Osasu Obayiuwana: Will Cameroon’s woes ever end?

Whilst amusing – even outrageous – events provide much-needed cannon fodder for writing interesting commentary, my unhappiness with the pervasive absence of astute management across the African game, whose administrators appear to be falling even further behind their global peers, often leaves me in a depressed mood.

And the ever unfolding diary of (mal)administration, in Cameroonian football, rudely reminds me that the continent’s leading nations continue to revel in their nasty old habits.

Mohammed Iya, the man that has run FECAFOOT, Cameroon’s Football Federation, for the last 15 years, got himself another four-year term in office, even though the election took place whilst he was in jail, his place of abode since June 10.

It is clearly a case of déjà vu that Iya is facing criminal charges for his alleged mismanagement of Sodecoton, the cotton company, which also bankrolls Coton Sport de Garoua, 11-time winners of the Cameroonian championship.

Iya took over the leadership of FECAFOOT in 1998, after Onana Vincent, his immediate predecessor, was found to be at the centre of a World Cup ticket scandal that also saw him ending up in jail.

The country’s government has ordered Iya to refund nearly $18m to Sodecoton’s coffers, pay a fine of $4,000, as well as banning him from holding public office in Cameroon for the next seven years.

Prosecutors say Iya could remain in custody for up to six months, before the commencement of his criminal trial.

Anyone keen to see the enthronement of good governance amongst national federations would be appalled by the shenanigans that surrounded Iya’s re-election to the FECAFOOT presidency on June 19.

When Iya was indicted by authorities, over his alleged mismanagement of Sodecoton, John Ndeh, then FECAFOOT’s first vice-president, subsequently decided that he was going to stand for the presidency.

Any surprise that the supporters of Iya, within FECAFOOT, ensured that Ndeh, who was constitutionally entitled to take over as interim president, ahead of the June 19 elections – and ought to have been in charge of the elective congress, in Iya’s enforced absence, was prevented from doing so?

A former FECAFOOT insider was only too keen to provide me with unsavoury details of the proceedings at the congress:

“There was open corruption… Out of the three approved [presidential] candidates, only one was in the hall… One hoped to have an easy ride. Some delegates had taken money from a candidate, in exchange for their votes. When this did not happen, the candidate openly asked for the money to be reimbursed, fighting with a delegate (who had taken a bribe from the candidate) in front of the FIFA representative. The candidate reported the matter to the gendarmes (the paramilitary police), who arrested the delegates early next morning and ensured the money was reimbursed to the candidate before they were released.”

So, we have a federation that has ‘re-elected’ a president who is cooling his heels in jail and it is at daggers drawn with the very government that funds the national team and has made no secret of its desire to prosecute Iya and bring his career as a football administrator to an end, which will certainly happen should he be found guilty of the allegations levied against him.

In the midst of this obviously calm and serene environment enveloping the Cameroonian game, FIFA sent a letter of congratulations to Iya, on his re-election to the FECAFOOT presidency.

“Your election is a clear vote of confidence on your capacity from the Cameroon football community and I hope to use our friendship and excellent collaboration to ameliorate good governance,” Sepp Blatter is said to have written in his letter to Mohammed.

“I am convinced that your rich experience, knowledge and personal qualities would have a tremendous impact on the stable development of our sport in Cameroon.”

Whilst one is not taking any sides in what is a murky affair all round, what cannot be disputed is that reversing the pathetic state of Cameroonian football, which has failed to qualify for the last two Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, is clearly not concentrating the minds of most of its stakeholders.

The naked pursuit of personal power, to the detriment of what is in the country’s best interest – a stable, visionary administration, that can plot the right trajectory for the domestic game and its national teams – will only guarantee that the game continues to lie prostrate.

Whilst at the last Cup of Nations in South Africa, I spent a decent amount of time chatting with Joseph-Antoine Bell, a former goalkeeper of the national team, who is an intelligent critic of the state of football in his homeland, the first African country to reach the World Cup quarter-finals.

“Those who are in power still want to stay there and stay there by doing nothing. They have not called others together and said that we need to think about our football… They have never showed real love for their country. They just pay lip service to it. Saying it means nothing. You have to behave [in a way that shows it],” he says.

“Everyone calls Cameroon a great country in football. But people should not forget that there was a time that Zaire (the present day DR Congo, the first black African country to qualify for the World Cup finals, in 1974) was a great country, as far as football in Africa was concerned. But nowadays, everybody has forgotten that.

“We have to realise that nothing must be taken for granted. Cameroon must realise that because they are Cameroon, they shouldn’t think they can’t be forgotten.

“Yes, we have won the Africa Cup of Nations four times. But a time will soon come that our last victory will be so far, that no one will remember it,” Bell says.

It is a legitimate warning that stakeholders should pay serious heed to. But who is really paying attention to the bells of trouble, as they toll loudly in the central African country?

With imminent FIFA sanctions, for “government interference in football federation matters”, now inching closer, as the world body’s Emergency Committee is set to look into Cameroon’s troubles, there is no end in sight to the unfolding palaver.

Sunday Mbombo Njoya, who was elected as Iya’s deputy vice-president in the disputed June 19 elections, has resigned without giving public reasons, whilst Roki Tombi, FECAFOOT’s general secretary, has been suspended from his post for ‘insubordination’ and was prevented from entering the federation’s headquarters on Monday.

And with Cameroon’s authorities regarding last month’s elections as annulled, John Ndeh is ‘back’ and effectively acting as FECAFOOT’s president, despite FIFA’s endorsement of Iya’s return to office. It’s a very strange situation indeed.

Sadly, those that truly love and care about the Cameroonian game but clearly lack the political muscle to enthrone good governance, can only watch helplessly, as the country – as do many others in Africa – continues to go adrift.

Until the political will and courage exists, within African football and the FIFA bureaucracy, to chart a brand new course that will encourage the enthronement of a new administrative order, which champions competence and integrity, comedic troubles, like those that have just been chronicled here, will remain par for the course throughout the continent.

African football certainly deserves better. But when will that happen?

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.l1696234487labto1696234487ofdlr1696234487owedi1696234487sni@a1696234487nawui1696234487yabo.1696234487usaso1696234487

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