I feel sorry for the manager of the U-23 national football team, Samson Siasia. The same demons that hunted down Stephen Keshi and Ahmadu Shuaibu are coming for him. And they are determined to get him.
But he’s a small fry – their real target is the soul of Nigeria.
We know the Keshi-Shuaibu story too well – two casualties of the system, who died within a week of each other after emptying themselves for their country.
Keshi played for Nigeria and became one of the most outstanding defenders of his generation. He later became coach and, against all odds, the first Nigerian coach to win the African nation’s cup. He was also the first black coach to go beyond the group stages in the World Cup.
You may say Keshi was conceited but arrogance was his defence against a hopelessly callous system. He won many games and lost some, but he lost the biggest game of all – against the principalities and powers of Nigerian football. At his burial, not a single federal sports administrator was present to plant even a stick.
Shuaibu was different in a way. He was not a player. He coached; and even though he got kicked up and down the coaching ladder, no one could question his devotion and patriotism. Like Keshi after him, he also lost the biggest game of all – against the principalities and powers of Nigerian football. When he died, they also interred his service with him.
They’ve come for Siasia, the face of Nigeria’s youth football. I have known Siasia since our days in Gaskiya College, Badiya, Lagos. He minds his business and, as far as I can remember, keeps his head when others are losing theirs.
But it seems he’s had it up to his ear. From his interview with Vanguard after the Dream Team VI finished with bronze in Rio, Siasia is returning fire for fire; he’s telling all and daring the vested interests in Nigerian football administration to do their worst.
The Boy from Ugbewankwo in the Lagos-suburb of Ajegunle is not leaving without a fight.
He is owed five months’ pay, but that is the least of the indignities that he must bear. The football mafia dons that should have been lined up at the stake by now are all over the place, accusing Siasia of human trafficking. They are also very upset that the coach and his team did not accept to fly in the matchbox plane they provided from Atlanta to Sao Paulo.
His contract is over and without the decency to thank him or pay what they owe him, they can’t wait to bury his reputation. Why are we like this? Why do we repay honest service with hate and contempt?
Siasia has been involved with different levels of the junior national teams for over ten years now. He took the U-20 team to the finals of the World Cup in 2005 and won Olympic silver medal in 2008. He used his own money to set up a youth academy in Abuja and many young people will remember him for touching and changing their lives. Siasia has remained one of the most dominant influences in youth football in the last decade.
That Nigeria snatched bronze from Rio is down largely to his inspiring leadership. After being stranded in Atlanta, strapped for cash to pay their hotel bills in Sao Paulo and left on the verge of rebellion in their quarterfinals match, it took Siasia’s intervention for the players to rally again. Bronze may look like scrap metal now, but it could have been worse without this coach.
Apart from the bronze, the only other thing that gave us any sense of comfort was the hope that those responsible for Riolgotha would be held to account. Our hope was that Rio would be the end of the “mafia.” We thought that those who frustrated Keshi and Shuaibu and hastened their deaths only to hide behind a finger would finally be exposed and punished.
Now they’re digging in and turning the tables.
Too bad if the government is not prepared to unmask them. But the demons in sports administration can no longer get away with metaphors and obscurity. No more. We must call them by their names and hold them to account: Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, and the head of Nigerian Olympic Committee, Habu Gumel, are responsible for the disaster in Rio and their positions are no longer tenable.
Why should Siasia be the scapegoat while Dalung gets red carpet treatment in Aso Rock? Why does the sports minister think that he can explain away the shame in Rio under presidential cover? Where is the money that was sent to fly the team from Atlanta to Sao Paulo? Where is the money that was to have been used to pay the team’s hotel bill? Why did Team Nigeria’s official dresses arrive three days to the end of Rio?
Dalung can speak Rhorlese all he wants since his testosterones are obviously high on the new foreign coach to replace Siasia. But he and the NOC must tell Nigeria why they could not manage a disaster that they worked so hard to bring about. If President Muhammadu Buhari will not ask them, then the National Assembly should.
As for Siasia, I hope he doesn’t make the mistake of Keshi. If the Big Boss had stuck to his guns and refused to withdraw his resignation after winning the Nations Cup in South Africa, his fortune might have been different. He allowed the mafia in high places to entice him with empty promises of reconciliation only for them to hang him out to dry in the end.
I hope Siasia can see that Dalung represents the worst face of football administration and all its past demons. If after saying he is done with coaching Nigeria, Siasia later falls for the bait to try again, he would have no one but himself to blame for what happens afterwards.
Dalung’s position is untenable. His continued stay as sports minister does not do Buhari, sports administration or Nigeria any credit.
Ishiekwene is the MD/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview magazine and board member of the Paris-based Global Editor’s Network.