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    Taint of corruption in Nigerian football


    Punch Editorial Board

    Expectations that Nigerian football is on course to regain its lustre could be aborted on the altar of corruption. An indication of this can be seen in the brewing storm around the alleged mishandling of television broadcast fees paid by sponsors of the top flight league. A players’ union pulled the rug out from under the deal by asking the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to unravel the circumstances surrounding the disbursement of the fund. Technical know-how and openness are critical to progress in football. Conversely, sleaze and vested interests constrain progress. To sustain the momentum it has recently garnered, the anti-corruption agencies have to get to the root of this case.

    At issue is the initial N244 million the rights holder paid to the Nigeria Football League Limited — which has transformed to the League Management Company — as the TV money for the three seasons to 2015. The sponsor has yet to settle the balance of N100 million. Out of the N244 million, N120 million was reportedly shared among 25 clubs at N2 million per club per season, but the National Association of Nigerian Footballers is worried that the balance has been mismanaged. It petitioned the EFCC that the money found its way into the coffers of the Club Owners’ Association, which is the umbrella body of the clubs in the Nigerian Professional Football League, without due process. There are allegations that part of the money was fraudulently shared.

    Since the accusation came to light, it has been back-and-forth among those alleged to have tampered with the money. This is the customary rigmarole when allegations of fraud surface in Nigeria. Going by convention, the TV money is supposed to enhance the NPFL. Each club was entitled to N2 million per season from the fund. Though a pittance, it goes a long way in helping the hard-pressed NPFL teams. With corruption proliferating, TV rights holders, who commit so much money to the sponsorship of the game, could be forced to withdraw.

    In Europe, where transparency attracts sponsorship, money from TV has elevated the game to a spectacle and a huge business. Recently, British broadcaster, BT Sport, increased its TV rights deal to £1.18 billion with the Union of European Football Association for the telecast of the (UEFA) Champions and Europa leagues in the three seasons to 2021. Broadcasters, Sky and BT, coughed up £5.13 billion for the right to televise the English Premier League for the three seasons to 2019. In the 2014/15 season, each EPL club received a minimum of £64.5 million.

    But Nigerian football, apart from being yoked by government interference, is also wallowing in corruption. Last December, the International Football Federation suspended its development grant to the Nigeria Football Federation, claiming that the organisation could not account for an earlier grant of $1.1 million. In 2009, $236,000 mysteriously disappeared from the NFF office in Abuja. Corruption is partly responsible for the current cash squeeze in the NFF. Football maladministration reached its nadir when the Super Falcons — the female national football team — staged open protests against the NFF last year for denying them their allowances after they won the Nations Cup in Cameroon.

    In February, the FIFA Ethics Committee imposed a fresh two-year ban on Amos Adamu, a former Sole Administrator of the NFA. FIFA had earlier banned Adamu — its former executive member — for three years in 2010 in relation to the selling of votes during the process of choosing the hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals. Yet, Nigerian football administrators are inured to the deleterious impact of graft on the game. There is a deep distrust between Super Eagles players and football officials because the former see the latter as unreliable when money is involved. As a result, players disrupted preparations during the 1998 World Cup, the 2013 African Nations Cup and the 2014 World Cup. In all these cases, the team recorded abysmal results as they could not concentrate on the pitch, having been pre-occupied with fights over money.

    Really, sleaze is a global phenomenon in football, perhaps, because the sport is too self-regulatory. FIFA itself has been entangled in a series of corruption scandals since May 2015 when the United States Department of Justice officials raided a Zurich, Switzerland hotel and arrested seven of its officials. Their trial later consumed Sepp Blatter, who was then the body’s president. The case also ensnared Michel Platini, then the UEFA president.

    However, there is a major difference between Nigeria and FIFA. In collaboration with the US DoJ, FIFA is making an effort to cleanse its house. Those accused of corruption are being brought to justice across the world. In all, 30 FIFA officials and their associates have been charged with corruption involving about $200 million. Others have been banned from the game. This is the way to go for Nigeria.

    Nigerian football administrators should not be allowed to ruin the beautiful game with their predilection for fraud. To raise the profile of the sport here, the free hand officials are given to administer the sport should be accompanied by strict financial accountability. As is the case in other climes, Nigerian football officials should pass stringent eligibility tests before their appointments. Finally, all tainted football officials should be identified forthwith through an institutionalised vetting process and then prosecuted.


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