Orji Uzor Kalu and Segun Odegbami: The Nigerian FIFA presidency challenge

4 mins read

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!

Odegbami and Kalu

 

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.

 

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