By Emma Agu
The news that Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu is being drafted to join the race for presidency of the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) is generating widespread excitement among many Nigerians. It is a well-known fact that while Nigerians will disagree vehemently on any issue under the sun, they waste no time burying their differences once any of the national soccer teams, especially the Super Eagles, is playing another country. In fact, there is the joke that, it is not uncommon to see Nigerians who were at daggers drawn two minutes earlier suddenly sheathing their swords, back-slapping and hugging one another at the announcement that the national team has just scored a goal!
Nigerians are excited because of Kalu’s antecedents in promoting the development of football is legendary. When it is football, not even Kalu’s political opponents will deny him deserved encomiums, given his track record as a trailblazer in the area. To him, football is not simply an avenue for satiating the craze for entertainment. Rather, it is a potent panacea to the youth restiveness and unemployment, especially in third world countries. He holds the record, as governor of Nigeria’s Abia State, to have built Enyimba FC into a formidable entertainment machine and winning squad that, in 2003, broke the jinx of Nigeria’s frustrating quest to win the CAF Champions League title.
Many years of close association with Enyimba FC has imbued Kalu with a rich reservoir of football knowledge. It will be an understatement to describe him as a football enthusiast. He goes beyond that. He is, par excellence, a result-oriented football administrator and financier. He understands the human development potentials of football, especially using it as a platform to create a new class of entrepreneurs as many foreign-based footballers of African descent have amply demonstrated. It is particularly for this reason that the duo of former FIFA executive board member, Dr. Amos Adamu and Sports Ambassador, John Fashanu, has thrown their weight behind his ambition. Dr. Adamu puts the case succinctly: “If given the opportunity to serve FIFA as president, Kalu would achieve greatly in global football with Africa getting the most of it in the area of development.”
Interestingly, the prospect of a Kalu bid received rapturous endorsement when it was introduced at a gathering of some senior media executives in Lagos, Nigeria, last Friday. Without any exception, all present agreed that, from an African, nay Third World perspective, there couldn’t have been a more auspicious time to pursue this ambition than now.
At the heart of the matter is the need to inject a culture of equity into FIFA’s modus operandi and structure, even as global concern focuses in restructuring for transparency and accountability. Since its inception in 1904, Europe has produced seven out of the eight FIFA presidents so far, the only exception being Joao Havelange of Brazil. The argument for an African president of FIFA is reminiscent of the advocacy that culminated in the election of Kofi Annan as the seventh secretary general of the United Nations in 1997, a position in which he acquitted himself creditably.
But what are Kalu’s chances? He stands a good chance, as the perceived front-runner, UEFA President Michel Platini, appears to have suffered a double jeopardy. Whereas he is widely perceived as a protégé of Sepp Blatter, which is a disadvantage in the present circumstance, the thinking is that the Swiss, miffed by UEFA’s role in his ouster, is very unlikely to support the emergence of a European as FIFA president.
That leaves the coast clear for candidates from Africa and Asia, areas that had consistently given the beleaguered Blatter their overwhelming support. Yet, for a candidate to make any headway, charity, as they say, must begin at home, meaning the endorsement by the candidate’s home government. In theory, FIFA prides itself as being fiercely independent of national governments. Yet, it is doubtful that a candidate can be elected president of the body if he or she lacks home support. Therefore, Kalu’s fate could well hinge on the posture of the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration in Nigeria.
What this implies is that Nigeria should not toy with this window of opportunity to regain a foothold in FIFA and function at the driving seat of global football. Nigerians will expect Buhari to reenact the same committed leadership and aggressive diplomatic posture he adopted in lobbying for Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, minister of agriculture under President Goodluck Jonathan, for the ADB presidency. If the President, even before his inauguration, could sway African leaders to support Adesina’s election as ADB president, there is no reason he will not succeed now that he is backed by the effective mandate of over 170 million soccer-crazy Nigerians.
Agu, publisher of Zest Traveller magazine, is former Managing Director of Champion Newspapers Limited and one-time chief press secretary to the Head of Nigeria’s Interim National Government (ING), Chief Earnest Shonekan.
Culled from The Sun