Why Has Nigeria Become CAF’s Whipping Boy?
The series of meetings in Cairo, over the latter part of September, have thrown several issues into the fray, which no serious commentator of the continental game can afford to ignore. Top of the list, for today, is the decision of CAF’s executive committee, on Monday 27th September, to allow Libya and South Africa swop their 2013 and 2017 Cup of Nations hosting rights. This, hopefully, gives the war-torn North African country – currently in no state to stage any international event in 16 months’ time – six more years to prepare for the tournament, whilst the South Africans, who lost out on hosting the 2015 edition to Morocco, get an early Christmas present. Upset over losing out on 2015, the South African duo of Kirsten Nematandani, president of the South African Football Association (SAFA) and Danny Jordaan, the CEO of the 2010 World Cup Local Organising Committee and currently SAFA vice-president, have been, for the last few months, angling to host the 2013 tournament, in order to consolidate on the infrastructural gains of hosting the last World Cup. Having failed to get himself onto the FIFA executive committee at the last CAF congress in Sudan, Jordaan, alongside Nematandani, dusted himself over and engaged in what was obviously a very successful diplomatic campaign to get CAF to sanction the deal they had initially sealed, privately, with the Libyans. “We have worked quite well in terms of coming up with a solution that would have been a headache for Caf,” said Nematandani. “The exchange will assist Libya’s reconstruction and by 2017, things will be up and running there.” “We’re looking forward to a great tournament once again in South Africa and I believe we still have all the resources that we had – from the volunteers to the facilities themselves,” he said. It would have been a nice, tidy arrangement but for one little thing – the decision of the executive committee flies, very rudely and contemptuously, in the face of its decision on 4th September 2006, when it, without prior notice to its member federations, awarded the hosting rights for the 2010, 2012 and 2014 (now 2013) tournaments in one fell swoop. Broken promises When the announcement was made in 2006, it was stated clearly that Nigeria, which lost out to Angola, in the race to host the 2010 Nations Cup, was the standby host to stage any of the three tournaments, in the event that any primary host was unable to honour its commitment. But five years on, the word of CAF’s executive committee has not been its bond. “If Nigeria was made the standby host for the three tournaments and the paperwork is there to support it, then the commitment must be honoured,” said an executive committee member who spoke to me before he travelled to Cairo to deliberate with his colleagues. That, obviously, did not happen and a source who spoke to members of the CAF executive claimed they feigned ignorance of the 2006 decision, as many of them were not in their posts at the time the verbal and written commitment was made. “Many of the CAF executive members told us that they were not formally informed by the secretariat about the previous arrangement,” said a very informed source, who spoke to me from Cairo. “But the truth of the matter is that it should not have mattered whether they were part of the executive committee or not, because the commitment made by CAF in 2006 was not only a verbal but a written commitment.” “There is no doubt that the records are there but for reasons best known to them, the CAF secretariat refused to make the required briefing papers available to them.” It is the second hard slap in the face that Nigeria has received from CAF in recent weeks, after the latter opted, strangely, to stage the African U-23 Championship/Olympic qualifiers for the London 2012 games in Egypt. Nigeria was the only country that put in a bid to stage the tournament, which ought to have made the award of hosting rights a rather straightforward affair. But nothing is easy in the treacherous political arena of the African game. CAF apologised for the clearly unjust decision to move the tournament to Egypt, claiming it was supposedly in solidarity with their host country, as it tried to recover from the fallout of the Arab spring. Without question, Nigeria, which is CAF’s biggest member, by virtue of its population – bailing the continental organisation out of many jams in the past, when it lacked hosts for its less prestigious competitions – is being treated with utter contempt. Many believe, with good reason, that the refusal of Nigeria to publicly support the disgraced Amos Adamu (who remains a very popular figure amongst CAF bigwigs) in his current quest to overturn a three-year FIFA ban, for a clear act of ethical misconduct, is responsible for its current political troubles. Should the appeal of the former CAF and FIFA executive committee member, before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which will be heard on Tuesday, succeed, there are many at 6th October City that will heartily congratulate Adamu on his great escape from the noose of oblivion. CAF’s shabby treatment of Nigeria does not take away, however, the unvarnished, cold fact that the acute lack of able ‘diplomats’ and competent administrators at the Football Federation, as well as the country’s ministry of sport, to ably fight its cause in the continent, is directly responsible for its increasing irrelevance in Africa. The NFF had a shambolic campaign to retain the hosting rights, which its own spokesman, Ademola Olajire, had publicly claimed, in the first instance, that they were not interested in retaining. Following subsequent “consultations” with the ministry of sport, the NFF then wrote a letter to CAF, insisting they had not given up their rights and were prepared to live up to its commitment. It then made a haphazard, last-gasp, lobbying effort, which failed to convince the executive committee to honour its word, handing an easy victory to the South Africans, who had done their homework. A FIFA official, in a long conversation with me, expressed his deep disappointment with the “second-class” role to which the country has now been relegated. “What is happening to Nigeria, with all that is has? Why is it keeping silent in matters affecting the state of the game in the continent?” he asked me, after the last FIFA congress in Zurich, as if I were a member of the NFF or have any influence over it. “One would expect Nigeria to be the leader in the continent and speak up on the things that will improve the state of African football,” he went on. “But its leaders seem to lack the force of character to push any agenda, which is why the voice of Nigeria is no longer heard or respected. It is really a shame,” he said. And unless the intellectually gifted and diligent members of the country’s football fraternity find a way to seize control of its political space and dictate the agenda, after wresting it from the grip of those certain to inflict even deadlier wounds upon it, the deep dark night will linger for a while longer.