Monday, July 5, 2010

Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan, is rumored to be the most fortunate man in the country. A series of events saw him go from Vice President to President when late President Yar'adua died from health complications. However, in what must be an attempt to prove that he is just as intelligent as he is lucky, Jonathan decided to suspend the Nigerian football team from international play for two years. According to a spokesperson, the suspension is a direct result of the team's disappointing performance during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where it ended up at the bottom of it's group. Unfortunately, this suspension does little for Nigerian football, now and in the future. Additionally, it will do far less for Jonathan, because the move highlights a common and distressing quality about Nigerian leadership - a lack of vision and an inability or unwillingness to address the real challenges of the Nigerian condition.

It is never wise to overreact to any situation as such indicates an inability to control one's emotions. That is a flaw a president must especially be prevented from expressing as doing so not only hampers their image, but potentially weakens the very office they hold.

In this case, the brash decision by Jonathan to suspend Nigerian play was announced without additional details of how such an approach serves the national interest. International tournaments are used to not only spotlight local talent but give players an opportunity to play together as a team. In the case of Nigeria, it remains Important to give younger players a platform on which to shine as that improves their chances of being picked up by a team which in turn can be useful for national play and even the nation's image if handled correctly. Furthermore, international play gives team members time to bond with each other and learn how to play together - a key element that was noticeably absent during World Cup play that will not be helped by a suspension.

More worrisome than this failure to see how suspension of team play weakens Nigerian football is the inability to recognize that football is the one thing that brings a nation of 150 million people. Whenever the national team plays, it is normal to see people of different religions, socioeconomic classes and tribal groups joined in unison - hoping and praying for the success of the national team. That reality, despite the failures of the team to win matches in recent years, is one any leader would be ill-advised to ignore.

There is also the added element of FIFA. Nigeria's football federation, the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), is subject to FIFA's rules. One crucial rule is that politics and politicians stay out of football. Jonathan's suspension directly flouts this requirement and can be interpreted as feeding into an already dangerous stereotype about Nigerians - that they do not observe laws. Even more dangerous, is the failure to anticipate a reaction from the organization which has now challenged the president. FIFA demanded a full and complete reversal of the suspension by Monday, July 5th, 2010. Now, Jonathan, who, as president, needs to make sure he maintains a certain amount of control and respect, must react to the demands of a non-Nigerian organization. If he chooses to ignore FIFA's demand, he could subject all Nigerian football teams to anywhere between two or more additional years of non-play, effectively taking the country off the football map for years to come. And, if Jonathan was to give in to FIFA, the implication would be that a President was brought to his knees by a sporting organization. That would be damning for Jonathan, but more so for Nigeria, which suffered the unfortunate effects of leadership under a president that was seen by most to be weak. The perception led to that presidents ineffectiveness domestically and internationally.

These possibilities only suggest a sin all politicians the world over are condemned for - focusing on fringe issues to distract from the real matters at hand. Jonathan's suspension is a tried and true political tactic especially handy during a period of high tension and discontent. Citizens, weary of the failure of their government to provide for basic needs are likely to focus that anger on politicians. If that were to happen Jonathan's ruling party, the PDP, would suffer the most. With elections around the corner in 2011, Jonathan opted to turn Nigerian  football into the scapegoat. The NFF's decision to bring in a new national coach so close to the world cup was a contributing factor to the teams failures. Also, the well known fact that making it onto the team as either a player or support staff is determined not necessarily by skill but by the exchange of money serves to further weaken team performance. These and many other factors make a change in the very structure and culture of the NFF mandatory. But, that could have been accomplished without a full fledged suspension of play.

Beyond the questionable practices of the NFF, are cultural norms of the larger Nigerian fabric that came to hurt the country during the World Cup. Nigeria has become a country that rewards selfish activities that put personal ego and vanity above national pride and interest. One need look no further than the sycophantic praise and worship of individuals whose wealth was gained illegally. Or, the parents who unquestioningly take money, homes and cars from their children knowing very well that these things came from criminal activity. There can be little surprise then that self interest is the norm and that many players were seen to be playing to advance themselves and not the glory of the country. Addressing that reality, and not issuing a two year suspension would have been the wise and visionary thing to do. Programs fostering civil education, national pride and unity and encouraging the best aspects of Nigerian culture would go a long way to counter many of the country's problems which have, once again, been put out to dry. This approach, coupled with clear signs of success on other matters such as healthcare, education, infrastructure, would also help the national psyche which is far too accustomed to failure. 

Unfortunately, Jonathan's suspension only suggests an unwillingness to soundly tackle concrete problems. This is discouraging given that he is in a position to do a lot of good for the nation and only has months before presidential elections. This unwillingness could be interpreted as him knowing that he can only do but so much during his tenure and opting thus, to not do enough. One can only hope that is not the case, but given the Jonathan administration's inflation of the Golden Jubilee budget by over 160% without including a single item that will benefit Nigerians in the long term such as a better hospital or school, Jonathan is sadly appearing to be the same as many other Nigerian leaders. That might be lucky for Goodluck, but it is woefully unlucky for Nigerians and Nigerian football.

9 Curiosities. Add Yours.:

NakedSha said...

It's fortunate that Jonathan has realised that The SUper Eagles need work...but this suspension is MISAPPROPRIATED.

Two years! This means no African cup, no World cup qualifiers. Honestly, this is too much. 6 months maybe, to restructure but two years is crazy. I mean, we have (A LITTLE) faith in these boys to get better and so banning them for two years makes little sense.

On a very unrelated note, I beg...Jonathan, that budget is ridiculous. The best 50th anniversary gift you could give Nigerians is light for 'just' one week.


Nmachi said...

I second Naked Sha on the budget. Case of misplaced priorities if you ask me.

In the Eagles case, it just seemed like an easy target like you mentioned. Overly emotional. I suspect they either didn't know or remember that FIFA would have repercussions.

Olufunke said...

I sigh.....

In as much as the is need for a total over hauling of the Nigerian NFF, NFA, NSC etc, the ban decision by the presidency was rather rash and not properly thought through.

I cannot agree with you more on the fact that the problem with the Nigerian football is just a little part of the many issues that plague Nigeria as a country

To make matters worse, the ban was announced before well thought out plans for the restructure of Nigerian football/sport was put in place.

Well, I only pray for Nigerian sakes that FIFA takes it a bit easy with Nigeria and no further/great ban comes from that side.

Hoping that other issues like corruption, the Nigerian 'lack of values' etc would be addressed.

SO much for bans..............

Nice one!

Ada said...

This just tells you the kind of people around Jonathan. He unfortunately has people who are inadequate in their positions. If we no fit solve football problem, then do you people expect light for 1 week? I laugh!

FIFA can get crazy when they want to, unless Jonathan succumbs to them, I see them banning naija for at least 4 years, and its ALL Naija football. Youth, under 21, All the women teams, all the club teams who compete for intl events.
FIFA is flying their rep in today now, so we'll see if some people can swallow their pride, and make sense for once!

As for that 50th anniversary something that is being done, na just to share contract now.
Even if Jonathan runs in 2011, he wont win, and that one is a fact! If he wants work to do till then, there are many things he can do. Never trusted that man from jump, and I'll never get on his bandwagon!

Beauty said...

"in what must be an attempt to prove that he is just as intelligent as he is lucky, Jonathan decided to suspend the Nigerian football team from international play for two years".

Where do we go from here? Could this be a smoke screen? You know, burying bad news with stupidity. Call me a skeptic but in a country where the president is supposed to be the best smokes and mirrors man (never woman) aka magician, anything is possible. If we only used a fraction of our talent on failing forward faster. For as long as the sun sets to rise, the whole truth will only reveal more horrors of bad leadership.

Day Trading Online said...

I am from the USA and I even though we in America are very into are sports it never gets to the level of politics or special interest. I played sports for many years I cannot imagine the type of pressure you must be under when your country takes your play personally and becomes violent or irrational about it. Please someone enlighten me about the craziness of football.

RE - RecycledFrockery said...

Why can't he just wish them Goodluck ? (side-eye) they've already had a wacking in south africa.

modular log homes said...

Who is the first Nigerian football player to play in England and which club did he play for?

modular log homes said...

Martins is probably the best at the moment due to his amazing shooting ability. For the past 5 years jay jay has been the best, But it is time for new great Nigerian playes such as Jon Mikel Obi to be counted.

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