The General Secretary, Nigerian Football Federation, Dr. Mohammed Sanusi, speaks with ’TANA AIYEJINA about the challenges of the NFF, efforts made by the Glasshouse to return Nigerian football to winning ways
Technically, would you say Nigeria’s football is where it should be?
This is a very difficult question because I’d like to refer questions like this to the Technical Department, but by virtue of my training as an administrator and a licensed coach, and having played, taught the game up to the university level and still teaching it, I would say yes and no. Yes because a lot has been achieved both on the field of play and in the politics of the game. Trophies have been won and the senior teams qualified for the AFCON and WAFCON. The programmes are working on well. In the politics of the game, Nigeria is a force to reckon with worldwide. The NFF president, Amaju Pinnick, is both a CAF and FIFA executive member with a very loud voice in decision-making as far as global football is concerned. No because I believe that in everything we do, there is room for improvement. To therefore say that everything is 100 per cent well with Nigerian football is to dismiss those areas that need improvements. We still painfully remember the non-qualification of the Super Eagle for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, which was a setback. We cannot also forget the toxic atmosphere that greeted Nigerian football in the past eight years ranging from litigations to organised protests resulting from the instability in the governance of football and the scaring off of potential sponsors and partners from Nigerian football. We had many Nigerians fed with a lot of information largely mixed with misinformation.
What areas of Nigerian football do you think should be improved on?
You would agree with me that the concerns should not just be for the Nigerian Football Federation alone, but for all those who love football because apart from the economic gains, there are also the political and nationalistic side of it. Take for example, anytime Nigerian team plays well you will marvel at how Nigerians cheer them, but in that same competition, if there is a small hitch, the same people will castigate the team they supported last time. But the fact remains that in football, we can’t win all the time. My belief therefore has always been that the support of all Nigerians is important, thus my appeal is that Nigerians should be patient with the administrators and coaches. I will give you an example with Senegal. They have been using the same coach for almost eight years; they did not win any trophy, yet, neither the coaches nor their federation was put under undue pressure. Now, Senegal have won the AFCON, qualified for the 2022 World Cup, and are now the darling team of Africa, because their federation and the coaches had the backing and understanding of their people. (Clemens) Westerhof didn’t do well when he started but because he had the backing of Nigerians, he took his time to develop the famous 1994 squad. That was also because he had the time to develop the team. So, in a situation where there is constant pressure from Nigerians calling for the head of the coaches and those in authority, there is bound to be issues. Nigeria is blessed with sports technocrats who should be better enlightened and guide people without bias, but unfortunately, some of them are not doing that. In Nigeria, everybody is a footballer and a coach, and they don’t allow those charged with responsibilities to carry out their duties. If you bring 100 Nigerians together and ask them to give you technical input, I believe the answers you will get will be as varied as the number of individuals you have gathered. My take is if we stick to professionalism, where we allow people who are charged with a responsibility to carry out their duties, there would be a measurable improvement in our football.
There are speculations that both internal and external interference with the coaches job is also part of the problems of Nigerian football…
I can only speak for myself. I have never and will never force anybody to take any player. I raise my hands up, if there is any coach I have asked or forced any player on, let him say it. I’m not saying that there are no pressure from friends, relatives, colleagues and others to have their wards included in the national team, but I have always advocated for the independence of the coaches and merit. The coaches that have worked with us can attest to my position and I would always tell them, ‘Please if anybody sends any player to you as a coach, do him an honour by trying that player. If the player is not good and you take him, you are on your own. The only honour you can give to anybody is to try a player that he or she sends to you. It is your responsibility as a coach to know whether the player is good or not.’ Let me give you an example with Isaac Success. When we sent the U-17 team to Calabar for camping, he came and said he wanted to join them and the coaches looked at him and asked him, ‘Can you play football?’ Reluctantly they allowed him to play. What they saw made them to ask him to come the next day. Before you knew it, he had been included in the team; no introduction from anybody. Success is now a professional footballer, and has played for the Super Eagles.
This was a boy I never knew before he was selected and have never met. No coaching or administrative staff had any relationship with him but he made it to the team because he was given the opportunity to prove himself
Looking at the leadership of Nigerian football from the time it was Nigeria Football Association to NFF, how would you rate the body?
Remember that I came to NFF as Assistant Secretary General, and later became the Director of Competitions, before being appointed General Secretary. So, whatsoever successes recorded, I played a significant role. As Head of Competitions, I was the one running up and down to make sure that we achieved the successes recorded. The AFCON we won (2013), I was the one running from pillar to post, from one centre to another to make sure things went well. I was the one leading our team to Match Coordination Meetings. We should also not forget that since I became part of Nigerian football in 2007, I have been in charge of every competition, so if you want to judge me, start from 2007. Thus, I cannot judge myself; rather, I will allow people to do so. You have to look at time, situation, economy and politics, but I must tell you that football has helped in uniting the country and projecting its image.
How would you also rate the NFF in terms of accountability and transparency?
I will tell you sincerely that NFF has done very well. It has operated an open-door policy by even making sure that it publishes its account in two national dailies. Of course, you cannot take away the fact that people who feel aggrieved will always look for something to criticise. My appeal is that people’s action and inaction should not be guided by personal differences or like and dislike, but fairness and sincerity of purpose. A lot has also been erroneously insinuated on the utilisation of the FIFA support funds, especially the COVID-19 palliatives. Immediately FIFA announced the support to member nation, some people started a campaign of calumny, insinuating what was not there. People should understand that when FIFA gives you money, it comes with conditions for utilisation. It does not stop at that, FIFA will also follow up with an audit to ensure adherence to the stipulated guidelines. When the palliative money came eventually, NFF distributed it in accordance with the laid down rules and regulations. FIFA was impressed and cited the NFF among the members association that used the funds well, especially the one by the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria.
Are you satisfied with the level of government funding of Nigerian football?
To be honest, government has tried. The truth is that there are so many competing demands like agriculture, health, COVID-19, infrastructure, etc. The funds are not sufficient enough for government to meet all its demand, thus the need to look for support from corporate organisations. Nigerian football has the capacity to sustain itself under a conducive environment , but these companies in most cases are being harassed on frivolous accusations of conniving with the NFF to embezzle their own money, which they voluntarily decided to give to NFF in response to Corporate Social Responsibility . Sometimes the sponsors tell you that they are fed up to the point that they may discontinue with the sponsorships. If this attitude is not checked, where will the funds come from? My advice is that anybody not satisfied with the way Nigerian football spends its money should write to FIFA, in the case of FIFA funds, and to sponsors in the case of sponsorship funds, instead of writing security agencies to disturb the sponsors. It is the sponsors that are supposed to report to the security agencies if they find out that the money given to the Federation was not judiciously utilised because the contract is between the federation and the sponsors. It would interest you to know that most of those writing are ignorant of the contents and clauses in the contracts. If football is run under a good environment, the NFF has the capacity to generate enough funds and will be able to run itself. But the environment has to be there.