Muhammadu Buhari GCFR,
President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,
I am moved with all sense of responsibility as a patriotic Nigerian with a deep concern for the development and growth of our sports to write you this letter.
I wish first to commend you for your demonstrated commitment to the development of our sports which has once again been evidenced by your commissioning of a 10-Year Football Development Masterplan, the report of which you received on Tuesday, August 23.
Assuredly, no one can fault the need for development planning in any sector of our socio-economy and it is obvious that such action is imperative for raising our football sub-sector to global standards.
It is noteworthy that you recognize the need to domesticate our football governance in concurrence with the Statutes of FIFA as is evidenced in your directive that the Masterplan be possessed for implementation by the Nigeria Football Federation with the supervision of the Ministry of Sports which oversees all sports on behalf of the government.
However, while you instructed that the production of the Masterplan should be a joint effort of the Ministry of Sports and the NFF, you need to ascertain if the NFF was indeed accorded any reasonable space to make input on the Masterplan.
This is because if the Masterplan is to be faithfully implemented, then it should be to the conviction of the governing body of our football and not by imposition.
All reports and photos of the ceremony available in the public space, indicate that the President of the NFF was not in attendance. There is a need to confirm if he was officially invited to the ceremony and, if not, why? Whatever the reason might be, this already suggests a weakness in the necessary link.
There are federations for each sport and when such federations are tactically or politically excluded from the planning of their sport, it is a recipe for failure.
This again raises the question if the ministry would also have to provide a Presidential Masterplan for all other sports or provide a comprehensive, integrated, and enduring blueprint with inputs from the various sports stakeholder groups, including the Committees of the two arms of the National Assembly and the organized private sector, giving direction for the development of the sports sector as a matter of policy and to which each federation will adapt their own plans. This is so because national sports development should be integrated.
Your Excellency, I wish to inform you that a major problem of our sports development is that the Ministry often wants not only to impose political leadership on the federations but also to dictate to them on their day-to-day operations, and such dictations have often led to the destabilization of the governance of the federation with a considerable negative impact on their output.
One such case was the Ministry’s unrestrained involvement in the politics of the Nigeria Basketball Federation which culminated in the ostensible banning of Nigeria’s basketball from international events, resulting in the non-participation of the women’s senior team in the last FIBA Women World Cup after they fought so hard to qualify. The effect on the career of that set of young women basketballers and the team which was already rising in global profile can only be imagined.
Your Excellency, you may also wish to investigate the role of the Minister of Sports in the recruitment of coaches which led to the poor performance of the Super Eagles at the last Africa Cup of Nations and non-qualification for the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup to safeguard from possible future interference on purely technical issues.
I observe that while the Ministry functions between the Presidency and the federations, the Ministers of Sports briefs to Mr. President seem only to the extent of what they wish the President to hear and know while they use the privilege of their position to serve narrow personal and group interests.
You would recall that there was a running battle between the Ministry under Chief Solomon Dalung and the NFF as well as the League Management Company for several years until the Presidency intervened to forestall a possible FIFA ban.
Most often the conflicts are not about the development of the game but about the struggle for leadership positions and control of federations, but the Ministers present a different face to Mr President.
For these reasons, I humbly wish to suggest to Mr. President not just adopt the report of the 10-Year Masterplan on the face of it but to attempt an independent re-appraisal of the recommendations to ensure it is not skewed in pursuit of personal interests. Indeed, one would have expected a Masterplan for football development to have been sufficiently discussed at the congress of the NFF before submission to Mr. President.
There are, in fact, a number of contentious issues that need careful re-examination rather than being forced down the throat of the football body.
One such is the suggestion for the expansion of the Congress. While it is right, unarguably, that no stakeholder group should be shut out from the governance of our football, we must note that the congress was once as large until it was decided at the Annual General Meeting of the NFF a decade ago to reduce the number.
At a time when nations are cutting down on the size of government, as evidenced even in the Steve Orosanye Report which the Federal Government has adopted for implementation, it is curious that we are expanding the size of the NFF Congress from 44 to 111.
The simple implication is that the cost of maintaining the Congress and holding the AGA is dribbled. On the other hand, we can have greater participation at the state and district levels to produce quality and manageable representation at the center.
Also, while we applaud the government for having released N15b to the NFF in the past seven years, we cannot say that that sum, which is about N2.1b a year, was sufficient and all it took to fund our football for those years, including participation in the 2018 World Cup, 2019 and 2022 Nations Cup, camping and friendly matches for preparations and all the qualifying matches in between for the Super Eagles, four AWCON participations of the Super Falcons besides several other engagements and the running of the other nine national teams.
With an annual expenditure of the NFF on the 11 national teams standing at about N7b, amounting to about N49b for the seven years in reference, it means the NFF leadership sourced about N34b in corporate and brand sponsorship, representing about 70% of the funding of our football for that period.
Given the prevailing national and global economic realities, that is a feat for which the leadership of the NFF should rather be applauded than vilified.
It is by such effort that the Super Eagles maintained chartered flights for most of their engagements for several years thus eliminating complaints about travel arrangements which was a regular cause of grievance hitherto.
However, we should also recognize that the N15b mentioned is just about the budget of some countries for a single World Cup outing. In fact, while there was no dime released to the Super Eagles for the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup final qualifying match in Abuja, Ghana provided $3.5m for the Black Stars which eventually won the ticket.
In the same vein, the British Government provides about £45m annually to the FA in addition to huge sponsorships but does not always disrupt its political governance on account of the provision.
Mr. President, you are aware of several instances of our footballers and athletes protesting about non-payment of allowances. It dates long back and we can recall the incident of the Super Falcons refusing to return to Nigeria in 2010 until they were paid. We had such protests over money at the 1998 and 2014 FIFA World Cups.
It also happened at the Mali 2002 Nations Cup which led to the disbandment of the then Super Eagles team and the call-up of new players for the Korea/Japan World Cup.
The same situation occurred at the Morocco 2022 Africa Women’s Football Nations Cup.
Therefore, it is actually self-deceptive and of no use having the Ministry of Sports hanging the blame always on the sports federations.
The indication is that the funding of our national teams, both football and other sports, cannot be smoothly maintained by normal budgetary or Presidential interventions, considering bureaucratic bottlenecks and competing demands for funding interventions.
The panacea is the setting up of a special Sports Development Fund, akin to Sports England, into which both government and private sector contributions are pooled for timely response to sports funding needs.
Sports England receives government annual contributions and special tax percentages from sport betting companies, besides donations and sponsorships from the private sector.
This enables them to properly and timeously fund not only the sports bodies and athletes but also invest in the construction and upgrade of facilities across grassroots communities and schools which is the main responsibility of governments.
The setting up of such a vehicle is what is actually needed as a legacy.
We have the National Sports Lottery Trust Fund but it has had no clear bearing in funding sports development in Nigeria. This is not justifiable.
Your Excellency, you also referred to the need to improve the fortunes of the National Professional Football League but we should understand that football cannot succeed without a synergy with other sectors.
In fact, the best we have had of the national league was when Supersport bought the broadcast right and produced some of the weekly matches for live transmission.
Owning to difficulties in the economic environment, especially with regards to logistics and infrastructure required to support productions and transmissions, they have pulled out but, perhaps, still willing to pay for broadcast right if the system can provide them clean feed as they receive from the European Leagues which has taken over the interest of our football fans.
Sadly, as we speak, there is no Nigerian broadcast company, not even the NTA as a national career, that has demonstrated the technical, personnel, and logistical capacity to produce a football match to global television standards, talk less of the capacity to pay broadcast right fees which is actually the life wire of the league and, indeed, all sports.
Furthermore, eighty percent of the professional league clubs are owned by state governments that do not care about the business dimensions of club ownership beyond just winning matches.
Therefore, Mr President, talking about political will for the development of football and if we really mean business, I propose that the Federal Government should engage State Governors to discuss and agree on the direction of football club ownership and business in Nigeria.
Your Excellency, please be informed that the rise of the English Premier League began with the provision of a grant of about £150m to the elite clubs to upgrade their facilities to be spectator, broadcast, and sponsorship friendly.
The import of this is that football can only grow as a national asset if there is a synergy of purpose, direction, and infrastructural investments between the Federal Government, the football governing body, the states, and local government councils, the organized private sector, and various other critical contributors and not merely by the exercise of power and political influence by the Ministry of Sports.