In recent weeks it has become clear that the real story for Nigeria's football is not about the resignation of the national team coach Sunday Oliseh nor the fact that the country's legislative house announced its intentions to open a hearing on football.
In reality, the story is about the opportunity for Nigeria's football to bid for its independence from government stranglehold. What remains is whether in fact the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), led by its President Amaju Pinnick, is able to come to that realization and take the "Bull by its horns."
I had the opportunity, with several colleagues from the Nigerian Soccer League (NSL) in the Washington, DC Metro, to meet Mr. Pinnick in person a few weeks ago. One thing he said was remarkable. It was that with sponsorship, Nigeria's football can gain its independence from government control. Yet, now he is faced with the opportunity to seek that independence. If he does not know yet, here are just a few of the signs:
*Pinnick laments about approval of N1.2 billion from a proposed budget of N7.3 billion.
*National team coaches and players owed wages and bonuses.
*The national team can no longer fly by charter plane.
No Longer Business as Usual
It is clear from the NFF's budget and the pronouncements from Nigeria's ruling regime, that business is no longer as usual. The NFF must now realize that it must cut its budget to a size that it can afford under the new situation. It must make the difficult choices. Should it continue to participate in all possible tournaments like Beach football and even the CHAN? That is up to Amaju Pinnick. The fact is that he needs to make DIFFICULT CHOICES. The point is that not all those footballing competitions are massively supported by Nigerians. To participate in them, he should seek that such participation is based on 100% sponsorship by those who really care and not spend the limited government funding on some of those competitions. If he can find sponsors for what he promotes as "capacity building," then surely he may be able to find sponsorship for some of the sports.
Then he must ask: "Why can't the Super Eagles pay for its own competitions and activities?" The Super Eagles earn funds from several competitions including the World Cup and the Super Eagles represent the leader of the Nigerian brand. If the Super Eagles cannot attract major sponsors, which other Nigerian team can? The point here is that Super Eagles can certainly be marketed to raise its own funds and no longer depend on government budget. Its activities must be fully commodified.
Women and Youth Football
What should be left to government budget should be women and youth football. The government, particularly, must budget for youth football if its expressed goal remains youth development. A key part of that development is football through NFF's organization.
NFF Must Dream and Imagine
If it is a dream, then NFF needs dreamers.
I was heartened by a recent ESPN article by Colin Udoh that analyzed the finances of the local league. I was impressed. Perhaps, the achievement of that league is a road map for the larger NFF. Mr. Udoh noted that a club like Enyimba earned N80 million from the league alone in an environment where the league administrator, Mr. Shehu Dikko, has claimed that at least N200 million is required to financially manage a club annually. In Udoh's analysis, he does not include initiatives by the club such as shirt sponsorship, merchandise sponsorship, and then earned player transfer fees! The point is clear, a club like Enyimba can depend largely on its own funds and not that of the government. Now, the NFF must begin to think along those lines as well.
While some may think that the above is a mere dream, one hopes that Mr. Pinnick and his team are willing to be dreamers, they must be able to imagine that day of independence because it is here and now. They must grab that bull by its horns.