I can hardly recognize present-day Nigeria from the country I was born into, grew up in, and served in my own little ways.
Beyond politics, corruption and poor governance that have raped and left this abundantly rich and blessed country prostrate with poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, millions of jobless youths, ethnic crisis, kidnappings, senseless internecine killings, and more, I find that we have arrived at the final frontier, that point beyond which there can be no redemption – our humanity. Where, when, how did we become such a completely dehumanized people without love and compassion for each other? Everything about the Nigerian could fail but not the spirit of community and concern for the weak, the afflicted, and the aged in society. Nigerians welcomed strangers with open arms, treated them without discrimination, like kings and queens, and provided for them an atmosphere where they could flourish even at the expense of their own people. That was the Nigeria of old.
Suddenly those values are disappearing fast. I am forced again to write about Samson Siasia. I have done so twice in the past 6 months, drawing attention to the plight of a man who has been unjustly condemned by FIFA for a crime that some of us believe he never committed, and that FIFA has never taken the trouble to clearly state so that the world would know what he did (or did not do). Nigerians forget so quickly and easily who Samson Siasia is, and what he has done for Nigeria, and should never have been left alone at this period of his greatest challenge. FIFA passed a ‘death’ sentence on him, a life ban from the only activity he has always known throughout his life – football – because he failed to respond to an email sent to him to come and defend himself in a scandalous matter of match-fixing. Samson cried out to the world, (and many did not believe him) that he never saw the email because he had not been using that particular email box for his correspondences for some time. True or not, the facts still remain that nothing categorical was ever traced to him resembling ‘match-fixing’ – not a particular match, not a team, not a player(s).
He had some contact with a man, as did a lot of people involved in one football business or the other, that was caught for fixing matches. Does that make everyone that knew him complicit? The man was a registered football agent that does various businesses in football with many people, teams, players, federations and coaches within the football circuit. The only way for Samson to defend himself was to lodge an appeal with the Court of Sports Arbitration, CAS. He could not raise the exorbitant cost before the deadline given. Through the effort of his lawyers, the matter was raised again with CAS, who now gave him a lifeline to defend himself, at a private sitting in CAS’s office in Switzerland, in the month of January.
I have followed his case remotely, asked probing questions, and I now see that Nigeria, through its football authorities, has not been fair at all to the man that served the federation and country so diligently, and is facing a charge that reeks of injustice from one mile away. They could have investigated on their own and let Nigerians know what they think rather than just keep silent and allow their innocent servant rot in ‘jail’. If Samson was involved in match-fixing it makes sense to assume it must have been with one of the teams or players he was involved with – any of the three Nigerian national teams and the players in the teams. Those were the only teams he was involved with during his entire 12 years’ career as a national team coach. There is not one of the national teams or one of the players that played under him throughout his career that has been named in any match-fixing charge. So, what match(es) did he fix, or was he only an accessory to fixing? How, where, when? You cannot separate him from a team, or players in alleging the offence he is purported to have committed. In this case, he has only ever coached Nigeria’s national teams where his records are impeccable and without blemish. The least the Nigerian government could do for him is request their Football Federation to conduct a quiet investigation of their own, and brief government before abandoning him to his fate. His present situation is Nigeria’s eventual loss. He is one of only very few Nigerians that have the pedigree to take on the responsibility an unfolding development in football presents.
Racism is on the rise. It has permeated European football, and nationalism is on the rise everywhere. Black persons, including Nigerians, are the prime victims of the increasing scourge. Nigeria now has a present responsibility to sink or swim with its own coaches, or with Black coaches around the world, in this new fight of civilisations and slavery, cloaked in racism. Already, Black players are never considered good and intelligent enough to rise above the level of players into higher levels of coaching, management and administration in football. There is serious racism on the field and in the terraces. The only way Black and African coaches can get to the top is to go back to their roots and own it, give themselves the training, the knowledge, the experience, the time and the opportunity to handle their own teams, take on the world, and win or lose.
Samson Siasia remains one of the most promising and accomplished Black coaches in African football to lead that struggle.
He took Nigeria to the finals of the 2005 Under-17 World Cup that matched Lionel Messi against Mikel Obi in an epic, unforgettable final.
He took Nigeria to win Silver Medal at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and was listed amongst the best 15 coaches in the world, and second-best on the African continent after that.
In 2016 he returned to a very demoralized Nigerian Olympic team heading to Brazil. He sought funds from external sources to camp and train the team in Nigeria and in the USA, took them to the Games and returned with the only Bronze medal Nigeria won in all sports at the Games.
Samson was on the rise in stature, knowledge and experience when his career was cut short by the political intrigues in Nigerian football aided by a few poor results resulting in some fracas with some people at the helm of football in Nigeria. Before all this, he had served Nigeria as a junior player to Mexico in 1985, and at senior level, as a first-team member of, probably, the best assembly and most successful national team in Nigeria’s history – the 1994 squad that won the African Cup of Nations and played at the first World Cup in the USA. He was in the team that emerged as the most entertaining team during the USA ‘94 World Cup, personally scoring one of the goals of the championship against Argentina at Fox Boro Stadium. Samson is amongst those that are still to be fully rewarded for those feats of 1994 – no national honour, and no house in Abuja.
Samson must not be left to languish as a result of one simple innocuous error. Nigeria needs to get up and support him if the country investigates and finds out he is not guilty as many of us believe after looking at the facts on the ground. He needs to be supported by the Nigeria Football Federation, by the federal government, by his State government, and by influential and rich Nigerians who may still have in their DNA the spirit of unconditional love and compassion.