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On the 31st of May, 2002, thirty-two countries will begin a competition to determine who wins the World Cup, a trophy to determine the best footballing nation in the world so to say. While Nigeria will be adequately represented there as one of the five qualifiers from the African continent, it is still searching for the twenty-three or so footballers that will represent the country following the sacking of its coaching staff led by Shuaibu Amodu and the team that represented it in the Africa Nations Cup 2002 tournament in Mali in January. The replacement of the coaching staff by a new coach led by Festus Adegboye Onigbinde and disbandment of the team following the not too good performance by those who played for Nigeria in Mali has made it mandatory that a new set of footballers must be recruited to prosecute the World Cup. The question that followers of Nigerian soccer ask is: will these measures change the fate of Nigerian soccer which is in itself suffering from a lot of teething problems at home thereby forcing many brilliant youths with bright prospects in the game to seek greener pastures elsewhere?
Article from Socialist Democracy, the paper of the Democratic Socialist Movement (Nigerian section of the CWI). From the May-June issue, printed and published in Lagos, Nigeria. Contact the DSM: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the past, at the height of the petrol dollars in the Nigerian economy, government used to sponsor football clubs. Such clubs as the IICC, Rangers International, Bendel Insurance, Sharks, Mighty Jets, etc, were wholly owned by governments or their parastatals. During this period, the Nigerian economy, the naira and workers’ wages had not become so battered as it is today.
Nigerian soccer stars of the likes of Segun Odegbami, Christian Chukwu, Muda Lawal, Emmanuel Okala, Best Ogedengbe, Adokie Amasimaka, etc were household names. They did not have to go abroad to ply their trade as do the youths today who at the slightest opportunity will board a flight to leave the shores of Nigeria to play football in European and other economies where their wages will be running into millions of naira. As a result, a lot of talents are lost to other football leagues while the league in Nigeria is left to depend on new recruits who are just learning the trade.
With the continuous decline in government revenue and the increasing difficulty in the sponsorship of these clubs, the promotion of the private participation of individuals in the Nigerian league was encouraged. New clubs were formed by private individuals and old private clubs were promoted to show greater participation in the Nigerian league as it is done in the developed economy. There arose clubs like Leventis United, Abiola Babes, Concord, Iwuanyawu National, Julius Berger, etc. These clubs also dominated the soccer scene for sometime. But many of them, such as Abiola Babes, Concord FC and many others have all disappeared, as their owners can no longer cope with the financial demands of running those clubs. This has further weakened soccer in Nigeria as a lot of clubs have thrown many footballers into the job market.
The deterioration of sports facilities has also created problems for soccer. Football stadia in Nigeria are few and are wholly owned by either the state or federal government. Most of these facilities, as a result of the decline in revenue to government revenues and corruption have deteriorated, making them not conducive for playing and training. It is common to hear the condemnation of the playing pitches of most of our football clubs by soccer enthusiasts and journalists.
One of the major means by which the football league can be sustained is through the charging of fees or gate takings from those who come to watch matches. This is the practice all over the world with the continuous decline in the population watching matches in the Nigerian league, it will continue to be difficult to pay footballers and carry out other activities necessary for the smooth running of the football club. This has been affected by the general cost of living which has risen just as the living standard of the average Nigerian has continued to decline heavily.
Whether Nigeria makes a good impact or not in the coming World Cup in Korea/Japan, it is undoubtedly facing serious problems at home. The changes at the national team from Amodu to Onigbinde will definitely not solve these problems as it is meant to give the impression to the outside world that all is fine in the Nigerian football which is not true as can be seen from above. The fundamental problems have not been addressed.
To restore Nigerian football to its past glory, footballers, fans and the working people in general should demand for the following:
Committee for a Workers' International
PO Box 3688, London E11 1YE, Britain, Tel: ++ 44 20 8988 8760, Fax: ++ 44 20 8988 8793, email@example.com