Why Nigerians must defend the goalpost of Sports in Nigeria

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By Rev. David Ugolor,

Towards the dawn of the millennium while the component units of the universe were taking quantum leaps into space and investing massively in research for the development of Artificial Intelligence, AI, Nigeria was in the throes of regular and consistent assault by the purveyors of corruption and large-scale theft of public funds. The records are there that around $148 billion is stolen annually from Africa by politically exposed persons, multinational corporations, the business elite and civil servants with the complicity of banking and property industries in Europe, North America and elsewhere. Estimates indicate that Nigeria lost about $40 billion as illicit financial flows between 2001 and 2010 alone.  Transparency International (TI), recently ranked Nigeria 144th out of 180 countries ranked in its 2018 Corruption Perception Index (CPI). The country, according to the CPI, scored 27 out of 100, a figure lower than the average in the Sub-Saharan region.

There have been many attempts to take corruption head on, and this has been at the behest of regular organs of government and at non-government divides. At both divides, the attention has been mostly on that popular triumvirate of conspiracy – the big politicians, the multinationals,  the banks and lawyers who assist to launder these monies. However, let us pause and consider the fact that apart from this network of politically exposed persons and institutions, there is yet another spectre in the shadows, Sports administrators in Nigeria, who are quietly exploiting our passion for sport and football glory for their pockets.

Today, wars and the battlements of war are no longer fought with bayonets, grenades or blunderbusses.  Wars no longer take years to prosecute. Some wars between, and among countries these days take place on a battlefield with some eleven men or women. Depending on the circumstances, these wars last only 90 minutes, with zero bloodshed and any one of the debutantes that clinches victory takes all the spoils and gets a garland of prestige recognized internationally. Perhaps this is why most countries prepare for a sport competition like football or the Olympics the way they prepare for war – hefty budgets are made available for the deployment of men and materials.

In Nigeria, sport and especially football is more than just ‘warfare’. It is that one thing known to emulsify the separate aspirations, visions and goals of more than 350 ethnic tribes. Urhobo, Isoko, Tiv, Ibo, Hausa or Yoruba all speak footballque – a lingua franca known only to Nigerians. Our locus classicus is that when you play against Nigeria, you play against 140 million people instead of the regular eleven. In 1967 during Nigeria’s brutal civil war, both sides called a two-day armistice just so that they could watch Pele play an exhibition match. Therefore, because of its ability to market goods and services, lift the soul of a nation and confer governments with a modicum of legality and legitimacy, everyone is eager to use it as driver of their aspirations.

Loving football and sport is not entirely a Nigerian thing.  Globally, sport, football is a veritable money-spinner. According to the BBC, ‘the big five European leagues generated a record €14.7bn (£12.6bn) in revenue in 2016-17, a 9% annual increase, according to new figures from Deloitte. It says the European football market is now worth some €25.5bn (£21.9bn).The English Premier League was the market leader, with record revenue of £4.5bn, as each of the 20 clubs set their own annual revenue record’.

Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) says of executives that they too easily fall victim to the planning fallacy wherein they make decisions based on delusional optimism rather than on weighting of gains, losses, and probabilities.  And that perhaps is why people that are trusted with the management of this significant aspect of our lives often betray that trust.  First, it was Joseph Blatter 8th FIFA President, now serving a six-year ban over allegations that he enriched himself with FIFA’s monies. After Blatter, we heard it was the turn of one of our heroes, Michel Platini. Reports had it that as EUFA president, Platini got the boot from football over ethics violations.

But the tendency for delusional optimism in sports administration in Africa (euphemism for outright pilfering of public funds), is common as well. Again, it was with Isa Hayatou, the man who once ran African football at the highest levels and who also went down on accusations that he was involved in the illegal sale of exclusive rights of broadcasting and sponsorship. Shortly after Hayatou, a sting operation nailed Nigerian coach, Salisu Yusuf. He was caught on camera asking for money from supposedly football agents before featuring certain football players. And prior to the banning of former Super Eagles Coach Samson Siasia for receiving bribes to fix matches, the financial mess currently ravaging the Nigerian Football Federation, NFF, had persisted for a long time.

If at this point Nigeria has been blind to the obvious, she must not remain blind to her blindness. If the fight against corruption must be total and comprehensive, no effort must be spared to put in motion a machinery for sanitizing this aspect of our lives that brings succor to Nigerians in their daily struggle to eke a living. While Nigerians pay to support the growth and development of football and sports in Nigeria, there are individuals out there reaping from this goodwill and patronage. ANEEJ as an anti-corruption organisation working for an Africa without poverty will continue to collaborate with stakeholders and relevant institutions to bring a measure of sanity to football and all sports activities which bring Nigerians together.

The Rev Ugolor is executive director ANEEJ.   

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