By Nelson Ekujumi
The Yoruba nation of South West Nigeria have a proverb which goes thus “Ti egbin nla ba gbe ni soo lee, kekere a ma gun” which literally means that “when you are bedeviled by a big problem, insignificant ones will also surface to keep you down”. This proverb succinctly captures my anger and annoyance at the recent corruption allegation leveled against our football by the former Super Eagles coach, Clemence Westerhof in the media.
While one cannot but agree in totality with the allegation raised by Mr. Westerhof, in view of the fact that it is not only our football that is affected but the whole body polity of the Nigerian state is being ravaged by this canker worm called corruption which has held us down and turned us all into an embarrassment in the comity of serious people. But the truth of the matter is that Mr. Westerhof lacks the moral integrity to accuse anybody of corruption in view of his incontrovertible corrupt nature while he was the technical adviser of the Super Eagles.
While I was growing up as a boy, my father used to admonish that those who live in glass houses don’t throw stones, hence am puzzled by this allegation coming from Mr. Westerhof of all people. Is it that this man who loves the klieg light like no man’s business, and whom some of us wish is consigned to the dust bin of our football history just wants to remind us once again that we shouldn’t forget that he’s still very much around and relevant now that our football is stuttering?
One thing which is very germane to human existence is that it is human to err and divine to forgive and so no one should take the forgiving nature of the average Nigerian for granted by insulting our sensibilities when in actual fact, the state that we all are today was laid by the actions or inactions of those who were saddled with the constitutional responsibilities to lead us right.
That Mr. Clemence Westerhof is crying wolf now is akin to the same hypocritical cries of former President Olusegun Obasanjo now on national issues because we will continue to ask what they did to tame this monster when they were in office or is it that it is just rearing its ugly head now which we all know is not the case?
With all modesty, I make bold to state that the high level of corruption that has come to stay till today in our national teams through the coaches started with Mr. Westerhof management of the senior national team during the military era. Before him there were foreign technical advisers who were incorruptible and decent like Father Tiko, Manfred Hoener, etc. Mr. Clemence Westerhof presided over the managership of the Nigerian Senior national team in a corrupt manner never witnessed in the annals of our football history and at a period when corruption was institutionalized as a state policy. The manner of the administration of our football just like in other facets of our life was an aberration. When Westerhof was in the saddle, he had unconstitutional and direct access to then military Vice President, late Admiral Augustus Aikhomu instead of his employers, the football federation for management and disbursement of funds of which he was accountable to no one but himself and we are all living witness to the profligacy which characterized public office during the infamous Ibrahim Babangida era. The height of the abnormality perpetuated by Westerhof was that he became the chief accounting officer of the National team at the expense of his job as chief coach.
I also recollect vividly that there were discrepancies in the amount of money collected as match bonuses by Mr. Westerhof and the amount he publicly acknowledged to the team which was one of the sources of friction that affected their performance at the 1994 USA World Cup competition. The team led by Mr. Westerhof failed at the world stage mainly because of the indiscipline which he had built into the team and culminated in the establishment of player’s cliques and mafias that is still with us till date.
Apart from the above corrupt practices of Mr. Westerhof as technical adviser, he also undermined the soccer career of many players in the Super Eagles by blackmailing and intimidating them to the extent that unless, he manages their professional career with foreign clubs, then they should forget about playing for the Super Eagles. This he also carried further by abusing his position then to lure Nigerian players into slave contracts with foreign clubs which earned him and Mr. Johannes Bonfere a coaching ban from Europe by the European football governing body as a result of the Tijani Babangida saga in Holland then.
Yes, it’s true that Westerhof saw corruption in our football and perpetuated it and I could go on and on reeling out names of players who were denied playing opportunities in the Super Eagles by Mr. Clemence Westerhof just because they refused to succumb to his corrupt intimidating and blackmailing tactics. We can still remember that he was one and the only foreign technical adviser who had running battles with his players because of his business interest which some of us were privy to and who was controversial in all ramifications.
Characters like Mr. Clemence Westerhof can only function in a system that lacks discipline, transparency, orderliness, prudence and accountability like Nigeria, which explains his lightening exit from coaching jobs in South Africa, Egypt and Zimbabwe, hence he returned to take up the Soccer Academy job in Kwara state having realized that he’s a pariah in the coaching job outside our clime.
Since the exit of Mr. Westerhof as the manager of the Super Eagles in 1994, local coaches who have come after him in managing the team, have followed in his corrupt footsteps of conflict of interest by operating business interest as unlicensed football agents and using the National football teams to parade and market their “players” at the expense of the wish and aspirations of Nigerians for quality and fit players to adorn the national jersey which is responsible for the continued woeful display by the senior national till date.
That there is corruption in Nigerian football is stating the obvious because if the whole fish is rotten, no part of it can be immuned because Nigerian football is a part of the Nigerian state and this explains why our football is in a pitiable state because even to ourselves, we are dishonest. We run a football system that is built and sustained on fraud. We hire coaches on reasons other than merit, players bribe to play, officials draw up team list instead of coaches, football association money grow wings without anybody batting an eye lid, football management is paddy paddy arrangement, we cheat in age grade competitions and yet applaud as if it’s normal. A shameless dimension to this issue is when you point out this abnormality and its effect but some conscienceless characters come out to call you names and caution you to be patriotic because according to them, others are doing same. My answer is usually to go scriptural by quoting the bible verse which says thus “Truth exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people”. Hence our sorry football condition today and hope we still remember the Dahiru Sadi, Philip Osondu, Fortune Chukwudi ages saga among several others?
For the records, we don’t need a Clemence Westerhof to raise an alarm of corruption in our football because we all know how he helped water it. We are more interested in getting rid of this virus ravaging our body polity of which our football is a minute part. If Mr. Westerhof is looking for relevance now, my candid advice is that he seeks it elsewhere because we have left his era in the past.
(Ekujumi writes from 26a Adesina Street, Ikeja, Lagos and can be reached on: 08023172694, 07033853232)