In this interview with Feverpitch, Former NFF presidential aspirant Hon. Lumumba Dah Adeh has called on all state governors to take a cue from Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State and immediately sell off all the NPL clubs they have been sponsoring using public funds. He said if they heed to his advice, Nigerian football would be the better for it. Excerpts:
As a former NFF presidential aspirant, what is your assessment of the present state of Nigerian football?
A lot of issues have come up which demand critical comments but when one’s views are not sought, there is no point talking for it may appear as if one is seeking attention. I don’t just talk for the sake of talking. I still follow Nigerian football with keen interest and in the process, I cannot help but say I am impressed in some areas, disappointed in some and also totally disillusioned in certain areas.
Could you substantiate on the said areas of satisfaction, disappointment, and disillusion?
My disappointment largely stems from the fact that after I thought the NFF had got it right by engaging a Belgian as the technical director, believing that he is going to set a stage for the development programme, I really was devastated when the minister of sports the Chairman of National Sports Commission, NSC cancelled or reversed the appointment. I must say that issues like this that are purely professional and technical should be devoid of sentiments. It is not unpatriotic to say we want to develop and this is the direction we are taking, we know where we are going and this is the person to partner with us. But if we come back and say because we want to be patriotic; we want a Nigerian to hold the position, it is completely wrong. Without meaning to degrade Nigerian coaches, I know that we have great coaches but the fact of the matter is that football has become scientific and dynamic. And you will agree with me that opportunities have not been created for Nigerian coaches to upgrade their skills and get themselves in tune with modern trends in football in the world. Therefore, it will be difficult for them to exhibit the required technical competence and ability to steer the developmental ship as it were. So I still hold the view that a person with background and profile and the Belgian would have done a great job for Nigeria.
Where I said I am impressed with the present leadership of the NFF is the present effort being made to upgrade our coaches. The various training programmes are commendable. Our coaches lack the basic training. Some have not gone back to the class room for several decades. They have created avenue for them to be re-trained and upgraded. These training courses are very helpful and they bring about improvement not only to the coaches but in the long run to the game in its entirety. I must say the NFF has done well considering the fact that it has not been done in the past. But they can do better having come this far. They can go a step further to select coaches and sponsor them to go on attachment in some of the renowned European clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Arsenal. Our coaches can obtain practical lessons from some of the best coaches in Europe. So I think the NFF has started well and I hope it would be sustained.
In the aspect I said that I am disillusioned is largely because most of our national teams are just groping in the dark. The NFF in my opinion should be courageous to come out and tell Nigerians that there has been a systematic problem with Nigerian football but they are ready to tackle the problems squarely. Nigeria should not expect participation in all tournaments. Nigerians should not expect to win all matches. We are going to start re-building from U-17, to U-20, to U-23 and the Super Eagles. But as it is, they are attempting to do so much and so little is being achieved.
A bill to amend the contentious Decree 101 is before the National Assembly. From your own point of view, do you see the proposed legislation tackling the problems of Nigerian football when eventually passed?
Well I am afraid from the draft law I saw, I think a lot of things have been distorted and I believe and I am convinced that that draft bill is only meant to serve certain interests. With due apology, that is my opinion. And that is very dangerous because laws are supposed to outlive personalities. I followed very closely as the then presidential liaison, the law that was sent to the fifth assembly. It got to the point it was passed by the two houses, the Senate and House of Representatives but for the discrepancies it would have been assented to for it to become law. I think that was a much better document than what I saw as the new draft. I hope at the end of the day it would not fail to serve the needs of Nigerian football. At the public hearing, I made my comments and position known to the law makers. But if at the end of the day, it goes with what I saw, I am afraid not much should be expected from that law that is in the making.
Not long ago an international body rated the Nigeria Premier League as number one in Africa. As a one time member of the interim management committee of the NPL, do you agree with this assessment?
Well it all depends on the parameters used. Certain ratings may be based on statistical facts such results of matches. Furthermore, as the business potential could be another. The technical standard could be another yardstick. The followership could be a parameter or yardstick to measure the strength of a league. The success in continental competitions is yet another. It is difficult for me to dispute their verdict because I do not know which particular yardstick was used. But if you do a total rating it would be a combination of the parameters I have mentioned and if that is the case, I do not agree that our league that has suffered for well over three seasons without sponsorship, that players are poorly remunerated, that coaches are not trained and re-trained , that officiating has continued to decline because of corruption, that administration has suffered because of insincerity, in-fighting because of political interests, clubs are still owned by government, and the league is not professional I do not agree with such verdict. it is my desire that our league should be the best but with all these I have mentioned, I do not see how our league is better than other leagues in Africa like in Tunisia, Egypt and South Africa.
What do you think are the necessary steps to be taken, if the glory days of the Nigerian League and indeed Nigerian football are to be brought back?
It demands courage to professionalize Nigerian football league and make it attractive, competitive and economically viable. In my own opinion the first step is for the NFF and the NPL to jointly draw a program of two, three to four years for government disengagement. A programme should be drawn to take us to the point where blue-chip organizations would own Nigerian clubs. It is my dream to wake up one day and see that UBA has a premier league club, Conoil has one, Insurance companies, giant construction companies like Julius Berger having one as it used to be in those days. Unless we get to that level, Nigerian football won’t come out of the doldrums. In the past we had attempts by corporate organizations to run clubs in Nigeria. We had attempts by private individuals, including yours sincerely, who floated a club called JC Raiders FC. Nobody has ever asked why is it that IIC Shooting Stars which later metamorphosed into 3SC has continued to exist being government clubs. The same goes for a club like Rangers. Why is it that other clubs run by individuals and corporate organizations did not survive?. Somebody should ask this question. My answer or summary is that the competition is not fair. Government still sees football clubs as political tools. They put in all the money they can put, beautiful but how is the money expended?. How does it influence the game?. With due respect to government club managers, most of them are not professionals. They are mostly appointed on the basis of political patronage. All they do is to gain results at all cost. You find out that more than 80 percent of their budget goes into public relations and other things even as the players and their coaches are not catered for. But the reverse would be the case if these clubs are owned by corporate organizations that are target driven. I support what governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State is trying to do with Dolphins and Sharks. I want other state governors to take cue and save the Nigerian league.