I salute the newly elected President of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, for surviving the hurdles that stood in his path at the elections that almost did not hold following the abracadabra of court orders, an old tactic that once again succeeded in providing the Joker in a beleaguered electoral process, in the dying minutes to September 30.
Manipulating the electoral process through court orders is not new in NFF elections. It was deployed several times in the past to drive the agenda in support of any candidate favoured by the government. This time around, the same ‘weapon’ was effectively used against the Sports Ministry, rendering it helpless in determining who became President of the Federation.
It was NOT possible that the Ministry of Sports would NOT have a preferred candidate. But, without a doubt, Ibrahim Musa Gusau was not the choice this time around.
The Ministry’s support had worked well in the past, particularly since State FA Chairmen became the dominant force in the Elective Congress of the Federation. Whosoever secured the votes of the majority of the State FA Chairmen, determined who became President.
When Amos Adamu was the most powerful man in Nigerian sports, he would get the Minister of sports to call up State Governors to instruct their State FA Chairmen to support the Government’s pick of Chairman.
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He might also influence where the elections held, using the opportunity to get the host State governor to fete members and influence their votes.
Eventually, the elections became a ‘money-game’. Whoever had the fattest purse would pay their way through ‘poor’ State FA Chairmen to success.
Gradually, the power to elect the President receded from the Sports Ministry.
That’s what came to the open following last week’s elections in Benin City. Ibrahim Gusau, not the preferred candidate of government, won the Presidential election.
He was the choice candidate of some mostly Northern State FA Chairmen who were determined to return the levers of power of Nigerian football to the North. That was the primary motivation. Money, of course, was recklessly spread amongst the delegates. They collected it, but did not deliver the votes, leading to ugly scenes at the end where refunds of the ‘bribes’ were demanded by some losers.
In Benin, all permutations failed except the one that a few friends had told me weeks before the elections had been hatched, sealed, and delivered to Ibrahim Gusau by his supporters.
In several circles, the talk of Ibrahim Gusau becoming the next President had been long in muted discourse. Former Secretary General of the NFA, Mallam Sani Toro, had told me. So did Benedict Akwuegbu, the former Super Eagles player from Jos. Ben actually withdrew from the Presidential race in order to support his friend, Ibrahim Gusau. A few other influential friends had also confided in me that only an amendment to the Elective Congress could produce anybody else but Gusau. The votes had been computed long before the elections.
It happened just as they had predicted. On the eve of the elections, I told Onome Obruthe, my colleague in The Sports Parliament, the popular Nigerian television show, and he would not believe me. Until it actually happened.
The Northern group was, as usual very smart in their strategy and politics.
In discussing with most of the presidential candidates (excluding the eventual winner) I kept wondering where they got the confidence that they exhibited from; how they believed that without changing the fundamental rules of the ‘game’ they could win.
Each of them demonstrated belief in the quality of their manifesto, their antecedents in the game, their qualifications, their public presentations, and assured financial support from their State governors and some stakeholders.
Little worked this time, except the solid and untouchable pact of Ibrahim Gusau with his group of loyal FA Chairmen that insisted it was the turn of the North to rule, by an embedded member that is untainted by the shenanigans of the outgoing regime. In a pact that was non-negotiable, with or without financial resources to bribe delegates, the person will be delivered as the next President to promote their interest.
The other northerners in the list of candidates were all outside the loop of that understanding and stood no chance.
Gusau was an insider. He is a smart politician. He is a team player to the core, an old war horse in the NFF politics. I knew this from almost two decades ago when I sought to become Chairman of the NFF. I recall my close encounter with him.
He was Chairman of Zamfara State FA and well-established within the NFA hierarchy. I knew the influence he wielded, even then. I knew the ways of the north. I grew up there. My stepmother was a Kanuri-Fulani woman from Gombe. I spoke the language even better than mine.
As part of my strategic consultation, I drove all the way from Lagos to Gusau in Zamfara State to meet with Ibrahim Gusau. When he saw me at his doorsteps, he almost collapsed in a pleasant shock.
His words during that encounter demonstrated to me the sort of person that he is.
He liked and respected my person and my place in Nigerian football. He also more than appreciated my coming all the way to consult with him personally. He knew my capacity to deliver on my vision and plans for Nigerian football. But there was only one issue – he had given his word to another candidate, a respected Northerner that he believed would also deliver. His word was his bond, he told me. He could easily lie to me and assure me he would work for me and then do otherwise. But he would not because to do so would be to pay a heavy spiritual price, later.
My respect for him, from that day, grew.
I thanked him and left, knowing that the man belonged in the group of decent and honourable persons. I also sensed he was one to watch out for in the future.
From that evening in Gusau we became ‘remote’ friends, respecting each other and sharing the occasional banter.
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During one of the sittings of the 10-Year Football Masterplan, Ibrahim Gusau presented the official paper from the NFF. That session revealed what were going on inside the NFF that were not in tandem with what the committee was developing as recommendations.
I sensed he would bid to be the next NFF Presidential candidate.
I do not know what all the other candidates depended on to change the dynamics of an election that was designed to stop anyone attempting to break into the exclusive club of State FA Chairmen.
Till the very end, my contacts kept insisting that Gusau would coast ‘home’ to victory for as long as the elections held last week in Benin. He was the one that stood most resolutely against the idea of an Amaju-Third term agenda and told him so to his face.
That’s why, even if he did not ‘blow’ Dollars as some others did, did not have the academic and professional credentials that some dangled, did not display the sophistication and flamboyance of some, did not enjoy the advantage of having the elections in his own State, and did not even have the support of the Sports Ministry, to have beaten the odds and won the elections meant he earned it!
What shape will an NFF under Ibrahim Gusau take?
Already the sound bites from him speak loudly.
I can already see deft moves to smoothen the rough road ahead. As a man of some compromise, he would give up a lot to survive, particularly to make his reign more peaceful and, hopefully, more successful.
He said he will work closely with the Sports Ministry; he will embrace some dialogue with the Players Union; he will pursue the Presidential ‘advice’ of expanding the elective Congress but not at the expense of surrendering the power of State FAs; he will work with the newly introduced Interim Management Committee, IMC, and give the domestic leagues a new fillip.
Generally, I foresee that his reign will be more peaceful, inclusive, and very different from the experiences of the last 8 years.
If he steers clear of all the ‘wahala’ of previous regimes and charts a new path, he might bring about a new era for Nigerian football.
I wish Ibrahim Gusau the best of luck during his reign after he must have first survived the remnant of a few dark and scattered clouds that still hang quietly and dangerously around the 30th of September elections,
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That’s good sportsmanship.
It’s great to be here with everyone; I’ve learned a lot from what you share, and I just wanted to say thanks because the information and knowledge that can be found here are very helpful to me.
That demonstrates excellent sportsmanship.