That is a million-Dollar question.
When Bill Clinton was President of the USA and he visited Nigeria for the very first time, one of his very first comments was to ask about the great Super Eagles of Nigeria.
Global recognition started from the World Cup hosted by the United States of America in 1994. On that occasion, the Eagles stunned the whole World with exceptional performances until they were stopped by Italy in a match that the country was in full control of until 14 minutes to the end.
Since then, the Super Eagles have become a household name and Nigeria’s most powerful and most recognisable international brand.
But who owns the team and the brand?
The country’s football landscape has changed since that incredible landmark achievement. The business of football immediately planted its seeds in the country and, in several ways and instances, Nigerian football and the NFF, in particular, have benefitted from this new cash cow.
Since then revenues from the Eagles participating in a few international competitions like the World Cup and the African Cup of Nations have multiplied, increasingly oiling the wheels of the NFF.
Before that, government through the Sports Ministry, entirely funded the Eagles. They did everything except register the country for the international championships. This is because they could not do the registering, not been affiliated to FIFA, CAF, WAFU, or any international organising body.
It is the NFA that was affiliated and could do the necessary registration for Nigeria to be able to participate.
A relationship between the NFA and the Sports Ministry became necessary for Nigeria to take part in any of these competitions. That relationship had to be managed carefully so that misunderstanding in roles and responsibilities does not arise creating friction and crisis.
It was clear then who was the authority over all sports development in the outcry. The answer is embedded in the name of the Ministry – the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development.
When I was a member of the Green Eagles the National Sports Commission, under the Ministry of Sports, hired coaches for the national teams who went round the country, monitored matches, discovered talent, invited them to the national camp, trained them and used them for the national team.
By the way, that was the same structure in all the sports. The Ministry was completely in charge of sports development. They funded it. They owned the national teams in all sports. The Federations were administrative bodies with responsibility for organising competitions for their affiliates – mostly clubs, private or government owned! These clubs participated in the competitions and other activities set up by the NFA. That is the primary mandate of the NFA. The board does not have the technical competency to do anything with the team beyond registering them, identifying with the team, leading them to the competition and generally complimenting the NSC/Ministry.
That process was diminished by developments after 1994 when the national team tasted the ‘poison’ of big money in football for the first time. The Super Eagles have never been the same since then.
Particularly since the start of the 21st Century, both the government and the NFF have been groaning under the weight of the huge hills that come with funding the Super Eagles as well as other national teams. The lines of responsibility for who is responsible for the different aspects of training, development and participation in international competitions have become blurred.
The government gets no share in the financial accruals, and is expected to continue to foot bills when the media is full of stories of the NFA marketing the Super Eagles and the brand for huge sums of money that should reduce government’s burden but are not doing so.
The situation is that the NFF keeps all the income from such funds generated from marketing the team and from participation in some major international championships. They disburse the funds as they deem fit, including duplicating some payments already provided for by government, like paying the players a chunk of the FIFA bonus when match bonuses had been provided for by the government.
There has also been so much money floating around the NFF that they can afford to take the officials of all their affiliate members, sometimes numbering close to 100, to the competitions with all travel and other allowances taken care of.
The alarming thing also is that several of the items paid for by FIFA would have been collected from allocation of government. There has never been a refund.
Meanwhile, the NFF is a private organisation by its statutes. It claims independence on all its internal affairs, and even threatens to take the Ministry to FIFA when its intentions are interfered with, including the funds it secures through grants, marketing and sponsorship of the Super Eagles. Grants are its own. The other funds belong to whoever owns the Super Eagles and any of the other viable national teams.
Meanwhile, the Eagles are not the product of the NFA’s development programs, because there is none. The NFA is not equipped or designed to develop grassroots or any level of football. They are organisers and facilitators, period. That’s the reality.
This relationship was well understood in the past, and lines of responsibility and roles for the NFF and the Ministry were well laid out, very clear and well defined. There was no disagreement on who had authority over the national teams.
The NFF’s primary responsibility is limited to organising competitions, programs, events, and other football related-activities for its members – clubs in the domestic leagues run by them. The NFF owns the rights to the competitions and programs and can market them to raise funds as they please.
Their main products are the various domestic leagues, the FA Cup, and any other domestic competitions amongst and between its affiliate members.
It is also an affiliate of WAFU, CAF and FIFA. These international organisations own and organise competitions at Club and National levels for which opportunities are offered national federations to register their national teams and participate.
The FIFA-money and sponsorship income have become the main source of a knotty conflict and friction between the NFF and the Sports Ministry.
The NFF makes millions of dollars from marketing the Super Eagles, without any remittance to the Ministry, and disburses the funds without Ministry approvals also. That way, they have indirectly taken over ownership of a product that is the flagship of the Sports Ministry’s development mandate and responsibility which leaves the big question: who owns the Super Eagles..
The NFF, the way it is constituted, does not have the technical competencies, tools and personnel to develop the game. It can organise it though. It can also be involved in matters involving the national teams to the extent that the Ministry of Sports is willing to concede to it and let it handle.
It is, therefore, clear that the ownership of the Super Eagles and the brand belongs to the federal government.
National teams are not the primary responsibility of the Nigeria Football Federation. They pay too much attention to them to the detriment of the domestic competitions that they own without contest. They have been so focused on running the national teams and reaping from its huge marketing opportunities that they set up a new organisation, the League Management Company, LMC, to take charge of their, potentially, most lucrative product, only for it to become a new line of responsibility that drains the little funds that the NFF are not even generating now.
Domestic football, as a whole, suffers from the little attention now paid it, and diverted to the Super Eagles and the tempting streams of revenue the global brand generates.
Through out Nigeria’s history, as a statutory responsibility, the Ministry of Sports Development, through its agency, the National Sports Commission when it existed, or on its own when it did not, was responsible for hiring coaches for the national teams, assembling players selected by the coaches to form the national team. They provide the national teams in all sports with the best kind of preparation and the federations provide some guidance and leadership for the teams to the competitions.
This is an arrangement that worked almost flawlessly. Why not take lessons from it? Why abandon it completely because money has entered the fray and created cobwebs that blur the vision.
This is an issue that requires deep interrogation and study in order for football administration to move forward in Nigeria. This is why government is shirking its responsibilities for its own area of responsibility to sports. The whole structure is muddled up now.
The Sports Ministry is involved in too many aspects and levels of sports, taking on more than it can chew, not fulfilling its full primary mandates, struggling with the federations, the leagues, the schools, the education ministry, the private sector, and not being efficient and effective as it should be.
The Nigeria Football Federation manages all the clubs. They are carrying burdens that are not theirs’ if they venture further afield without the Ministry in tow.
The government, through the Ministry of Sports/ National Sports Commission, owns the national teams, including, and particularly, the Super Eagles.
The two must come together to work out a new relationship that will benefit both and remove the financial burdens they both carry now.
Once again, for emphasis, the Federation does not own any teams. The NFF does not also own the Super Eagles. It can only be its responsibility up to the point allowed it by the Ministry. No more, no less!