By Ismaila Chafe, Abuja.
President Muhammadu Buhari says football remains the number one sport in Nigeria and a national asset, vowing that his administration will resist any attempt to undermine its development.
The president made the declaration when he received the 10-year Football Development Masterplan, submitted by the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, on Tuesday in Abuja.
While describing football as “our passion and a major tool for unity”, Buhari said: “It is the responsibility of the government to safeguard the sport, which has brought Nigeria many laurels, and treat it as a national asset.
“Indeed, just as I expect and demand a higher standard of patriotism, responsibility and commitment from those charged with the administration of our football.”
The president also urged all stakeholders to work together constructively and patriotically.
“We have seen attempts to disrespect and undermine the institutions supervising our sports.
“We have seen attempts to subjugate national interest for narrow interest or disrespect the laws of Nigeria. Nigeria will not take lightly any attempt to inflict injury on its football fortunes,” he added.
Buhari also used the occasion to spell out his expectations from the two-volume report.
He directed the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to commence its implementation in phases.
He said that this should be carried out within the fine lines of relevant sections of the Nigerian laws on sports development and the statutes of the world soccer governing body, FIFA.
“This government is interested in developing a football culture that will accommodate global best practices.
“This will also help the nation to lay a solid foundation for domestic football and to put in place professionally and efficiently run leagues.
“It will also help in entrenching a consistent and stable football calendar and create a value chain which will boost the sports ecosystem,” he said.
Buhari said that achieving this would guarantee desired progress in continental and international competitions.
He said: “I know that a lot of work went into putting this 10-year masterplan together.
“I received regular briefings on the work being done and I am happy that our goal has been achieved.”
The president expressed delight that the masterplan enjoyed the inputs of a wide range of stakeholders in the football circles.
“I am equally happy that the Nigerian Football 10-Year Masterplan (2022-2032) identified 15 key areas of challenge.
“It has also provided practical recommendations to address these fundamental problems that have bedevilled football development in the country.
“The implementation of the short-term and medium-term plans should commence.
“I believe this will signal a positive turning point for our football and a major step forward, in our bid to create a conducive environment for its sustainability, viability and profitability.
“The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), the body charged with the development of our football, is directed to own and commence the implementation of this masterplan under the supervision of the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development.”
Buhari, who reviewed the state of the football game in the country, expressed concern that in the past years, football development had gradually become stunted, due to the neglect of the core orientation of football administration.
He described the governance structure around Nigeria’s domestic league as weak, adding that “standards are conveniently compromised.”
He, however, expressed delight that these issues and many more have been addressed in the masterplan.
The president, therefore, urged the NFF to salvage the domestic league at all levels, saying: “Nigeria’s football development must return to the path of focus on grassroots and youth development and an overall good governance structure around every level of its development. Nigeria now expects results.”
On the forthcoming NFF executive election, Buhari reiterated his earlier communication to the body on the need for a more equitable and democratic representation in the executive congress of the NFF.
According to him, this will ensure that critical stakeholders are not shut out and the most capable. while competent men and women are elected to run the affairs of the federation.
“This government has demonstrated political will. It will match it up with making the right laws and investments and work with critical stakeholders.
“I thank FIFA for its support and commitment to the development of Nigerian football, which has been longstanding.
“I trust it will partner with Nigeria in its effort to improve the fundamentals of its football development,” he said.
In his remarks, the sports minister announced that the Buhari-administration had disbursed over N15 billion to NFF through budgetary appropriations and presidential interventions in the last seven years.
He commended the president for the attention given to football development in the country and for laying a solid foundation for the growth of the game.
Dare described the 10-year masterplan, which took the Ibrahim Galadima-led 16-member committee six months to prepare, as “a world-class document.”
The minister said the prescriptions set forth in the masterplan, if followed through with the needed will and determination, would set Nigeria’s football on a very sure footing and position it among the best in the world.
He added that the implementation of the masterplan would resolve most issues around the status of the domestication of Nigerian laws, NFF statutes, in line with FIFA statutes and create room for harmonious relationships in the football value chain of this country.
Dare said: “The Masterplan is envisioned to encapsulate functional strategies that would outlast the current administration and firmly place Nigerian football on the path to sustainable growth and development.
“Mr President, with your approval, this document will be presented to the Federal Executive Council for approval and future funding, so that the implementation of the short, medium and long term plans can commence, as part of the legacies of this administration.
“Thereafter, this document will be handed over to our football administrators, that is the NFF, which shall be expected to implement key elements of this report in stages.”
The minister pledged that the ministry would monitor the faithful implementation of the masterplan.
According to him, this will ensure that attention is paid to the business opportunities along the value chain, governance structure, standardisation, and prioritisation of the welfare of footballers, education and awareness.
“Focus will be on building capacity for sustainable, strategic youth development programmes, efficient club administration and positive stakeholders’ engagement.
“These would include referees, players’ unions, coaches’ associations, supporters, investors, local and international partnerships and collaborations,” he said.
Dare also said that one of the most important aspects of the committee’s work was the legal regime around football in Nigeria.
He added that the masterplan made some far-reaching recommendations on laws and statutes governing the football administration in the country.
He stressed that subject to the final decision of the NFF Congress, the masterplan made recommendations for the expansion of the constituents for the NFF Elective Congress and Executive Board to 111 and 16 respectively, in order to meet new realities and needs.
Galadima, a former Chairman of the Nigeria Football Association (NFA), noted that re-engineering the legal framework would put to rest the legality issues surrounding the NFF.
He said the masterplan also recommended improving the tactical depth of coaches through utilising the core mandate of National Institute of Sports and pragmatic sports programmes.
It also recommended regulating the operations of academies and grassroots-based programmes, Galadima added.