Osasu Obayiuwana: Nigerian football totters on the edge

If you’re a coach that recently delivered your country’s first Africa Cup of Nations trophy in nearly 20 years and also happen to be the only living player in the continent with the distinction of captaining your country to the same title, you would think that the least that could be expected is the prompt payment of your wages.

But that is not the case for Stephen Keshi.

The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) has failed to pay his salary for nearly half a year – which means he has received nothing since winning the Cup of Nations in February.

And the former Anderlecht defender was owed two month’s wages, with just weeks to the start of the tournament in South Africa, by the way…

What is even more surprising is the fact that Keshi, who is not known to tolerate such poor treatment, has said nothing to the media about his current situation.

Whilst serving as captain of the Super Eagles, Keshi led his colleagues in a protest against the non-payment of bonuses for qualifying for the 1994 World Cup – Nigeria’s first – by initially refusing to play in a 1993 friendly, against the Black Stars of Ghana in Lagos.

With the terrifying possibility of a stadium riot, with 60,000 fans becoming increasingly agitated, after the game’s start was delayed for nearly an hour and a half, the Nigeria Football Association (as it was known at the time) hurriedly came up with the cash to settle the debt to the players.

And the fate of Keshi’s assistants, which include Daniel Amokachi, the former Everton striker and Ike Shorounmu, the goalkeeper trainer, can be better imagined than experienced.

That an unacceptable and outrageous state of affairs has clearly become, in the eyes of those charged with governing Nigerian football, ‘par for the course’, is indicative of the serious administrative problems militating against the game’s development.

“Between the federation and the coaching crew, we don’t have a problem [about not paying wages],” was the rather odd claim of Musa Amadu, the NFF’s general secretary.

“Obligations to the coaching crew are always settled, and we have the understanding of the coaching crew in this regard.

“We try as much as possible to meet our obligations, likewise the coach, and we’ve had a very good working relationship.

“I know the coach will not bring to the fore any such matters,” Amadu claimed.

That Keshi and his colleagues are not bringing what is a clearly upsetting issue “to the fore” is to avoid further deterioration in their delicate relations with the NFF, as the dust from Keshi’s dramatic resignation, immediately after winning the Nations Cup, before he was begged to continue in the post, is only just settling.

Coaches in charge of the age-group national teams suffer a worse fate.

John Obuh, who has just parted ways with the NFF, after a chequered performance at the U-20 World Cup finals in Turkey, is said to have been unpaid for over 20 months.

With the NFF claiming that over half of its annual budget was spent on the execution of the Cup of Nations, as they go cap-in-hand to the country’s government for funds, even though they are supposed to be independent, means its chaotic financial situation is unlikely to end any time soon.

And as if the NFF’s poor finances are not troubling enough, the scandalous situation of 146 goals being scored in two matches, instigating a rare moment club football in Nigeria receives global attention – albeit for the wrong reasons – indicates the urgent need for improved governance.

That centre referees and match commissioners were complicit in Plateau United Feeders 79-0 ‘win’ over Akurba FC and Police Machine FC’s 67-0 defeat of Bubayaro FC is truly a scene from the theatre of the absurd.

Feeders scored 72 of their goals in the second half, whilst Police Machine reportedly scored 61 times after the break in their match.

The NFF discovered that one Feeders’ player scored 14 goals, whilst in the match involving Police Machine, they miraculously struck four goals in 60 seconds.

Had the results stood, Plateau Feeders would have earned promotion to the league’s lowest tier, edging past Police Machine on goals difference.

With the stench from both games reaching the high heavens, the life bans imposed by the NFF on the erring players and officials of both teams was the least they could have done.

But it remains to be seen how repeated incidents of corruption and match-fixing in the Nigeria Premier League (NPL), where it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a team to win an away fixture, will be handled.

Imagine the justifiable outcry that would result in the English Premier League if a Manchester United or Arsenal were responsible for paying the emoluments of referees and other match officials handling their matches at Old Trafford or the Emirates.

But this unthinkable situation, which clearly compromises the integrity of match officials and taints results, was standard practice in the largely unattractive NPL, which has struggled to get fans through the turnstiles.

Tasked with the challenge of carrying out desperately needed reforms, to turn a largely unattractive NPL into a brand that ought to be one of the world’s most lucrative, the recently formed League Management Company – which has Kanu, the former Arsenal player, as one of its 13 members – has its work cut out.

Traversing the minefield of Nigerian football is no task for the faint-hearted.

Osasu Obayiuwana, a lawyer and BBC broadcaster, as well as the Associate Editor of NewAfrican magazine, is one of the world’s leading journalists on African football. His regular commentary on the state of the African game can also be read at footballisafrica.com. Contact him at moc.l1634529907labto1634529907ofdlr1634529907owedi1634529907sni@a1634529907nawui1634529907yabo.1634529907usaso1634529907

Osasu is also a member of FIFA’s newly convened anti-racism task force.