to that, Nigeria played a goalless draw against South Africa, after losing, earlier on at home, to Congo, 2-3. It’s apropos to recall that after the Super Eagles’ loss, by one goal, to Sudan on October 11, Mr. Keshi said openly that his team was being sabotaged, but he did not name the alleged saboteurs (http://kenya.afrolly.com/?news=nigeria-sudan-preview-keshi-claims-super-eagles-are-being-sabotaged). All this while, Coach Keshi was working without a contract. Though his contract with NFF expired at the end of the summer, 2014 World Cup tournament, NFF, at that time, appeared reluctant to re-engage him. At first, Keshi announced his resignation as Super Eagles coach but later recanted following an appeal by Nigeria’s federal authorities. Contract renewal negotiations soon began but got frozen in the midst of the leadership tussle that engulfed NFF.
In the meantime, the clocked ticked towards the September 2014 kick-off of qualifying matches for AFCON 2015. Sport Minister Danagogo then stepped in and prevailed upon Keshi to continue his job of coaching the Super Eagles pending a resolution of the leadership dispute within NFF, and Keshi agreed. Though the Super Eagles’ initial AFCON qualifying matches produced worrisome results, the team’s resounding defeat of Sudan, 3-1 on October 15 signaled what looked like a path towards a rebound on the part of the senior men’s team. There are no guarantees in soccer, and even the most rugged team may sometimes loose to an upstart. Who does not know that soccer is a fickle game?
Despite the understanding by which Sports Minister Danagogo convinced Keshi to manage the Super Eagles until the NFF could get its act together, Pinnick went ahead and unceremoniously fired Keshi on October 16 from his job of coaching the Super Eagles, reportedly without consulting the minister. And even Care-taker Coach Shaibu Amodu later said openly that NFF acted unfairly towards Keshi (http://www.nigeriatell.com/news/nff-unfair-to-keshi-amodu#.VFD7ehZnB8E).
No doubt, Pinnick’s intemperate action smelled like an act of bad faith. Pinnick acted unfairly towards Keshi and did not show any appreciation to Keshi for his acceptance of the afore-mentioned ministerial call to national duty—that is, for accepting the sports minister’s successful invitation to him to sheppard the Super Eagles through the AFCON qualifying matches at a time that NFF was in disarray and negotiations for his contract’s renewal remained stalled. In failing to consult with the sports minister before dismissing Keshi, Pinnick’s conduct violated a provision of FIFA’s own “Disciplinary Code” which enjoins national football associations to “keep local authorities informed and collaborate with them actively and effectively” (p. 39)((http://www.fifa.com/mm/document/affederation/administration/50/02/75/discoinhalte.pdf).
As coach of the national team, Stephen Keshi won the highly coveted Africa Cup of Nations championship in 2013—the second in the history of the Super Eagles. He subsequently led the national team into the group of 16 in the 2014 summer World Cup finals in Brazil. Keshi’s achievements took place against the backdrop of an NFF leadership that more often than not attempted, in rather surreptitious ways, to undermine him in his job as coach of Nigeria’s senior men’s football team. His relationship with NFF and its technical committee was notoriously marked by sporadic tension and media crossfires.
FIFA’s October 2014 action of endorsing Mr. Pinnick as a new boss of Nigeria’s football federation looked to me like an unspoken challenge to Nigeria’s federal government (which had endorsed Chris Giwa’s earlier election that FIFA later pronounced as illegitimate).
In announcing his dismissal of Keshi as Super Eagles coach, Pinnick announced that NFF had begun a search for a foreign coach to replace him. Sports Minister Danagogo later spoke openly against that move, saying that his ministry had instituted a policy of nurturing indigenous coaches (http://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/10/danagogo-summons-nff-foreign-coach/). On my part, I believe that the Super Eagles deserve the best coach that Nigeria can afford from any part of the world, but that world should not exclude Nigeria’s domestic class of coaches. In other words, what NFF ought to do is to advertise the job nationally and internationally, invite applications from both foreign and domestic coaches and let a competitive process determine who would emerge as Keshi’s replacement, if necessary. Pinnick premised his preference for “a foreign coach” on what he described as his desire for “a scientific approach” to soccer management. In making this pronouncement, Pinnick reinforced a certain Eurocentric perspective that “physicality” rather than “methodology,” characterizes African footballing. In truth, the game of football, anywhere in the world, involves both methodology and physicality. Was it physicality that exclusively explained the Super Eagles’ rise to the elite group of 16 national teams that survived after their counterparts from 16 other nations of the world crashed out of the recently-concluded 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil? Even past world cup winning nations like England, Italy and Spain (the winner of the 2010 World Cup), were among the countries that were eliminated during the first round of that contest. It seems to me that in their whole-sale condemnation and exclusion of Nigerian coaches, despite identifiable distinguished accomplishments within their ranks (such as coach Keshi’s winning of the Africa Cup of Nations in 2013 and his steering of the Super Eagles into the elite group of 16 world cup nations in summer 2014 and such as coach Manu Garba’s winning of the Under-17 World Cup Soccer tournament in 2013), Pinnick and his crew at NFF left one with an impression that they are either victims of a post-colonial inferiority complex or that they are unable to resist the allure of foreign exchange deals that are believed to characterize past “foreign coach” deals entered into by NFF or both. To insinuate, as Pinnick did, that Nigerian domestic coaches are incapable of managing soccer “scientifically” and thus tactically is an unacceptable re-enactment of certain anti-African constructs that tend to flow from Eurocentric epistemology. No doubt, Pinnick appears to belong to a category of present-day Africans who seem to be in dire need of re-education.
Does Nigeria have to live under a never-ending specter of a FIFA ban for making good faith efforts to correct systemic problems in the management of its national football affairs? Is the Nigerian government aware that it can fight back against FIFA through not only court litigation (as several other groups and countries have done) and by even politically mobilizing against a global organization that has increasingly behaved in an imperial fashion? FIFA’s incessant threats of banning Nigeria from participation in international soccer competitions, unless it bows to its imperial will, represent a total disregard for the sovereign rights of Nigeria to determine the destiny and future of her soccer initiatives. I cannot think of any other global organization that conducts itself in this obnoxious and obtrusive manner.
Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan should call FIFA’s bluff and then proceed to mobilize other nations, particularly African nations that have also been subjected to FIFA’s humiliating and overbearing imperial intrusions into their national football affairs. For instance, FIFA’s President Blatter is currently seeking re-election for a 5th term, and this desire of his presents an opportunity for Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Sports to launch diplomatic moves that should let Blatter understand that without him pledging, in writing, to respect the sovereign rights of member nations of FIFA to determine the quality and direction of their national footballing programs, Nigeria would campaign against his re-election through pertinent African continental and regional organizations. Instructive is a journal article that appeared in Sport Management Review entitled, “How can FIFA be held accountable.” In it, the author recommends that given that “FIFA itself does not fall under the most relevant jurisdictions for the policing of corruption, such accountability would necessarily have to be applied indirectly by national or international (such as the European Union or European Council) governments, perhaps through oversight of FIFA or its member organizations or confederations” (http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publication_files/2013.01.pdf).
I rest my case!