Everyone interested in the politics of football around the world now knows that I am interested in becoming the next president of FIFA, the world’s football governing body.
Most people wonder where I got the temerity from to declare interest in such an elevated position. I completely understand their skepticism, or even cynicism, because, in truth, who am I to want to occupy the most exalted position in global football when…I could not even win the elections into my country’s football association, when all I am is an ex-international football player, when I do not belong to the ‘cult’ that has ruled Nigerian football administration since Amos Adamu became sole administrator of the NFA some two decades ago.
Having now thrown my hat into the ring what makes me think I stand any chance of becoming the next FIFA president in 5 months time?
To start with I am not a foolish man to waste my time in a fruitless pursuit. God has given me the ability to think and properly weigh my options before venturing into the storm of a global election that would require more than just a credential as a former international football player to win. Indeed being a former player does not help me because, generally, with only a few exceptions, football players do not find easy acceptance in the club of football administrators around the world. A quick profile of all those that have become presidents of national federations, continental confederations, and even the FIFA presidency itself through the decades tells the story clearly.
So, I can understand why recently on television even the president of the Nigeria Football Federation listed only my football player career to justify my qualification to aspire to be FIFA president. If that was truly the situation, that my exploits when I played the game and retired several decades ago, are my only claim to qualification, then I would be wasting everybody’s time attempting to contest for the FIFA presidency.
So, I think it is very appropriate at this time, as I follow the public discourse on the heated matter, to present what are my humble additional credentials that could convince even my worst critics that I deserve to be given a chance to take a shot at the office. To start with, for obvious reasons, the February elections would not be ‘business as usual’ where money would be a factor, offering bribes, buying favours and votes. It would be decided by the choice of a contestant that has pedigree, clear vision, charisma, fresh ideas and what it takes to pass the integrity test that can restore confidence back to the organization and its future activities. It would not really matter the person’s race, colour, religion, political clout or wealth. For the first time the field of choice is likely to be really level! That’s why I stand any chance, to tell my story and let the world make their choice, either which way. So, kindly permit me to tell a little of my story first to my people in Africa.
To start with, I inherited my late father’s ‘legacy’ to the world revealed to me one day when I stumbled on him and his late friend discussing a question his friend had asked him: why he was staying in a rented apartment in Mushin and never built a house in his life. My father, God bless him, pointed at a photograph hanging on the wall of his sitting room and declared to his friend: ‘those are the houses I built’.
When I checked later to find out what he was referring to I was confronted with the beautiful photograph of his six children! He had invested his life to equip us for the challenges of life. He shunned the acquisition of material things and lived a Spartan life of hard work, good character, honesty and humility. He told me before he died that I must always protect the family name even with my life by imbibing a culture of integrity in all my activities.
That word has stuck to me like glue. Much later in my life, when I adopted a mentor, Mr. Gamaliel Onosode, he reinforced the importance of that word in response to a question I had asked him about why he lived amongst the poor in Surulere despite all his achievements in life. He tutored me on the virtues of a life of moderation, humility, service to humanity, honesty and integrity. He warned me though that a life defined by integrity is long, lonely and very hard, even though in the end it is also always very rewarding! His words resonated with my spirit and that’s why I have never accepted to take the short cuts by joining the cult of achievers-by-all-means. That’s why I have also never been afraid to take the long, lonely and more challenging route in all my activities, provided it ensures the sanctity of my integrity.
So, it has been a great journey so far, that has now brought me face to face with the present times, another opportunity to test my integrity-prescription, and make a humble contribution to the beautiful game whose image is now been threatened by the lure of money and the lust for power.
The combination is a monster called corruption. That’s why FIFA now stands on the edge of a precipice. The prescription is a new kind of leadership. A leadership that is untainted and untarnished by the recent past of FIFA, a leadership of exemplary conduct and character, with impeccable credentials and a proper grounding in the game in all its ramifications. The organization now requires a person that can pass an integrity test in flying colours, that will restore the confidence of the owners of the global game (the fans, the players and the sponsors), and use the money and power in football to make the world a better place for humanity.
When the world comes round to fully understand, appreciate and exploit the power of football for the common good a very powerful force would be unleashed that can change the world! Bottom line is that in 2016 it is unlikely that the world will elect a person it does not know well enough as capable of delivering on the new expectations. So, kindly permit me to tell the world my little story and list my modest credentials.
I had an illustrious footballing career in the 1970s and 1980s. I represented Nigeria at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada (boycotted by African countries on the eve) and led Nigeria to the Moscow Olympics in 1980. In between I represented Nigeria at the 1978 All Africa Games, two African Cup of Nations championships (1978 and 1980) and the ECOWAS Games in 1977. In 1976, with Shooting Stars FC we won Nigeria’s first continental club trophy – Africa Cup of Cup winners. In 1978, we were third in the Africa Cup of Nations. We won the Silver medal at the All-African games. In 1980 we won the African Cup of Nations. In between we came very close twice to winning the lone qualifying spot for the World Cup but failed at the last hurdle on both occasions in 1977 and 1981.
On a personal level I was named Third-best player in 1977, and second best player in Africa in 1980. In 1998 during the World Cup in France, African journalists voted me for the FIFA/MasterCard Award as one of the 50 best African players of the 20th Century. I hold a national honour of my country and was made a Sports Ambassador in 1998 as well as an inductee into Nigeria’s Sports Hall of Fame. These are everything Nigerians know about me. Now let me go into those aspects of my life after football that many may not know or remember. These are what constitute my real credentials to the office of the President of FIFA. The following is my story beyond football.