A FEW weeks ago, I received a call from ex-International football star, Segun Odegbami. We had not spoken for a while, but it turned out to be a very long discussion. Odegbami informed me of an audacious bid to run for presidency of the international football body, FIFA! It appeared such a daunting proposition and one would have thought that he was joking but clearly he was not!
Segun Odegbami is very serious about the bid. He had reminded me of the plan he proposed a couple of years ago, to get West African countries to jointly host the FIFA World Cup and he really did a major mobilization work for his avant-garde plan which eventually did not fly, because the Nigerian government backed out and had chosen to back the South African bid which resulted in the first World Cup in Africa, in 2010.
But Segun Odegbami is a man of remarkable courage and of very lofty ideas and he is very convinced that the present combination factors in the administration of the beautiful game, offers him the best opportunity to pitch for FIFA Presidency and he is convinced that he could win! But between now and the elections next year, there is certainly a lot to do.
Support for grassroots sports
My relationship with Segun Odegbami dates back to my editorship of DAILY TRUST newspaper. I have always been a sports enthusiast and believe firmly that sports reporting and commentary were very important in building a successful newspaper. So I set out to reform and improve our sports desk but I wanted a commentator who had an understanding of sports development in Northern Nigeria and Segun Odegbami perfectly fitted the bill. He was born in Jos, speaks excellent Hausa; played sports in the North and knew many of the remarkable sportsmen from the region, understood the context of sports in the North and above all, he was an ex-International who wrote regularly! We hit it out from the first time we met and he accepted the invitation to write a column for us, a column that is still running today. Over the years, we have become very firm friends, we regularly discuss Nigerian sports and I have no doubt in my mind that Segun Odegbami combines the intellect; passion and the tremendous record to genuinely make the pitch to be FIFA President.
In truth, I think someone like Segun Odegbami should in fact be playing a very central role in the re-organization of Nigerian sports given the way things have deteriorated over the past two decades at least. He has roots in school sports and has also been involved in sponsorship of schools and grassroots sports, including founding a secondary school that combines sports with education for Nigerian youth. So between attempting to become FIFA President and playing a very important role in re-organising Nigerian sports, Segun Odegbami has a very important role to play and I support the audacious pitch he is making to be FIFA President. Afterall, in life who dares, wins and Segun Odegbami is expressing the audacity of hope at the highest level of the beautiful game, a game he played for our country to become one of our best sportsmen ever!
But Segun Odegbami is not alone in the Nigerian bid for the Presidency of FIFA. I have read that former Abia state governor Orji Uzor Kalu is also making a very serious bid for the position. I have never met him. But a few weeks ago, I met former sports administrator, Amos Adamu on a flight to Ilorin. He told me that he had just returned the previous day from Cameroun, where he met with the Confederation of African Football (CAF) helmsman, Issa Hayatou. The mission to Cameroun was to lobby for Orji Uzor Kalu’s candidacy which Amos Adamu told me was a very serious one.
Again, he reminded that the present crisis within the FIFA leadership offered an unusual opportunity that might just allowed an African outsider to become FIFA President. Kalu seems a passionate supporter of football too and as governor of Abia State, he provided the financial, technical and administrative support for the Eyimba football Club of Aba to reach the pinnacle of African football. Amos Adamu reminded me that pitching for FIFA Presidency requires a tremendous ability to network with footballing stakeholders from around the world as well as a financial clout which he said that Orji Uzor Kalu possesses abundantly.
Football administration in crisis
I think these are really interesting times in the history of the administration of football. FIFA President Sepp Blatter has been suspended from all football activities for ninety days just as UEFA boss, Michel Platini, who was seen as the frontrunner for the FIFA presidency, has also been suspended. Even though the two gentlemen have appealed their ban, the truth is that football administration is locked in a major crisis, related largely to the success that has followed the transition that football has been taken at the summit of world sports, as the most important sports event on earth.
Under Blatter’s leadership, football got a lot of sponsorships and endorsements and as the monies rolled in, the Blatter leadership put a lot into the development of the game especially in the developing countries of Africa and Asia. The administration of the game was put on a sound financial footing around the world while technical support was also given to even the smallest countries to be able to develop their facilities and talent.
The World Cup was taken into areas of the world that hitherto won’t have received a look in, in the areas of hosting the fiesta. In all these democratic developments in football administration and development, the old powers of Europe saw their influence wane and they began a vicious propaganda onslaught against the FIFA leadership. And in a most arrogant deployment of imperialist power, the Americans, who are not a footballing power whatsoever, have extended their police functions beyond their territory to arrest FIFA operatives accused of alleged corrupt practices.
There is a deliberate effort to takeover the administration of FIFA and consequently the threat of the re-introduction of the hegemony of the old colonial powers in the running of the beautiful game. This is the backdrop for the Nigerian challenge being posed by Orji Uzor Kalu and Segun Odegbami.
Buhari’s mind on Lake Chad
ON Monday this week, President Muhammadu Buhari received the report of the Environmental Audit on the Drying-up of the Lake Chad, carried out by the member nations of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) member-countries. He remarked that Nigeria does not only contribute 40% of the Commission’s budget, but was also committed to offering effective leadership in the fight against insurgency and other environmental issues of the Sahel region.
Significantly, Buhari expressed “personal knowledge”, on the basis of an article which he read, about a 1925 forecast by a University of London professor, indicating that Lake Chad was endangered and could dry up. He had handed former President Obasanjo the article, while Obasanjo’s administration had spent $5million on the study on diverting waters from rivers in the Central African Republic. It is a significant development that President Buhari has shown an interest in the environmental, economic and security implications of the state of the Lake Chad.
The Nigerian National Audit Report pointed out that the Lake Chad is fast disappearing, from 25, 000 sq. km in 1963 to about 1, 500 sq. km today. The Lake Chad basin area is estimated to have a population of about 37 million people and over 60 million heads of cattle are also located in the region. Similarly, some statistics show that annual fish production on the lake ranged between 130, 000 and 140, 000 tons during the 1970s; these had shrunk to an average of about 84, 000 tons between 1986 and 2013. The lake has been severely hurt as a result of unregulated human activities such as excessive water extraction, construction of dams, often without environmental impact studies as well as the diversion of rivers. Many of those who have studied the Boko Haram insurgency have pointed to the huge environmental disaster in the Lake Chad basin and the impact on the lives of millions of people as one of the many trigger points for the Boko Haram insurgency. In the same way that migrating nomadic groups have been locked into often, violent conflicts, with sedentary farming communities far away from their homes, in the centre and south of Nigeria.
Lake Chad and security issues
It is therefore clear that the fate of the Lake Chad and the livelihood it has always given to millions of people have a very central role in the security architecture of Nigeria and other countries in the basin. This has become very urgent with the Boko Haram insurgency and the ways it has affected countries in the basin. One of the most important issues remains the diversion of waters from rivers in the Central African Republic, estimated to cost between $13billion and $15billion. And in order to be able to pull through this ambitious project of water diversion, there would be need to allay fears of the countries in the Congo Basin on the environmental impact while they must be politically mobilised for support for the project to divert waters to the Lake Chad. The money needed is a lot and the economic condition of the Lake Chad Basin countries makes it almost impossible for the project to divert water to be carried out, unless support can be secured from donors, who are not believed to be enthusiastic about the project.
It is therefore a thing of joy that President Buhari seems to understand the importance of the Lake Chad Basin and has taken a very early interest in it. It is a problem that I have also been worried about over the past few decades. We had commissioned a number of reports on the lake over the past couple of years as well as written editorials on the reclamation of the lake. The Lake Chad has supported more than forty million people and millions of animals over a long period and its crises today affect the wellbeing of millions of our compatriots.
In truth, it is an environmental, economic and security crises which demands the most farsighted leadership and forthright action to begin a process of retrieval and restitution that can redound to the benefit of the peoples of the basin and our country. That is why we should thank God that President Buhari is thinking about the Lake Chad so early in his presidency.