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Odegbami: Football in Nigeria is ‘Dead’, and Must be Saved NOW!

Odegbami: Football in Nigeria is ‘Dead’, and Must be Saved NOW!

I have never found it more difficult to write about football in all the years of my writing than I do now. Suddenly, after so many decades of living in denial and in hope, I am about to give up on football and its future in Nigeria outside of the token contributions being made by a few individuals and a tiny number of corporate organisations, all of which do not amount to much in terms of what can be achieved were things appreciated better, done properly and differently.

The only authority I have in arriving at my current state is my personal experiences through the years that can neither be ignored nor disregarded because they cannot be bought in the market place, and they come with the evidence that separates the wheat from the chaff in Nigerian football.

This is 2019. With all modesty, only very few persons of my generation, of the generation before and even of now, can boast of the same vast array of my experiences. These are the only authority with which I want to beam some light on an issue within the current ‘darkness’ that Nigerian football has sunk. I want to talk about the state of Nigerian football today because, things have never been this bad in our country’s entire history.

The 2019/2020 league has not taken off and no one knows when it will. The Football administrators and a current sponsor are being chased, hounded and harassed (justifiably or not, that is for the government authorities to determine) by anti-crime agencies.

Administrators claim those are the reasons for their inability to secure sponsors for the domestic professional leagues.

The truth is that sponsors’ loss of interest has been going on for some years now when the promised benefits derivable from their sponsorships were not met by public interest and patronage.

At national team level, the situation is different. The power of good football is still fueling interest and transcends developments in the administrative set up. That’s the key – good football.

That’s why FIFA, ravaged by the worst scandals in its history, suffered tremendously, but the sponsorships of their competitions remain unaffected.

Good football is never affected by politics, that’s the bitter truth. The people will watch great matches irrespective of who their football administrators are, and untouched by any shenanigans in the political arena.

So, I look at football today and I weep inside.

I hear people ask why the new generation of Nigerians, despite their passion and patronage of European football, demonstrated weekly by their insatiable appetite for the foreign leagues, have turned their backs, in most parts of the country, to the domestic game.

European football supersedes any other activity in followership and patronage in Nigeria. Even women and children have joined in the weekly social engagements of going to watch great football matches on television in the countless number of television centres all over the country. Meanwhile, the local fields in most parts are empty of decent football followers and full of miscreants! The main reason is simple.

Some decades ago, domestic football was followed crazily.

A new generation explains that times have changed and the world is no longer the same place as it was during our time.

True, the world has moved on, but rather than remain on our attained respectable plateau, they have retarded and retrogressed the game, and taken it to its lowest ebb.

Let me tell you a little of a past that the present can learn from.

It is not rocket science to appreciate that the most important ingredient in the entire football business, without which football would never be the game that it is. It is what drives the quality of performance on the field, the quality of presentation to a global audience, the appreciation of quality coaching, quality teams and tactics, reasonable analysis by ‘experts’, excellent media and television coverage, emergence of the best players, crowds to the terraces week after week all over the world.

This ingredient is taken for granted as an absolute necessity by established football cultures, but never even discussed or considered in our environment as the evidence of the past three decades, since professional football was introduced into the country, shows.

Yet, it is the simplest and cheapest thing to provide – a good playing field made of lush, flat, well nurtured green grass constantly nursed as a mother would her infant baby.

The football field is the most important thing in football, in developing it and in marketing it!

Let me tell you how we have treated it in Nigeria.


Liberty Stadium, Ibadan

In 1995, some Israeli contractors were hired to excavate the main bowl of the Liberty stadium and replace it with the most modern watering system in the world at the time – the Cell System, where wetting of the field was to be done from underground and not above the surface.

The Israelis were well into their demolition job when they halted what they were doing, called us aside and told us what they found underneath the field in Liberty stadium. The watering and drainage systems were as good as any they had found in all their field construction work around the world!

Why, they asked, did Nigeria want to get rid of what many stadia in Europe did not have, and replace it with an untested system that even Israel did not embark because the system could not easily be supported by the required technology, personnel and facilities? Why?

None of us could provide an answer. Those in charge of Nigerian sports at the time simply instructed them to go on. The Israelis ‘obeyed’ and did an irreparable damage to the best sports facility in the whole of Africa at the time, a stage that every Nigerian and foreign football player that had ever tasted playing on it wanted to go back to, over and over again because it made the game beautiful to play and to watch.

Liberty stadium used to host some European and South American teams on its lush green turf that compares to what is available in today’s Nou Camp, Stamford Bridge, the Emirates Stadium, Maracana, and so on and so forth!

Out of sheer greed to harvest from bloated contracts, administrators, without knowledge, conscience and experience, destroyed a people’s greatest sporting heritage. Till this
day, some 24 years later, Liberty stadium has not been able to host a single national or international match again. It lies idle today, ‘weeping’ in desolation.

That’s what some people ignorantly and maliciously did to Nigerian football, got away with it, and left the rest of us to carry on in excruciating agony and pain. Many of us know that the present times, different as they are from the past, could still have been better had we not placed our future in the hands of those loaded with theoretical postulations without any experience.

There is nothing worse for footballers, for television coverage, for television viewing, than a match played on a bad field. It is the ultimate turn off. That’s what makes the biggest difference between European and African football. A great and entertaining football match will always attract money in terms of sponsors and spectators.

That’s why with all the crisis that FIFA went through, including all the scandals, world football still thrives as a business.


Sports Minister and his entourage inside the rotting main bowl of National Stadium Lagos

What has dragged football backwards is the neglect of the small details, particularly that of the playing fields that should attract even retiring superstars and give new talents a platform to advertise themselves. A bad ground would never allow any of these things.

It takes a special eye to see and realise these things and do something about them.

Gernot Rohr expressed this to Osasu Obayiuwana some weeks ago. Walter Gagg, formerly of FIFA in the days of Sepp Blatter, expressed it when we sat together in 1995 to watch a professional league match at the Onikan Stadium.

That’s what Pele did not know (how we treated our grounds in Nigeria) when he saw Nigerian players in 1989 and prophesied that Nigeria would win the World Cup before the turn of the last Century.

The present reality is that football in the country is at its lowest ebb.

Going forward, the government must play a big part by changing its attitude and, of necessity, influencing a change of guards and structures, because, politics has played its part long enough (for three decades) and failed woefully.

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  • Bomboy 5 years ago

    I should have left this till tomorrow. Now I am going to bed depressed.

    For the first time in my life, I really wish I wasn’t Nigerian.

    Hopefully, I will wake up tomorrow feeling better.

    Lord, have mercy!

  • Bomboy you are from the zoo called nigeria.
    Poor you.
    I can’t stop laughing.
    All of you who want to save nigeria need to realise one thing, the Hausa Fulani will not let go easily.
    The day the yorubas come out boldly and demand for secession like Biafra, then the north will willingly submit to a restructuring that will salvage nigeria and stop the decline and start the recovery and development.

    I have said it times without number here, that why do we not go for the professionals in governance , in politics, in health, in Engineering etc like we do in soccer?

    Is soccer more important than national security, health, Economics, governance?

    Why do we use foreing based footballers for tournaments and can not do the same in other sectors?

    If you travel to America and Europe and see the exploits of our people yoy will weep for the zoo.

    That is why those outside are the main supporters and financiers of IPOB and Revolutionary movements like REVOLUTION NOW.

    Nigerian youths especially NANS should wake up, lias with the labour unions and market unions ti save nigeria before it is tooooooo late.
    I am afraud it is getting too late anyway.
    But lord pls have mercy.
    I don’t know, it is so sad.
    Many atimes i wish i can get the thoughts of nigeria off my mind and live my life, but I can’t, just can’t.

  • Mr Hush 5 years ago

    The more we think politics wouldn’t mix with sports,in our clime,it is simply an impropable task.
    The problem of the Nigerian State is well documented.
    It is a past problem,a present problem and a continuous problem.

    The solution is far from just a revolution or restructuring.
    Not all revolution brings the necessary results.which is change of the old guard and a new beginning. Most revolutions are hijacked by the same members of the old guard. We can see examples of the recent revolutions in Algeria,Sudan, Egypt,Albania etc to name a few.it is just old wine in a new bottle. If a revolution must take place,then the new order must already be in place before such revolution,not after; so as not to be Hoodwinked by these old guard. And who are the new order?
    The professionals,the right minded Nigerians,the qualified Nigerians who are ready to work for the common good.. the new order must infiltrate the old guard and such must be systemic.
    As you see,that takes time and our youths that should build this new order,are simply not there in mind,body and thought.

    And yes restructuring is very good.the system need to be restructured to fit the federal state which Nigeria should be.and not this unitary system inherited from the military. We should be more like the United States(of which we borrowed our system), where States have real and decisive powers to things regarding that state.same for the local governments,as it concerns their locality,and the local council,as it relates to their councils.
    Everything should be run from the ground up,not from the up down, as we find ourselves today in Nigeria. The centre should be more like a father figure.
    But in as much as restructuring is the way; we need to be careful as not to play into the hands of these same old corrupt politicians. We can’t put the cart before the horse. Restructuring must come after Reformation,if not,side by side.
    Everything starts in the mind.without Reformation of the Nigerian mentality,no matter how good the solution we adapt,it would be corrupted.
    We hate to say it,but this generation of Nigeria has a corrupted mind.the percentage of those corrupt are higher than those really passionate about making a real change. Such corrupt mind has been with us overtime not by most doing,but by the systemic failure of leadership.nevertheless,it is here.
    We have to take a note from the playbook of leaders like Rawlings of Ghana,Deng of China,Kegame of Rwanda,Ho Chi Mihn of Vietnam; these leaders changed their countries for good by simply reforming their mindset. And such Reformation took place barring different systems of all. Communist,Socialist, Capitalist, parliamentary or Federal,didn’t matter. They all made strong stride in the Reformation of the mind. If you put a professional or well qualified man who is corrupt to head your agency,nothing would be done.not because he isn’t qualified or professional,just because his mind is corrupt and there is no will to work.
    Nigeria is not short of professionals in helms of affairs.we have had them and still having them.the problem is that their mind is corrupt.
    Nigerians need to have reform mind, attitude towards nation building and self upliftment.

    If we have the right political space.sports would thrive..

    • Glory 5 years ago

      @Hush. I shout aloud n wanna give you a big big handshake. You nailed it and only an intelligent, honest, person with deep deep understanding of things will get that point ” NIGERIANS MINDSET”. A mindset designed from childhood to be corrupt. Such mindset however well travelled, educated, or whatever can never change Nigeria from its sulking decay. A country where 90% of its citizens glorify in being better than the other instead of glorifying in the country being a better place for everyone. How will even a revolution achieve its desired objective in such circumstances. Reason every one who tried, with the latest being Kanu (IPOB) failed , not because he himself wasn’t honest or without the right mentality but because the majority of nigerians n even same members of IPOB have their minds skewed to corruption. So everytime I here @ CJ mention the northern as the problem, I feel I should just let him know that, that is only an infinitesimal product of the larger problem ; THE NIGERIAN MINDSET/ VALUE SYSTEM, which is the poison destroying, eating into the fabric of everything good about this blessed country Nigeria.
      Like you rightly said, change will definitely come someday but very sad to say, it’s gonna take a Lang Lang time. It’s gonna come when a greater percentage of nigerians mindset get skewed into the right value system/ mindset. When we understand that we only respect a man not because he or she is an elder/ older than us, wealthy/ highly positioned than but because such persons are very honest, without corruptible mindset. When greater percentage of nigerians start to become very aggressive about this, not minding even if that corrupt person is their parent, children, brother, sister etc and are ready to rip such corrupt persons apart for the sake of Nigeria, only then we can start to talk of a true revolution to completely silence the then lesser percentage of old guards with such negative mindset.
      This all then helps to UNDERSTAND WHY IN THE BIBLE GOD SAID “UNTO A NATION I GIVE A LEADER THAT ‘BEFITS’ THEM”. That quote if anyone can understand clearly tells you, a leader is a UNIT PROJECTION OF THE MINDSET OF THE VAST MAJORITY”. Rightly so then, for there to be a good leader, let the vast majority change their mindset/ value system and this will then translate unto that good leadership. That is when revolution will work. That is even without disintegrating, Nigeria will still work, that is when irrespective of tribe of the leader, we can still enjoy a better Nigeria. Every LEADER IS APPOINTED BY GOD,EITHER TO BLESS A NATION whose vast majority are having the right mindset/ value or punish a nation whose vast majority are having the wrong mindset/ wrong value. Reason God said” TOUCH NOT MY ANNOINTED( LEADERS) EVEN THOUGH,THE BAD ONES WILL BE PUNISHED BY GOD HIMSELF IN DUE TIME AND DO MY PROPHETS( THOSE CRYING OUT FOR A CHANGE OF BAD MINDSET/ VALUE) NO HALM.

      • Mr Hush 5 years ago


        You are very much appreciated.

        And you have added more insight to the solution we really need…

  • Whenever I watch highlights of the South African league on DStv and see players (who are lees-skilled than the average Nigerian gifted baller), I am crestfallen. I remember the days of Abiola Babes of Abeokuta, Ranchers Bess of Kaduna, IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan, BCC Lions of Gboko, Calabar Rovers, Bendel Insurance of Benin, old Iwuanyanwu Nationale of Owerri and Enugu Rangers etc. These team produced football greats for the SE and were a force to reckon with in African club football.

    The other day, Mark Gleeson on Soccer Africa said it’s a big wonder that Nigeria is a powerhouse at national team level but the country’s clubs are minnows in African club football. Now, that ‘curse’ is getting extended to the CHAN team.

    Is it not a mystery? But not really. Even when Enyimba broke the jinx in 2004 & 2005, it was becos Orji Uzo Kalu (then gov of Abia State) personally took charge of the team, put together the best players in the country and ensured their total welfare. So the players had no reason to leave. THE POTENTIAL IS STILL THERE ALWAYS, BUT THE MOTIVATION IS GONE. Today, every skilled player wants to port abroad, even if that means the Zambian League (sadly so).

    That is why most good things about Nigeria has a foreign tag to it – from players to coaches to even other areas of life. Successive governments and the super greedy elite destroyed this country. They hoarded all the money, resources and opportunities to themselves and their next generation (up to the 4th generation). But in doing so, they also triggered a rat race, a survival of the fittest instinct and a deeply ingrained culture of corruption in the rest people who were not so privileged.

    The consequence is that people do anything (including bribery in millions, assassination & diabolism) to get to a position of authority. Once they reach their target, they too start to hoard money, resources and opportunities for themselves and their next generation (to the 4th generation). So public utilities like stadia, roads, players welfare etc suffer as a result of all the greed. Almost every Nigerian living in Nigeria now has that mindset.

    SO THE CYCLE CONTINUES AND THE GOVT IS AS HELPLESS AS A DUCK! They caused it in the first place. Those who cannot do all the roforofo fight troop abroad as soon as they get the means. They do well for themselves and their children. And the same old disorganized country of Nigeria starts to plead with them to join their football team (we all know the names) or government team (like Adesina of African Development Bank and Ngozi Okonjo Iwrala of World Bank).

    It shall be well. A revolution would be order. But any raised voice is s being gagged and mouth taped. But what can stop a thing when it’s time has finally come?

  • Rohr has helped us to revitalize it ! That we were able to recently play Draw with the Samba boys of Brazil is a something ! Our game is not dead ! I remembered 3-0 in 2003 eventhough we still had irreplaceable JayJay okocha in the team ! So, we are happier than our forefathers presently ! But i still give kudos to our legend Odegbami , the ever best dribblers he knows the best !

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