“I am lucky to have left Nigeria early”

“I am lucky to have left Nigeria early” – Jay Jay Okocha.

The-above are the words of one of the greatest players in Nigeria’s football history. Austin Jay Jay Okocha’s words speak volumes, particularly, directly to the state of football development in Nigeria.

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He said that it was Europe that honed the natural talent that he had when he left Nigeria for Germany at the age of 18. Without the facilities and coaching personnel in Europe, he would never have attained the heights in football that he did.

Think about it. Like Nigeria’s crude oil, Nigeria’s football ‘raw materials’ have to be taken to abroad for refining, when everyone agrees that the route to prosperity lies in refining them domestically.

According to Okocha, the answers to Nigeria’s football development are simple – good facilities and grounds for training players and for playing matches, experienced and knowledgeable coaches, and a domestic football system of strong clubs and leagues that can breed and churn out great players even if the migration to Europe does not seize.

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Brazil got it right. The country invested in excellent training and competition facilities, proper training of coaches within their university system, and the organization of good domestic leagues. That’s why the annual flood of some of Brazil’s best young talents to Europe does not adversely affect their domestic football, because there is a good production line of great players within Brazil to sustain development.

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In Nigeria, from 1995 particularly, circumstances, gradually and steadily, introduced corrupting influences into football when inexperienced new administrators came into sports administration. Football was particularly infected. Even the few good training and match facilities that existed then were destroyed in the process of ‘renovating’ facilities around the country for Nigeria ’95and Nigeria ’99. Old good facilities gave way to poor substitutes.

The primary institution established to provide essential capacity-building for local coaches, The National Institute for Sports, NIS, was not spared. Through ignorance, wrong personnel and faulty understanding of the original vision, the NIS started to lose direction, purpose, focus, facilities and even objectives. To this day, it is yet to recover from that mid-1990s mis-direction. So, Nigerian coaches that are being trained in the institute no longer have the capacity to take Nigerian football to the towering heights demanded today by our football vision and development. So, the country is stuck with abandoning its own poorly-equipped coaches and hiring third-rated foreign coaches that deplete the Federation’s resources and take the country’s football nowhere.

so, Jay Jay Okocha is right. Nigeria only has ‘potentials’. The grooming of the final product has to take place on the lush grounds of European clubs. There is no other way, for now, to become a great footballer! That’s why there is an uncontrollable flood of Nigeria’s talented footballers abroad; why the domestic game and leagues are ‘suffering’; why Nigeria’s national teams are floundering. There has been no investment in domestic Nigerian football development for a long time.

That trend will continue until and unless the country addresses the issues. To do these things requires funds.

Reports have it that the football federation is crippled with debt.

At the same time, last week, as I was still ruminating about Jay Jay’s statement, irrepressible journalist, Osasu Obayiuwana, posted a report on a social media platform to which we both belong that the current Secretary-General of the Nigeria Football Federation earns $10,000 (US Dollars) a month in basic wage.

My first reaction was to dismiss it as ‘fake news’, that it could simply never be true. I couldn’t wrap such a possibility around my head. How? When? How come? Where would such money come from? The implications of having such a situation exist will be too dire to even contemplate. How do we explain that?

Secretary General? Is that not the office held by football/sports administrators in Nigeria who became the toast of administration in Africa, and indeed the world? Chief Orok Oyo, Chief POC Achebe, Mr. Patrick Okpomo, Chief Alabi, just Mallam Sani Toro! Even football foreign administrators held these gentlemen in awe. Within CAF they were unofficial ‘consultants’ in football administrative matters. They were that good. Yet, they were all civil servants.

The perks attached to their assignments were what made the big difference to their lives. Their office commanded respect and dignity that money could never buy.

Osasu Obayiuwana’s report rattled mind.

If the Secretary-General of a sports federation should earn this kind of wage, what does the federation itself earn? What work does the Secretary-General do to earn such? What do the other staff in the secretariat also earn, given that there is a whole army of them there?

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Is ‘administration of the secretariat’ one of the key ingredients identified in Jay Jay Okocha’s essentials for development of ‘the footballer’ in the country? Is the ‘footballer’ not the key determinant factor in the success of every federation?

Developing the footballer is the key. Everything should gravitate towards that objective for success to become a reality.

If the NFF had the funds to pay its Secretary-General $10,000 a month, and a foreign coach $70,000 a month, and undisclosed sums to fund federation bosses at the top, and their army of staff at the bottom, the federation should have the funds to fix basic facilities for the players to train and play games, for the coaches to build their knowledge and capacity, and to invest in something tangible that will yield dividends to sustain the federation’s activities.

I am scanning my mind for even a single infrastructural development that has been undertaken by the federation in the past several decades. I am scanning the horizon for any program, any institution, a stadium, a hostel, a training ground, a gymnasium, a hotel, anything that can be referred to as investment towards football development for which funds were provided by FIFA, CAF, sponsorships , major revenue from competitions and even government grants.

Apart from funding competitions, what were the funds used for that could be described as ‘developmental’?

Since that bombshell-of-a-report by Osasu, I have been trying some information gathering.

FIFA and CAF have disbursed over $11million US Dollars to Nigeria in ‘I don’t know how many years’. The Federal Government has allocated close to N12 billion naira to the federation in less the past 8 years period. What happened to the FIFA-funded FIFA Goal Projects that were paid for by FIFA, are providing development in other countries? 3 training stages were earmarked to be built around the country. Have the facilities been completed?

I am asking questions now. My shock is that most people are ignorant of any facts. No one seems to know anything.

There has been a feast ongoing in other aspects of football except in the area of ​​football development. The players, active and retired, are suffering. Referees are suffering. Those of us in the business of sports are suffering. Club owners are suffering. Stadium stewards and stadium managers are suffering. Staff of the NIS are suffering.

In Nigerian football, only those running football seem to be feeding fat. That’s the picture I get from the story of the office of Secretary-General of any sports federation in Nigeria that earns a whopping $10,000 US Dollars a month, a wage that the President of the country does not earn.

FIFA and CAF funds, earned or given as grants, sponsorship and marketing revenue, are not meant to be used to pay emoluments and private traveling expenses and allowances of officials.

There must be a forensic audit of Nigeria’s football architecture.

Nigerian football administration needs a complete overhaul, and the present set-up, if true, demolished completely. The federal government must step in immediately and halt this under-development stalling our national sport.

Now, we may have a good idea where the resources to develop our domestic football have been ‘draining’ into.

Dr. Olusegun Odegbami, MON, OLY, AFNIIA

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