The lingering cold war between the Ministry of Youths and Sports Development and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) is steadily degenerating into a no love lost situation following the recent decision of the former to take over the payment of salaries of the yet to be appointed foreign coach for the senior national team, the Super Eagles.
After the three-time African champions’ failure to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the ministry and NFF held meetings where it was agreed that a competent foreign coach should be hired to tinker the national team.
Based on the agreement, the NFF technical committee then submitted a shortlist of four expatriate coaches namely Ernesto Valverde, Laurent Blanc, Philip Cocu and Jose Peseiro to the NFF for onward transmission to the sports ministry for consideration.
Thereafter, a deafening silence ensued but a few days ago, a statement ostensibly released by the ministry subtly accused the NFF of delaying the appointment of a substantive technical adviser for the Super Eagles.
In the statement, the ministry made it abundantly clear that based on approval from President Muhammadu Buhari, it has taken over the payment of salaries of Super Eagles foreign coaches.
“The Ministry’s position is hard and fast that Nigeria deserves the best gaffer at this stage to help with rebuilding the national team and not just anyone will do.
“The Ministry to avoid the challenge of funds to pay the adviser has since approached Mr. President and secured approval for the Federal Government to now pay the salaries of the coach.
“All NFF needs to do is pick a solid coach and forward the contract and salary document to the Federal Government through the Ministry,” the statement reads in part.
It is the decision to take over what is the statutory responsibility of the NFF that has sharply divided football stakeholders. While some are in support of the ministry, majority see it as an interference that may set Nigeria on a collision course with the world football governing body, FIFA.
A former member of the NFF Executive Committee and chairman of Rivers State football Association, Barrister Chris Green, said it is a welcome development but expressed worry over the sustainability of the initiative.
“Firstly, I think there is a bit of confusion here, if football is totally autonomous in Nigeria by the dictates of FIFA or it is still being run by the Federal Government.
“We still have the dichotomy of NFA and NFF. Whereas NFA is recognized by the 2004 legislative Act of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, NFF is created by its statutes recognized only by FIFA. We need to clear this confusion and get a clear direction.
“It’s a welcome development if the federal government pays the salaries of a foreign coach but my fear is if such salaries would be paid as at when due.
“The second part would be that of control in the light of the saying “he who pays the piper dictates the tone”. Who bears the brunt should the coach fail to perform or meet the expectations of Nigerians?
“I thought the NFF announced Aiteo as responsible for the salaries of the coaches as was the practice in the past. What has changed? For me, we need a clear cut way of running this game,” said Green.
Chairman of the FCT Football Association (FCT FA) Alhaji Adam Mouktar Mohammed said “Well there’s lack of clarity on this issue. One, you must first ask, is this the appropriate arrangement because this is a case of the coach working for NFF and being paid by the ministry. It definitely does not sit well because where will the loyalty of the coach sit?
“Who does he respect? Why was this arrangement settled for? There is a gap and a failure somewhere. A lot of things need to be fixed, if we are to move forward. Things are shrouded in uncertainty so it is not easy to comment when you don’t have the facts and clarity.”
On his part, a veteran sports journalist, Danusa Ocholi, commended the ministry for taking such a bold step as he said the NFF had failed in carrying out its financial obligations.
“I received the news with mixed feelings. First, it underlines the reality that the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) whose responsibility it is to pay coaches and other staff has failed woefully in this area.
“It is quite evident that the present NFF has not been judicious in the management of grants from FIFA and CAF, and its sponsors. As a result, the Federal Government has to step in to save the country the embarrassment of owing foreign coaches with the case of Gernot Rohr a recent example.
“In this sphere, I welcome the Federal Government’s decision. And for doing this the government should be interested in the foreign coach that should be employed.
“They should not allow the coach that will handle the national team to be brought in through the back door as it is being contemplated for selfish reasons. Above all, Nigeria should go for a coach or coaches with track records,” he submitted.
The chairman of Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) Benue State Chapter, Mr Akpera Nase, also backed the sports ministry in its decision to take over the payment of Super Eagles foreign coach.
He said it will bring about enhanced supervision and dedication to duty on the part of the coach to be hired by the NFF.
“The decision of the federal ministry of sports to take over the responsibility of paying the salaries of the foreign coach is to enhance effective supervision as well as check and balances,” he said.
Nase, however, didn’t rule out selfish motives as he noted that the tussle between the ministry and the NFF may be about who controls the billions of Naira that come into the coffers of the football federation from the Federal Government, sponsors and FIFA.
Adekunle Salami, Deputy Editor/Group Sports Editor, New Telegraph also said “It’s not a bad idea at least to avoid the shame the NFF is putting the country into over non-payment almost always. The Rohr issue with FIFA is an example.
“Let us ask ourselves why will NFF fix salaries it cannot pay? If FG cannot pay, we can settle for Nigerian coaches the NFF can pay and somehow if we are all patient, we will get it right in the end. Senegal won the AFCON with a domestic coach.”
However, a member of the board of FOSLA Football Academy Karshi, Patrick Ngwaogu, frowned at what he described as excessive action by the sports ministry.
He said instead of taking over the responsibility of the NFF, the ministry should hand over whatever money it is sourcing to the federation to make payments.
“It’s the duty of the NFF to employ and pay the salaries of its staff which includes the coaches of the Super Eagles. The Ministry is overstepping its bounds in doing that because there are various other sports federations that they need to take care of.
“The Sports Ministry should make whatever funds they are sourcing available to the NFF, so that they can make the payments themselves and the ministry will then hold them responsible, if anything goes wrong,” said Ngwaogu.
In his opinion, a former member of the NFF medical committee, Dr. John Ogbadu, said he does not care who pays who or where the coach is coming from provided the Super Eagles will soar again.
“I don’t mind where the coach is going to come from but he must stay in Nigeria and work full time, instead of ‘part-time for full salary, must watch Nigerian league and develop an achievable football plan for our football,” said the Director of JEC Hospital Suleja, in Niger State.