Samson Siasia’s alleged bribe scandal and face of Nigerian sports
Then, there was the weeping and distraught face by many soccer-loving Nigerians last week when the bombshell came from FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich, announcing a life ban on coach Samson Siasia over alleged bribe.
The mind cannot conjure up an image of the triumphant Siasia without also recalling the ‘tainted’ Siasia. Sliding from the podium three years ago in Rio de Janeiro, to a life ban over match-fixing allegation will surely go down as one of the hardest falls by a coach in Nigerian sports history.
“The issue of corruption in the country has become an extraneous variable in our system,” former Green Eagles winger, Adegoke Adelabu told The Guardian shortly after the news of Siasia’s life ban broke out. “It has become the order of the day among the rank and file in the society. It has become the easiest way for people to fulfill their dreams and we do it with impunity. We get away with fraudulent activities in our sports administration to the extent that Nigeria has no official representing us at international events because we have ruined our sport and reputation through corruption,” Adelabu stated.
Siasia was banned for life by FIFA from all football-related activities last week after the adjudicatory chamber of its independent Ethics Committee found him guilty of agreeing to “receive bribes in relation to the manipulation of matches.” In addition, a fine of CHF 50,000 ($51,051.66) was imposed on Siasia.
FIFA stated that the sanction against Siasia stems from an ongoing ‘large-scale investigation’ it is conducting into the behaviour of Wilson Raj Perumal, a convicted match-fixer from Singapore.
Siasia, who played 51 times as a striker for the Super Eagles, won the Tunisia ‘94 Africa Cup of Nations title with the team. He is one of the sporting heroes to have his name and accomplishments on the risk of being ruined by match-fixing scandal, and arguably the most popular.
Siasia is the third African to be banned by FIFA for links with Singaporean Wilson Raj Perumal, who has been tagged a “known match-fixer” and who has admitted such activity in several interviews. While former Sierra Leone FA official, Abu Bakarr Kabba was suspended for five years in June for his link with Perumal, former Botswana FA official Mooketsi Kgotlele was handed life suspension by FIFA.
To Adelabu, a former player with the then IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan, the life ban on Siasia could have been avoided if Nigeria had a way of ‘cleaning up’ the system internally, especially when it comes to corruption.
“The crux of the matter is that, I don’t think we have ever concluded any corruption case against anyone to its logical conclusion, hence we think we can get away with our vices. I don’t think the entire congregation of FIFA has the moral justification to ban anyone for life when its organs, who are subservient to the incumbent, get away with fraudulent activities across the world.
“It is ridiculous to ban a sportsman for life after all our sporting life did not start with FIFA. Why should they have control over our destiny because of the mistakes of ACTs? It is time for us to have another organization that will challenge the monopolistic tendencies of FIFA.
“It is time to expunge those “satanic” codes of ethics (art. 11) and redefine their strength in the light of grace to give the culprit opportunity to repent and be restored. Siasia’s only job is football. What do you expect him to do now that he has been banned for life? I want to plead with FIFA because man is not meant for the law, but the law for man.”
Continuing, Adelabu, a sports scientist said: “I know FIFA ethics committee must have done their due diligence before coming out with their decisions. I am surprised that the NFF did not know about the case or if they knew, what step did they take to ensure that the punishment was not as severe as this? I pray that our government will listen to one day. If we have Presidential Council for Sport, this is one of her responsibilities; to manage our athletes across the world whether active or retired.
“We can only appeal to FIFA to reduce the punishment to a fine and about two years, and not for the legal team to go there and make a fool of ourselves by arguing about what we do not know and that we may never know the truth. In Nigeria, we pray about everything before they work; so if people can join me in prayer, we can overturn that decision. It is a small thing in the sight of the Lord,” Adelabu, a former manager of Eko United FC stated.
FIFA claimed in its letter that the decision was communicated to Siasia penultimate Friday when the ban came into force.
But the 51-year-old Siasia has since denied ever being contacted by FIFA regarding the ban. Siasia says he had done nothing wrong, and that his legal team needs time to ‘study’ the life ban placed on him by FIFA before he will decide on what to do.
Siasia was the coach of the Super Eagles between 2010-2011 when the team failed to beat Guinea in an African Nations Cup qualifier in Abuja. He returned to the team in 2016 after coach Sunday Oliseh resigned, but could not lead the Super Eagles to victory in the race to Gabon 2017 AFCON, losing the ticket to the Pharaohs of Egypt. He has also served as a coach of the U-20 and U-23 sides.
However, the period FIFA claims Siasia committed his violations is still not clear.
The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) reacted to the life ban imposed on Siasia by FIFA saying that its lawyers were reviewing the decision by the FIFA Ethics Committee.
“It is a massive sanction on one of our legends. Siasia is a football legend but most importantly he is a Nigerian. We must, therefore, be interested in the matter and be properly advised,” NFF’s Acting President, Seyi Akinwunmi, said.
Akinwunmi stated that the Federation had already reached out to Siasia, and is aware that he is receiving appropriate legal advice.
“The NFF was shocked to learn of the investigation and a subsequent decision by the FIFA Ethics Committee (Adjudicatory Chamber) placing a life ban on Mr. Samson Siasia.
“But we have however now received documents, including one known as the Motivated Decision, and we have handed them to our lawyers to study and provide legal advice to the Federation.
Akinwunmi added: “Siasia gave his all for Nigeria, playing for the U20 team right from his secondary school days and then for the senior team for several years, and also coaching the U20 and U23 teams and the Super Eagles.
“While we respect the FIFA processes and appreciate that an investigation was conducted prior to the decision, the least we as a Federation can do is to empathise with him at this time, make ourselves available to him and hope that in some way he is able to clear his name as he has promised to do.”
Chairman of Delta Football Association, Edema Fuludu has urged Nigerians not to read ‘negative’ meanings to the life ban placed on Siasia by FIFA until the law court proves him guilty.
“I spoke with Siasia a few days ago, and the major lapses I notice in his explanation was his failure to check his mails. Maybe, if he had checked and seen the messages sent to him by FIFA, he would have responded and probably cleared his name. But I don’t want Nigerians to crucify him now based on the pronouncement by FIFA. He has asked his lawyers to study the ban, so let us wait for the outcome, whether or not he is going to appeal against it. Siasia remains our person, and we have to stand by him in this moment of trials,” Fuludu said.
But the former coach of Shooting Stars Sports Club of Ibadan, Godfrey Esu sees Siasia’s life ban as bad news for Nigerian football.
“This is sad news for our football,” Esu told The Guardian. “We have to check the characters of those we saddle with the responsibility of leading our teams, both at the club and national level because some of them are so desperate. They are ready to grab anything that comes their way, and that has been one of the reasons our football is not moving forward. Only Siasia knows the truth about this match-fixing allegation.
“There are so many coaches in our football circle whose major aim is to accept all manner of gratifications from young players and their parents. They have done a lot of damage to our sports and my prayer is for God to continue to expose them,” Esu stated.
Nine years ago, Nigerian football was hit by the ban placed on football administrator, Amos Adamu, who received a three-year ban and 10,000 Swiss francs fine from FIFA Ethics Committee after being found guilty of breaching bribery rules. In February 2017, the FIFA Ethics Committee banned Adamu for two years.
And in September 2018, the Nigeria Football Federation’s Committee on Ethics and Fair Play placed a one-year ban on Super Eagles assistant coach Salisu Yusuf, following its conclusion of an investigation into bribery allegations.
Video footage of Yusuf allegedly collecting a cash gift from investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, who posed as a representative of Tiger Eye Agency to influence the selection of two players, had surfaced in July last year.
The latest bribe scandal dangling around the neck of Siasia may have opened a new insight into corruption in Nigerian sports.
A few years ago, former Super Eagles attacker, Daniel Amokachi opened a can of worms when he alleged that the nation’s sports had become a den of corruption. He spoke when he led a Coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOS) operating under the aegis of National Support Groups for Good Governance (NASUGG) to the gate of the National Assembly in Abuja.
Then, Amokachi’s major concern was the plight of the Nigerian youth, who, he alleged, were forced to pay as much as N250,000 each to get into the national U-17 team (Golden Eaglets).
“Corruption has invaded sports so deeply that even at FIFA headquarters in Zurich, we saw how the world stood up and said, “enough is enough.
“We saw how the president, Sepp Blatter was not spared. He was removed from office because integrity matters when it comes to the constitution.
“President Muhammadu Buhari doesn’t take nonsense when it comes to fighting corruption. I have said I will support the movement because, in my field, which is sports, corruption is now the order of the day.”
Amokachi continued: “For instance, in Nigerian football today, the youths, when invited to the national team, a coach will ask them to bring N250,000 each to get into the U-17 team when he already has the talent. If a person has talent, he should be allowed to showcase what he has in the interest of the nation.”
Amokachi, a member of the Super Eagles team that won the African Cup of Nations at Tunisia ’94, as well as Olympic gold medal at Atlanta ’96, also bared his mind on high-level corruption ravaging the nation’s football league. “A small team cannot win the Nigerian league because all the people in Nigerian football are corrupt.”
Earlier this year, the world’s attention zoomed on Nigerian sports, precisely athletics, with the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) at loggerheads with its Nigerian affiliate, the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) over the delay by Nigeria in refunding an excess of $135, 000 erroneously paid to the country in 2017. The matter has since been swept under the carpet.
Some sports analysts allege that many sports administrators in Nigeria, who are saddled with the responsibility of developing the game, focus more on personal gains than on the prosperity of the sports, including football and the development of the national leagues.
On a weekly bases, there are various reports of bribery, ‘missing’ funds, improper spending, and general mismanagement of money meant for national teams.
At the end of the South Africa 2010 FIFA World Cup, former president, Goodluck Jonathan suspended the country from international tournaments following Super Eagles’ poor performance.
Jonathan did so in an effort to clean up corruption in the NFF, but his move was thwarted by FIFA who gave Nigeria three days to change its decision or face a ban.
The destructive effect of corruption is felt in virtually every sector of Nigerian sports.
At the recently concluded Egypt 2019 AFCON, a total of 26 referees and 32 assistant referees were selected by CAF from 32 African countries, but Nigerian officials were ignored
Whereas referees from Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroun, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, The Gambia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, RD Congo, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa, Tunisia, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Chad, Comoros, Guinea, Lesotho, Libya, Niger, Sudan, Uganda, and Mozambique officiated at the AFCON, no one came from Nigeria.
One of the celebrated cases involving Nigeria sports officials was the trial of former NFF President Sani Lulu Abdullahi, and three other former board members of the federation shortly after Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Lulu, Amanze Uchegbulam, Bolaji Ojo-Oba, and the late Taiwo Ogunjobi were prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), for offences bordering on conspiracy and breach of due process.
EFCC had accused Lulu and co of breaching due process in the purchase of two Marco Polo buses as approved by the National Sports Commission.
According to EFCC, the contract for the purchase of the two buses was awarded to Ekene Dili Chukwu through the ‘Direct Procurement Option’ at the rate of N99m (ninety-nine million naira). The National Sports Commission, NSC like every other ministry sets the threshold for its agencies, which was N20m (twenty million naira) and for a committee to go beyond the threshold, it has to revert to the supervising body.
But Lulu and the three officials, according to the EFCC, instead of reverting to NSC for approval after the contract with Ekene Dili Chukwu was terminated, unilaterally re-awarded the contract to another company, CNBC Nigeria Limited for the same sum of N99m.
But CNBC Nigeria Limited rather than supply the two Marco Polo buses, as stipulated in the contract agreement, supplied two Iriza buses, which were of inferior quality. The two Iriza buses supplied, according to EFCC, lacked some essential parts, which had to be replaced.
Lulu and co were charged with an offense contrary to and punishable under S. 518 (1) and (7) of the Criminal Code Act Cap. C., 28 Laws of the Federation, 2004”.
For Nigeria sports to achieve meaningful results, some analysts have suggested that administrators be held accountable from time to time for their wasteful and destructive management style.
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