A Concept Called YT (Yar'Adua Time)

A concept called YT (Yar'Adua Time) 

Sonala Olumhense


Next month, a FIFA delegation will appear in Nigeria for a visit. I expect them to be treated like Saudi royalty. 

That would not be because we love football. We do. The festivities will be in the spirit of rebranding Nigeria, because those officials will determine whether our nation will host the Under-17 tournament in October. 

Last month, Mr. Jack Warner, the FIFA Vice-President and Chairman of the Organising Committee for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, came close to ending the charade. An avowed lover of Nigerian soccer, he had led the May inspection team to Nigeria.

"From an objective point of view, Nigeria is not ready to host the tournament," he told the press. "But I am a man who has always believed in Nigeria and there have been some signs of hope and commitment."

On the basis of his recommendation, FIFA then granted Nigeria one month of grace, until July.

But I think FIFA is wasting time. Let us remember that Mr. Warner and his team were also in Nigeria in January. After he had undertaken that month's scheduled inspection, we were stunned that he was shocked that we were not ready. 

Said Mr. Warner of his experience, "We are not happy with what we saw. I have always been with Nigeria. I wanted Nigeria to win against Italy in USA in 1994. I was there in 1996 when Nigeria won the Olympics gold. I was with Nigeria in Korea when the Eaglets lifted the Under-17 Cup. I love Nigeria. I want to go back to FIFA and say Nigeria can do it a second time…Please, get started with the work at these stadiums and let us fulfill the promise of Africa hosting all three World Cups in 2009 and 2010."

I noted, there and then, that the FIFA chief did not ask Nigeria merely to finish ongoing work. His chosen words were: "Get started."

But Mr. Warner left Nigeria with a positive pledge at the highest level. Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, who leads the national preparations, told him: "We know what is expected and we promise those things will be in place by the time you return.

"It is a promise," Mr. Jonathan emphasized. "The importance of football to the Nigerian people cannot be undermined and that is the more reason we will ensure massive improvement."

Mark the date: January 2009. Two months later, in mid-March, a worried FIFA tried the additional tactic of asking Amos Adamu, Nigeria's FIFA Executive Committee member, to provide weekly reports on Nigeria's preparations. That was code language for: "Get your people moving!"

I doubt that Dr. Adamu cared, or had time. A few days after receiving this assignment, about $200,000 t0 $400,000 in FIFA grants that had been curiously held in cash at the Secretariat of the Nigeria Football Federation in Abuja, disappeared. 

Adamu, remember, had run Nigerian sports, mostly into irrelevance, for nearly 20 years, amassing wealth unmolested during that period. That was until he was removed as Director of Sports of the National Sports Commission late last year. 

All-powerful in national sports, he littered the sports landscape with cronies and relatives. It came as no surprise that the principal suspect in the case of the vanishing FIFA funds was a nephew of his. And yes, the gentleman had received the money for official business from another NFF employee who just happened to be Adamu's brother-in-law. Adamu, according to reports, was livid that powerful men he had placed in the Federation had not protected the suspect. 

In other words, I doubt that between March and May, Adamu's focus was whether Nigeria hosted an U-17 soccer tournament or not. For two decades he had seen sports through the prism of power; what did he care about the precincts of performance?

And so, five months after Vice-President Jonathan's snake-oil promise to FIFA, Mr. Warner returned to Nigeria to find no "massive improvement." As a result, we now have but a month to reinstate our credibility before the world.

This time, there is no margin for error, either: when FIFA inspects the venues in July, every one of them must be pronounced 100% ready: no ifs, no waits, and no buts. If a single one of them fails, FIFA will award the hosting rights to another country, and Nigeria will absorb the embarrassment.

Will Nigeria meet this deadline? 

I think FIFA is just being polite. As much as the Federation's President, Mr. Sepp Blatter, had wanted all three men's competitions (U-17, U-20 and the World Cup) to be held on African soil in 2009 and 2010, I do not think they are holding their breath that Nigeria will do in one month what it failed to do in two years. Nigeria signed the Declaration and Guarantees for the championship in March 2007. 

But that was a different government, and Nigerian governments resent the concept of responsibility, particularly inherited responsibility. All over Nigeria is evidence of responsibilities ignored. This is our normal state. That is why we our infrastructure, no matter how good they are upon completion, begin to fall apart right away. 

The most grievous challenge, however, is not in the physical structures one can see; those are just the proof. The real problem is the indolence, mediocrity, arrogance, and perfidy of our officials. In a nation where power is a tool for self-aggrandizement and pride, what time do our officials have to worry about tasks that offer no personal benefits? 

For the 1999 U-20 championships in Nigeria, we went through the same kind of rigmarole before we obtained a last-minute approval to host. And everyone praised the quality of facilities that were ours when the competition was over. Only 10 years later, with the floodlights of the world trained on us - and despite presidential promises - we cannot produce six playgrounds worthy of 17-year olds. 

How did Nigeria sink to the brink of becoming the laughing-stock of Africa? There is no need to look beyond the indecisive and disorganized leadership Yar'Adua provides. A month ago, the "servant-leader" confessed that his government would not meet the development goals our nation agreed to at the United Nations 10 years ago. The FIFA U-17 World Cup is simply another task he is incapable of meeting. If those tasks did not have an international angle, nobody would bother. 

It is not that we lack the funds. Nigeria is awash with funds, but they are not going into programmes and projects. Instead, Yar'Adua's government is superintending a re-engineering of our society into one in which great thieves thrive. The growing mountain of financial scams that Yar'Adua conveniently ignores, including those involving serving government officials, is the flip side of the Yar'Adua's failure to govern, or to challenge the powerful thieves around him. 

This is why we cannot halve poverty by 2015, or implement many other pro-people international commitments as other nations are struggling to do. This is why we cannot conduct an honest election. This is why we cannot build, or maintain, six stadia. We are now a people who apologize for failing to move forward, rather than explain how we overcame every obstacle to do so. 

This is what I call Yar'Adua Time (YT). In YT, a year is like one day, so why hurry when there are 364 left? In YT, this is only the second anniversary of the arrival in office. In YT, this is just the first tenure; another one lies ahead, so what is the rush? 

If you think in YT, it is not difficult to understand why a band of discredited and corrupt former governors is more powerful than the Vice-President. Nor is it difficult to understand why, once FIFA officials fly out of Nigeria, they are forgotten. Nor is it difficult to forget the Nigerian people once the television cameras are shut off. YT is about being in charge; it is not about having to do anything. 

This, then, is the problem with FIFA. Somewhere, its officials think that Nigerian leaders are killing themselves trying to build stadia and water the lawns. Next month, we will rebrand them.