My encounter with Goodluck
The 22nd of October 2012 will go down in history as the first time that a Nigerian sitting head of state held a retreat to seek solutions to the nation’s ailing sport fortunes.
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The federal government of Nigeria, invited me to lead a group of 38, made up of personalities in Nigerian football and day-to-day life, to solve our soccer problems.
At 10 am President Goodluck Jonathan walked into the hall and, to my amazement and pleasant surprise, he only took his leave ate 6:30pm (eight-and-a-half hours later). How about that for commitment?
Why the urgency?
Nigeria returned from the recently concluded London 2012 Olympics with no medals and never came close to winning one. For a nation of 162 million people that is a disaster, especially when one takes into consideration the fact that sparsely populated Grenada won Gold.
Our senior soccer team failed to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations and had difficulties this time around too.
The national soccer league is at its lowest point and there is a complete drought of new talent discovery. Currently players are owed as much as a year’s wages at times.
Our World Cup appearance in the 2010 South African World Cup was a disaster. The route to the next one doesn’t look promising.
Here are the recommendations I proposed to the president.
Our national football objective
A nation as mighty as Nigeria cannot aim for anything less then returning to the rightful place in African soccer, No 1.
Creation of a coaching institute/academy
Our erroneous belief in Nigeria today is that we need to discover new players like the Okocha, Oliseh, Yekini and Amokachi to take our nation out of this dilemma. However, world soccer has progressed now to the point that talented players are limited without modern day coaching to instil modern team-based football ethics. Look at Spain and Germany; individual play is reduced in favour of team-oriented play and schemes. Now they rule world soccer
This can only be filtered into the football education of the nation if coaches are well groomed nationally to go back to their states and start passing this knowledge on to the youth of their states.
Clearly, without the direct intervention of the president and the state governors, we will have no chance of success.
Privatisation of club ownership
Corruption and mismanagement of government funds are not new in Nigeria.
That is made possible because of the source and the directed aim of the government funding. A privatisation of the clubs, government funding continued but only at the social level and building of desired sporting infrastructures and centres will curb these excesses. A situation where the clubs are owned by private businessmen will be the catalyst to the development of players since profit is the aim for the owners and that will spur youth talent discovery and development.
My opinion of the president
This president is one of the most educated government officials I have ever met. He is engaging, with a strikingly strong sense of humor, a good listener and up-to-date on Nigerian sports and daily life. From my 11hour stay in his company, I must confess that he is genuinely concerned about what sports means to Nigerians.
The fact that he stayed the whole day to listen to several opinions personally, when some governors and ministers present stayed only half day, and gave a closing speech where he highlighted every major point that struck his interest during the day, showed how attentive he was. He took notes while others spoke. I was impressed.
His appointment of minister Bolaji Abdullahi is, in my opinion, very judicious. The minister has intervened in sporting matters lately in Nigeria in ways that have been fruitful.
Nigeria has a people so passionate about soccer it is almost like a religion and hence any well planned and executed solution will produce positive results for Nigeria.