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The great but controversial NFF awards

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PHOTO: ACLSports

Last Monday night was great for Nigerian footballers. The Nigerian Football Federation pulled out all the stops to put together an event to celebrate a sprinkle from a sea of great footballers that have represented Nigeria through the ages.

Any way which way, the choice of the legends through all the generations is bound to generate some level of controversy.  What blighted the whole exercise, however, was the unjustifiable decision to lump the two sexes together in the choice of legends in every position on the field of play.

For some inexplicable and unfortunate reason, that’s exactly what happened. For example, people are now trying to understand the choice of an Anne Chijienne (a legend in her own right amongst the female footballers) ahead of great male goalkeepers like Fregene, Okala, Ogedegbe, Enyeama, Rufai and so on, in the category of goalkeepers. Little wonder Emmanuel Okala was livid with the choice.

Just for the records, Okala is the only goalkeeper in Nigeria’s history to win a version of the African Footballer of the Year Award.

Simply separating the sexes would have prevented that ugly controversy and allowed for celebration of both sexes without any rancor.

Back to the evening. Despite a few hiccups in the content of the ceremony and a few technical hitches here and there (understandable for a first such event) no one can belittle the significance of the ceremony and what it portends for Nigerian footballers in the future.

The question on every lip is why no previous board of the NFA had ever attempted to introduce it, and capitalize on the power of celebrating ex-footballers to drive an agenda, given that aligning with Nigeria’s greatest brand ambassadors can be a major game changer.

Last Monday night, the NFF did just that – assembled a large number of retired super star football players, invited a Grade A audience of some of the most powerful personalities in global football administration, put together an immaculate evening of glitz and entertainment, and celebrated some of the most famous football stars in a well packaged evening.

It was a historic occasion. For the first time a board of the country’s football administration would be truly honouring footballers with awards.

It is a major statement that underlines the many giant strides of the Amaju Pinnick led Executive Committee.

Incidentally, and understandably, not everyone would agree with the statement that the board has scored a pass mark.

At the venue the whispers of disagreement were loud enough to be heard.  Although the board may have done remarkably well with international football and politics, the same cannot be said of the domestic game.

It is not in my place to defend or promote the present board but even the blind can see that in the area of marketing the game the board has scored higher than any other board in the history of Nigerian football.

Since the national team qualified for the 2018 World Cup a few months ago, the board has secured more lucrative sponsorships than at any other time in the history of Nigerian football.

Additionally, Amaju Pinnick has used his position in CAF and FIFA to effect a boom in the placement of Nigerians into various CAF committees reminiscent of the days when now-discredited Amos Adamu ruled Nigerian football.

In short, how well the Executive Committee under Amaju Pinnick has done is a matter of contention amongst football stakeholders.

That’s why, unfortunately, despite his achievements the road may not quite clear for his re-election next September when the elections into a new board will take place.

For obviously strategic reasons, the general assembly that will conduct the elections has been moved to the very Northern city of Katsina.

The common thread through the history of previous boards is that none has managed to survive the high-octane political intrigues of Nigerian football and returned for a second term.

By taking the elections to Katsina, Amaju may be taking the greatest gamble of his life. He is trusting his political instincts and taking the battle to ‘enemy’  territory to seek re-election.

At the awards night, last Monday, the elections were discussed in hushes.

Many stakeholders see the awards as a masterstroke in PR diplomacy, designed to position the Amaju-led board to shatter the one-tenure jinx.

Whatever the motivation, the NFF Awards were a long-overdue development that must be acknowledged on its merit, particularly by the footballers’ fraternity, as amply testified to by the FIFA President himself whose brief remarks at the event acknowledged the contribution, power and presence of football’s most important ambassadors – the legends of the game.

That’s why I must once again, on behalf of footballers from all generations, thank the board of Amaju Pinnick for their innovation in celebrating the legends of Nigerian football.

Finally, no matter how hard I try to understand the rationale for lumping the male and the female footballers together in the selection process of the legends, I have not succeeded.

It was a grave error that must be avoided in future, one of the few draw backs of an evening of excellent music and dance, blighted only slightly by late commencement of the show, long patronizing speeches and a few technical hitches.

Having said that, the event was a great advertisement for Amaju Pinnick and his board.

How not to treat a sports hero
I do not like the fact that I am writing this. But I have an obligation to do so.

In the past few weeks Nigerian sports lost some prominent sports personalities including Deji Tinubu, Raymond King and Morten Owolo.

Deji and Raymond were buried, with the Lagos State and Ogun State governments supporting the families of the deceased to send them peacefully to their Creator befittingly.

It is now the turn of Moreton Owolo to be buried. He is from Delta State but spent all his football career in Rivers State.

Morten was a member of Nigeria’s successful 1972 Second All African Games team that won the games’ Gold medal. He represented the Green Eagles through to the middle of the 1970s playing at left back.

He was a pioneer member of the great Sharks FC of Port Harcourt team of the 1970s along side Dediare, Dombraye and Quackopone.

He retired in the early 1980s and worked, thereafter, with the Rivers State Sports Council as coach, not only of Sharks FC for a brief period, but also in several local government areas fishing out talents.

In short, his entire football career was spent in the service of Rivers State until he retired from service in the 1990s.

When he passed on a few weeks ago, officially and verbally, the Rivers State government, through the State’s Commissioner for Sports, was notified of his death.

I, actually, spoke directly with the Commissioner asking him to influence a token support for Morten’s young family to enable them bury him decently.

The burial date is next week, March 3, 2018, and the family tell me the silence from Rivers State is deafening.

This is another public appeal for the State government, through the Commissioner of Sports, my friend, Boma Iyayi, to rise up to the simple challenge, support the family to give Morten a simple but decent burial, and let the great football ambassador a triumphant passage to his Creator without regrets that he served an ungrateful State.

To be silent and to do nothing will be a demonstration of how not to treat a hero, particularly one who has diligently served Rivers State through his best youthful years.

My mum goes home
As I was putting this article to bed, my Mum, Abeke Odegbami, answered the final call by her Creator.

I thank all those that have heard the ‘good’ news and have been celebrating her with the family.

She lived very long and very well. For that, we thank our Father in heaven and celebrate her incredible life.


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