Politics Nigeria — July 25, 2010 at 4:08 PM

The reckoning of a leader

Fédération Internationale de Football Association (French), meaning International Federation of Association Football (commonly known as FIFA) is the international governing body of association football (soccer). Headquartered in Zürich, Switzerland it is responsible for the organization and governance of soccer’s major international tournaments, most notably the FIFA World Cup, held since 1930. It has 208 member associations, three more than the International Olympic Committee and five fewer than the International Association of Athletics Federations. By all account, it is a major world sports authority.

So, when popular and newly sworn-in President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria ordered his country’s soccer ruling body, Nigeria Football Association (NFA), to withdraw from all FIFA-organized events, and that the ban would be in effect for two years, he inadvertently started a war with FIFA. Expectedly, FIFA did not like Jonathan’s decision and swiftly threatened to ban Nigeria from all of its events if Jonathan did not reverse the decision. Suddenly Jonathan found himself at the center of an unintended showdown with FIFA. Question was who would blink first: FIFA or President Jonathan?

You see, Jonathan’s action did not take place in a vacuum. The decision was a reaction to the woeful performance of Nigeria’s national soccer team, Super Eagles, at the recently concluded FIFA 2010 World Cup tournament in South Africa. The dismal performance of the team shocked and embarrassed Nigerians at home and around the world. After the ban by Jonathan sports critics and some media talk heads (in Nigeria and international) pounced on the issue like hungry lions on red meat. The critics argue that Jonathan over reacted, and had no business injecting himself into Nigeria’s soccer or sports. I disagree.

If Jonathan, as Nigeria’s leader, perceives that his country is not headed in the right direction in a certain area of its affairs (be it soccer or otherwise), he has the right to do something about it. My only beef with his decision on the ban was on its mode of execution. By giving the ban a time-line Jonathan boxed himself in. The right approach would have been to make the ban indefinite, that way he would have room to maneuver vis-à-vis when to lift it. Consequently, whenever he decides to lift the ban it would not look as if he bowed to pressure from any individual or body of individuals. Obviously, his adviser(s) on the matter did not properly think the decision through.

However, despite the initial minor misstep in execution Jonathan should be commended for swiftly tackling the matter head-on. Instead of bickering about whether he should have issued the ban or not Nigerians should be content they have a president who cares enough about the country’s pastime sport to the extent that he took action to resolve what amounted to an international embarrassment. Had Jonathan been mute on the matter and went about tackling other affairs of the state, as if the soccer international embarrassment in South Africa was inconsequential, the same critics that took jabs at him would have been the ones to also quickly condemn him for lack of empathy.

Recall that President Barak Obama of United States is accused by his critics of not showing enough commiseration to the April 20 British Petroleum (BP) oil spill disaster which occurred forty miles off Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 oil rig workers. According to the critics, Obama did not respond quickly enough when news of the oil spill tragedy first broke out. In fact, some of Obama’s detractors are now referring to the oil spill disaster as “Obama’s Katrina”, accusing him of being too professorial and detached in his response to the catastrophe. Katrina is the name of the 2005 hurricane which unleashed havoc in Louisiana State, especially in the Greater New Orleans area. Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush on whose watch hurricane Katrina came about is widely regarded in United States of having dropped the ball in the handling of that cataclysm.

To be fair, it is worth stating that Obama is all over the BP oil disaster. He has visited the affected areas in Louisiana twice and has put the feet of BP and its executives to the fire regarding the matter. So far Obama is handling the crisis well. The only area he fell short was his slight delay in wading into the matter, but this is subject to debate because what constitutes one man’s delay may be another’s timely response. Against this backdrop, Jonathan’s quick response to the Super Eagles’ disconcerting performance in South Africa should be commended.

Further, Jonathan has also rescinded the two-year ban which he imposed on the NFA. In a statement, Jonathan’s office said the decision came after a meeting Monday, July 5 with the Nigeria Football Federation. To appease Jonathan and his government the NFA’s executive committee fired the group’s president and vice president and assured Jonathan of their commitment to building a national soccer program “that will bring glory, rather than consistent embarrassment to Nigeria on the world stage.” At the very least, the now rescinded ban by Jonathan sent a strong signal to NFA, resulting in its leadership embarking in some form of reform and reconstruction. Hopefully, the sacking of the association’s president and vice president is only the first step in getting the West African oil-rich nation back on track in soccer. It will take more than sacrificing the sports federation’s president and his vice to get the job done. More needs to be done, including the fumigation of NFA for corruption.

Leadership, like communication, is a two-way traffic. On one side is the leader and on the other is the led. Leadership is not only about giving orders and expecting it to be carried out. It is also about the leader listening to the led and by so doing use what is gained in the process to formulate better policies to benefit the led. After the controversial ban and FIFA’s consequent reaction, most Nigerians wanted Jonathan to nullify the ban because they didn’t want any part of FIFA’S punishment. Jonathan, like a good leader, listened to the voice of the people when he annulled his earlier decision thereby revealing evidence of good leadership prowess, which has become a scarce commodity amongst most of today’s world leaders.

By not delaying his decision to repeal the ban Jonathan set his ego aside on the matter. As president of Africa’s most populous nation and second most populous country within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and fifth largest exporter of crude oil to the United States he could have easily allowed the big ego associated with that grandiose title to harden his heart not to vacate the ban. Realizing the negative implication of such a ban he, instead, chose not to flex muscle with FIFA, putting his country first.

Clearly such act was born out of intellect and patriotism rather than on emotion. Good for him, good for Nigeria.

Share Button

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *