Only autonomy can save us – Sen. Alkali
By ROMANUS UGWU, Abuja
Sunday, February 05,  2012

 Keshi

Certainly, the name of Senator Alkali Abdukadir Jajere, a Member Senate Committee on Sports, does not in any way ring bell to many Nigerians.

However, when Sunday Sunsports engaged him in an exclusive interview recently, the senator representing Yobe South Senatorial District of Yobe State proved that he is not only a sports enthusiast, but also somebody with the full grasp of the game, as he was a one-time staunch member of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) while then as a staff of Yobe Television Authority.

Senator Alkali spoke on many issues concerning Nigerian sports, urging sports-loving Nigerians to hold the administrators responsible for the declining fortune of the game in the country.
From the plans to repeal the obnoxious Decree 101, the proposal to separate football from the Sports Ministry and National Sports Commission (NSC), the teething challenges facing sports in Nigeria, to the readiness of the National Assembly to increase budgetary allocation of sports, Senator Alkali, proved that he has an in-depth knowledge of Nigerian sports. Read on:

Problems of Nigerian sports
We have been discussing with sports administrators in Nigeria and we have told them that something was fundamentally wrong with our sports, especially football. With what we have seen, I think sports administration has been our major problem in Nigeria. We have to look into it to correct the anomalies. For example, it was hard to believe that Nigeria did not qualify for almost all the football tournaments taking place this year. The trauma was too much for the entire nation. It was even more painful for a country that sees football and sports as uniting instruments than politics.

Considering the way we fall by the way sides last year, we have to go back to the basis to restructure the game, especially our approach to sports administration. We have to be serious about talent hunt at the grassroots and focus more on the development of the games. We must also look at the entire structure of our domestic league, which should be the supply link to the national teams.
National Assembly on restructuring sports
Although we have statutory empowerment to approve budgetary allocations according to priority, I don’t think any Nigerian would feel bad if sports gets high allocation considering the fact that sports is our unifying factor. However, the National Assembly will study the situation carefully because sports is a very complex area.

The biggest problem we have in our football for instance is the threat of sanctions from FIFA or CAF. We are looking at the regulatory provisions of all these international sports organisations and I can assure you that we will soon come up with something. Once we are able to sort things out, we will look into the possibilities of making laws to bring back the glorious days of Nigerian football and sports generally.

Decree 101 and its problems
The National Assembly had repealed Decree 101, but unfortunately, the government of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo (retd) refused to sign it into law. The implication is that the decree would still go through another legislative procedure before we could repeal it. It is very important we amend the decree so that Nigerian football can move forward.
No outstanding player in Eagles
It would be very difficult for me to pick any player in the current Super Eagles’ team as my best player. I have watched all of them play, especially for the national team, but I have not seen any player that is seriously committed and patriotic to the course of Nigeria. It really calls for worry. What they give to their clubs are far above what they give to the country.

I felt sad watching the Super Eagles, especially during the crucial Nations Cup game against Guinea last year. They gave Nigeria so little, only to go back to start firing from all cylinder for their clubs. Picking any of them as an outstanding player is like giving a national honour to an undeserving person. I have not seen any current Nigerian player that is ready to die for the country while in the green and white jersey.
During the glorious days of Nigerian football, players like Victor Ikpeba, Rashidi Yekini, Daniel Amokachi, Nwankwo Kanu, among others, were all winning the African footballers awards, but today, none of the current Eagles is even good enough to be nominated for the award let alone winning it. So, I have not seen any players among the current Eagles I would pick as an outstanding footballer.
Feeling over loss of Nations Cup ticket

The entire Senate felt bad about Nigeria missing the 2012 Nations Cup. The Senate President (David Mark) and most of us watched live the game in Abuja, where Guinea denied us the Nations Cup ticket. We all went back home disappointed.
The Senate is seriously worried over the dismal performance of our football teams. The Senate leadership has ordered the Committee on Sports to review the entire scenario and come up with a blueprint on the future of sports in Nigeria. It has never been so bad, especially for Nigerian football. We have continued to drop in world rankings.

The worrisome thing, however, is that talents are not in short supply in the country, yet the complexities and complications of the politics of the game wouldn’t allow us to explore the talents in the country. All I can tell Nigerians now is to take heart and accept the situation in the spirit of sportsmanship.
Samson Siasia’s sack
It was the case of Siasia’s sack that made me to cite the example of international sports regulatory bodies’ activities. The National Assembly did not interfere to save Siasia’s job because we are aware of the implications of the interference in the running of the game. We did not want to compound the whole issue.
We know that Siasia may not entirely be the only reason we missed the ticket to the Nations Cup, therefore, it would not have been right to sacrifice him alone at the mercy of the array of international stars that actually dragged the name of the country in the mud.

We would have held him responsible for making a wrong choice if he had actually fielded substandard or unfit players for that game. But we should not hold him responsible or have sacrificed him even when he featured all our best legs in Europe, only to get that disappointment.
The situation actually fuelled the debate on if we needed a foreign coach or should we continue with our local hands. We did not, however, delve extensively into the sacking of Coach Siasia because we want to avoid seeing people accusing us of interfering in the running of football in the country.

We, however, did what we ought to do by inviting the then sports minister, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) board and other stakeholders to discuss the problems of Nigerian football and sports generally.
We must accept the realities that Siasia is gone and Keshi is now in charge. The good thing is that Keshi is as good as Siasia. What the players and coaches must avoid is gambling with the feelings, emotions and aspirations of millions of Nigerians.

Stakeholders’ requests
One problem they highlighted was the inability to repeal Decree 101. The House has equally promised them to start the parliamentary procedure on it. They also mentioned the issue of funding, but we noticed that sometimes, funding was not really the problem. For example, it would be wrong to blame the failure of the Dream Team V and the Super Eagles to qualify for their tournaments on funding. The federation gave them all that was required but the teams failed to give back what was expected of them.

If the Senate decides to vote trillion of naira to sports and at the end the player and administrators did not do much to justify the amount, who do we blame? There’re other areas of the economic competing for the meagre resources. However, we will continue to advocate for a bigger budgetary allocations to sports on the condition that they would give Nigerians something that is commensurate to the funds approved for them.
We will continue to work together to find a lasting solution to the problems of sports in Nigeria, because the department is a special area and a strong instrument to project the image of the country. Sports is a force in terms of social cohesion. The Sports Ministry is even more potent than the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and that of Information combined in terms of projection of the image of the country. It is a viable tool we can effectively use to launder the image of the country and equally bring Nigerians under one umbrella.
Bill to split football and Sports Ministry

I would gladly sponsor a bill to take our football away from the Sports Ministry if it becomes very necessary, because several people have told us that the ministry has become too large to manage. I won’t mind if there would be such a bill to separate football from the Sports Ministry to make soccer independent in the country.
Football is an employer of human capital. Don’t forget that our footballers abroad also contribute to the development of the economy. They invest and create employment for Nigerians.

Hiring of foreign coach
I’m not an apostle of hiring foreign coaches. My belief is that Keshi is a foreign coach, having handled many national teams outside Nigeria. Since most African countries have indigenous coaches handling their senior national teams, we must also engage our own indigenous hands. Since we have many ex-internationals, we must engage them since they can equally make good coaches. All we need is a coach who can get the best commitment from the players. I believe in hiring the best Nigerian hands.

If we can only provide Keshi with the right working environment, I don’t see why he should fail to deliver. I didn’t see any deficiency in him considering his tract records. So long as he did not join the politics of the game in compromising in the selection of the right players, or failing to put adequate disciplinary measure in place, I have no fears, he will succeed.

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