Dear stakeholders, I welcome you to this all-important meeting, which I do with subdued excitement. My excitement is subdued today not because we have not had a few successes in our football development, but because these successes have been diminished by recent losses and happenings in the world of football. We have gone from a football-loving nation to a nation that needlessly squabbles over football. We now showcase more of our disagreements and discordant tunes in football than the talents and skills that should be displayed in this game. Nigerians and the world have taken note and tough questions that require urgent answers are being asked. There is no better place to provide these answers than here in this assembly, this morning.
My dear stakeholders of the once beautiful game in Nigeria, I will be shying away from the truth if I say everything is right with our football. Previous Annual General Meetings (AGM) have been too ordinary by simply accepting what the Federation thinks it has achieved. But, like a cancerous wound, the problems that the Board should have solved, keep festering so much so that our football is in a coma. Some have even taken the less optimistic stance of declaring that Nigeria’s football is dead. So, let us forget some of the pyrrhic feats we have achieved especially when they have not translated into growth.
The crux of this speech is to spur you into finding solutions that will grow this game to be in sync with what we have in other football-loving nations. I am confident that this is achievable because this Board had brought great initiatives to football administration: sponsorships, a robust domestic league and a promising football atmosphere.
But these have not been sustained even though they are sustainable. What are the reasons? They are not far-fetched. No country’s football can grow without a predictable and credible FOOTBALL CALENDAR that is binding on everyone. The essence of having a football calendar is to ensure that the corporate world can plan with it. No blue-chip firm operates based on hunches. Everything is planned with dates and milestones.
No company will wait for NFF to wake up from its slumber to include them in their plans. Do not forget that firms have to account for investors’ money they use for business. Such firms will only do business with organizations that are accountable; not the ones that are bogged down in controversies. If we must tell ourselves the truth, ACCOUNTABLITY is the soul of any business concern.
The BAD IMAGE at all levels of our football, including the organizers of the domestic league cannot attract sponsorship, which is the biggest hub of business. In the eyes of the Nigerian public, the perception that NFF and Nigerian football is CORRUPT is rife. I have had cause in the past to speak on how perception is everything and the perception around the NFF is not one that will court new partners and sponsors for the Federation.
Even though many of the allegations have not been proven, the atmosphere around football is polluted on account of the negative perception of corruption and we must move quickly to sanitize this. Agreed, the stigma of corruption in NFF predates this Board, hence the need for proper accountability and transparency going forward because we must move quickly to change this toxic perception.
It bears stating here that we live in a country where the rule of law exists.
The institutions of law charged with fighting corruption and funds misapplication must be allowed to perform their functions. Anarchy reigns where the rule of law is jettisoned or where a few decide to take the laws into their hands. The wheel of justice turns slowly at times, but it surely turns. Orchestrated and deliberate attempts to stampede the Government or input without proof, actions or inactions are not in the best interest of sports development. There are global standards to investigate allegations. Nigeria cannot change them simply because some people are in a hurry to get justice and by any means possible. We have seen how painstaking, thorough and sometimes how long investigations in international sporting bodies have taken. Some are still ongoing.
As Minister of Youth and Sports Development, I lead the new dispensation of a transparent and accountable sports administration at all levels within the Ministry and the Federations. I will not be distracted by unfounded allegations, insinuations, brazen blackmail and the putrid smear campaign that have now become a cancer in our sports administration. I speak only for myself. But I want to see things done differently. It will take time and patience laced with some tenacity to insist on things being done correctly.
The first step towards reducing CORRUPTION is for all transactions in football to be transparent and it starts now. TRANSPARENCY should be new watchword if the NFF and its affiliates want to do the business of football to rake in millions as is the case in other climes. Transparency can only be attained when the activities of the Federation are subjected to routine checks, while those found culpable are made to face the wrath of the law, no matter whose ox is gored.
If corruption is reduced, blue-chip firms will return to support the Federation to actualize some of its noble objectives which include recreating a sustainable NURSERY to catch young talents and stop the viscous cycle of
age-cheats, which happily has been reduced – given the reports from FIFA in the last age-grade competition where no Nigerian failed the test. 11.Nurseries created must be STANDARDISED to be in sync with global best practices. No country measures its growth by wooing foreign-based players with Nigerian roots to change their nationality. Note that I have not condemned the act of persuading these foreigners to join us since that is obtainable in other climes. Our nurseries must be structured in such a way to check quackery and spare our budding talents of the pain of doing business with shylock agents who trade them into slavish deals and inevitably ruin their
Establishing credible nurseries inadvertently addresses the issue of identifying good coaches, training and retraining them to learn the new tricks of the game. Coaches must be routinely trained. Those who are averse to such routine training should be eased out, because learning like they say, is a continuum.
It is about time NFF and LMC behave like their international counterparts by yearly telling the world how much the country’s football is worth. How much is the domestic league worth, dear LMC chieftains? It would enhance the Federation’s desire for corporate sponsorship, if LMC can yearly state how much it got from INTER AND INTRA CLUB TRANSFERS. At the click of the button on any electronic system, including our mobile phones, we can know how much such transactions fetched other football Federations. Not so in Nigeria. This must change since investors require such variables before entering into business with anyone.
The Ministry of Youth and Sports Development has spent the last four months working with experts and the organized private sector to turn sports into a business. To develop a business model that will metamorphose sports into viable businesses creating jobs and generating revenue. We have bench marked and some of the things and practices I have mentioned above must be in the DNA of our football before we can have a successful league and football development.
I challenge you today to go beyond the rudimentary of previous meetings and be committed enough to make bold decisions that will reverse the now weak super structure of our football development and administration.
16.We lack the football pitches and other football related facilities across the country. That should worry you. There is no well-articulated plan for grassroots football growth and development. This assembly should come up with such. The technical depth of our football is suspect. Our refereeing or officiating of matches is depressing and has gradually killed the competitive spirit of the game. Our domestic league is on crutches. We lack football content. This assembly must rise above the mundane and design a proactive action plan. The Ministry will work with you.
The Federal Government is well disposed to introducing policies that will enhance football development and build investors’ confidence in our football. President Muhammadu Buhari is committed to bringing back to life some of our dilapidated and dead sporting facilities across the country through direct intervention and concession arrangement.
In January 2020, a flurry of deliberate and key activities will take place around our football. The Ministry will hold a public stakeholders forum on Nigeria business of football. We need the input of Nigerians into the bold and corrective steps we plan to bring into football development and general sports administration. There will also be the engagement of select critical stakeholders to discuss with the organized private sector as we finalize a new National Sports Industry Policy (NSIP) draft.
A brighter future is possible for our football development in Nigeria. Nigeria has the abundant raw materials (talents) to dominate the world in football. But, we need to organize the business of football as it’s done in order climes to achieve the same success. The journey starts now. Hard work, bumpy stretches, twist and turns lie ahead. Nigerians expect us to put in the hard work today. Not tomorrow. I am ready. I ask you all, stakeholders to join me.
Minister of Youth and Sports Development
Tuesday, 17 December, 2019