Nigerian Football – the shame of a Nation!

Conversation with Osasu Obayiuwana.

I am tired of the endless lamentation.

I would not have touched the subject again had Osasu Obayiuwana not called me up from his holiday in California, two days ago, to rant and rave about the state of Nigerian football and, indeed, sports.

His final words are what made me decide to write this. He had said in an apparent mixture of frustration and anger, after our lengthy 45-minutes conversation: ‘I am tired of that your country. You can quote me. I do not care’.

Unfortunately, I can’t quote him verbatim, as I was not recording our phone conversation. However, it is so important that I decided to attempt to recall his words ‘flung’ across the Atlantic like an arrow, with a twitch, a twang and a twitter, an elastic shudder in flight, honing into its target and striking the mark with precision and deadliness.

I have Osasu Obayiuwana’s permission to ‘quote him’.

Two evenings ago, I am sitting outdoors as usual in the Segun Odegbami International College and Sports Academy with my friend, Lee Evans,  soaking in the fresh fragrance of the unpolluted air over Wasimi Orile, surrounded by lush green lawns, with beautiful shrubs and flowers, and some dense vegetation in the distance, when Osasu’s call comes through.  I put him on the ‘blower’ so that Lee can be a part of the conversation. Lee is listening intently, to every word.  He knows Osasu. He liked him the last time they met at my house and Osasu interviewed him.

I have not heard Osasu sound so frustrated and so angry.

Most of the time Lee and I are nodding in agreement to his venting. Osasu had told me before he travelled out to Europe that he would be away from the country for a long time because he was tired of the shenanigans in Nigerian sports.

Between Lee and I, we interject only a few times as Osasu delivers his sermon from California.

Somehow, his words bring me some relief.

For the first time in a long time, I am in the company of a passionate Nigerian who knows his onions and is genuinely pained by the state of affairs.  So, as I write this, let me state that the words are my rough recollection of the conversation. Putting them in quotes is only to separate them from other thoughts and opinion.

 ‘The Nigerian football Industry is dead’ his wicked laughter reminding me that this is Osasu at his mischievous best.

 ‘There is no football industry in Nigeria. There is no work for those of us in the industry any more. The national professional league cannot even start. There is no date, there is no sponsor for it. The football field is the cathedral of football. If you do not respect it, you don’t know anything about the game!’

 All my ears and sensors are in full alert.

I have spent the last 30 years singing like a caged bird about football pitches without a single strand of understanding from administrators who should know better and do something about it. I must be from another planet with my simplistic diagnosis of the single greatest hindrance to the growth of football, of the industry and of exceptionally gifted players from our domestic football in the country – the football ground. Fix the grounds and watch football grow so fast we can start to compete for space with the EPL on the television and the global information superhighway!

Excellent football grass fields hold the key to the business and development of the game in Nigeria. South Africans watch the EPL and still watch their own domestic matches because their matches are also exciting to watch. Here in Nigeria, the poor grounds, mostly Astro-turf, destroy the game. That’s why foreign teams refuse to come to Nigeria to play friendlies. That’s why our great professional players in Europe complain every time they return home to play on poor pitches.

That’s what Osasu is saying. How come administrators don’t see what we see?

Hear Osasu some more.

‘We are not learning. We are regressing.  All the players are complaining about the pitches in the country. That’s what Gernot Rohr told me. Do you know there is not a single good pitch in the whole country?

Every time, the players struggle to play in Asaba, Port Harcourt, even in Uyo. 

We want to host the FIFA Under-20 Women’s championship when we do not have one pitch good enough to host a proper Super Eagles match in the entire country. Are we serious at all?

That’s why there is no football industry in the country. All of us are hungry. There is no work, so I am leaving you people and relocating to where I will find work and survive’.

‘The federation is in disarray, in real shambles. Do you know that Gernot Rohr has not been paid for almost three months? Do you know that Thomas Dennerby was not on the bench when the Falcons failed in their last match and will not be at the Olympics again for the third time in a row? Why did he leave Nigeria unceremoniously?

‘Do you know that a whole of Nigeria does not have a football house? Even when a FIFA delegation came visiting, they were hosted in a hotel. Can you believe it? Where does such a thing happen? Is that not when and where you showcase your country and football?

‘The football house building inside the National Stadium in Abuja, commissioned by President Jonathan, has been unoccupied since it was built. It is now home to rats and cockroaches. It has become the shame of our nation’. 

Osasu is now on a roll.

‘Who are the football technicians in CAF?

Who can talk football in CAF?

There used to be only Kalusha and Tenger, former internationals for their countries. They have both been swept aside with the waves of politics. African football does not want intelligent, knowledgeable people’.  

I add my own thoughts. I recall visiting the University of Manchester some years ago to watch the Umbro International Annual Soccer Tournament with late Dr Adeleke Olaiya of the Nigeria School Sports Federation.  The university, one university, had 35 football fields on its campus. The worst of the fields is better than the best in the entire country of Nigeria.

Back to Osasu. He rants on.

‘Who are the technicians in African football administration?

Do you know you can’t have a 5-minutes decent technical conversation with anybody in the leadership’?  

 ‘Take Lee. Thank God he is there with you in Wasimi. I know he will do great things and produce world-class athletes. 

Since 1983 that the World Athletics Championship started in Finland, do you know that Nigeria has not produced a single World Champion?

Yet, here we are in 2019 celebrating a single Bronze medal from a championship that other smaller African countries are excelling in. Something is wrong with us’.

Lee jumps in, unable to hold back pent up feelings too.

‘There is no plan to win.

There is no program for development. It does not take much to train an athlete. We can start producing athletes that can compete for a medal within 2 years with the abundance of natural talent Nigeria has’. 

 Osasu takes over.

‘What happened at the World Championship in Doha is what will happen at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Mark my words.

Nigeria does not care about sport. 

We have gone through 3 past Olympics without a single medal.

All Nigeria has is sorrow, tears and blood for the athletes and the people. I am tired of you people’.

Lee joins in again.

‘The money Nigeria spends on one Senator is enough to produce a world champion. 

I don’t understand how and why Nigerians stand it, and just go on. I tell you, one senator’s salary for one year will produce 5 Gold medalists for Nigeria in 2 years!’

Osasu resumes.

‘In 36 years, how is it possible that Nigeria has not won a single medal when it can do so easily with the right leadership and guidance? It is annoying. There is no sense of responsibility towards the country. Things must change. 

You can quote me. I am not afraid to say the truth. I don’t care’.

The line disconnects, reminding me once again that nothing works in Nigeria.