• Saraki appeals to warring factions to sheathe swords
President Muhammadu Buhari has tasked the world football governing body, International Federation of Football Association (FIFA), to pay attention to accountability and transparency as it embarks on football development and reforms.
Receiving the visiting FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, and the body’s newly appointed Secretary-General, Fatma Samuora, at State House yesterday, Buhari challenged football administrators to fashion out strategic programmes to develop the game without compromising its essence.
Congratulating the duo on their election, particularly Samuora, the first African and female to be elected FIFA Secretary-General, Buhari welcomed Infantino’s programme to reform the world game through transparency, anti-corruption and good governance.
The President pledged the country’s support to FIFA’s reform agenda, noting that they were similar to those his presidency had outlined to resuscitate Nigeria. ‘‘Majority of Nigerians are married to football. In the rural areas, when there is no electricity and there is a game to watch, Nigerians go to the extent of renting small generators, popularly known as ‘I better-pass-my neighbour’ to watch the game.
‘‘We will take the development of football very seriously and I encourage the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to behave itself and organise effective competitions for the good of the game,’’ he said.
In his remarks, Infantino asked the Nigerian authorities to pay attention to infrastructure and find a lasting solution to the problem of violence and insecurity at match venues.
‘‘I foresee Nigeria as a bedrock for the development of the game in Africa, however, infrastructure, stability and security are needed to make this happen, ’’ he said.
In a chat with State House correspondents later, Infantino reiterated the position of the World Football body that it only recognises the Amaju Pinnick-led Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).
He dismissed the existence of a parallel NFF, saying that he was only aware of oppositions within the NFF. His words, “I don’t think there is leadership crisis in the Nigeria Football Federation There is an elected president, who was elected two years ago. The situation now, in a country like Nigeria you face some oppositions from some persons, who are not happy with the results, but democracy has spoken
“The Court of Arbitration, which is the Supreme Court in football, has spoken as well. So, I think what is to be done is now the work to be carried out. The president of the Nigeria Football Federation as well as the president of FIFA, have to be judged based on their work not based on situation that might be created,’’ he said.
The FIFA president, who described Nigeria as “a great football country,’’ pledged that the football body would continue to assist the country in the provision of state-of-art facilities to boost the development of football in the country.
According to him, FIFA would be looking into possibility of providing football training centres across the country.
Meanwhile, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, yesterday appealed to the warring factions in the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to sheathe their swords in the interest of football development in the country.
Saraki made the call when Pinnick led Infantino and Samoura on a visit to the National Assembly in Abuja.
Members of the NFF board and presidents of Football Associations (FA) from other African countries also accompanied the FIFA president on the visit.
The Senate President urged the NFF executive to seize the international recognition accorded Nigeria by the visit of the FIFA leadership to put the crisis plaguing the association behind them and commit to providing leadership for gainful football administration in the country. He told the visiting FIFA president: “Apart from the major issue of reform and accountability, the key issue remains the development of our own football and I think Africa, as you said, is the greatest place such can come from.
“We are going to play our own role in creating the enabling environment. I am happy that fellow presidents of football associations in different African countries are here. I think your visit clearly shows that you are keen and you want to work with us in Africa. We must play our own role and that is why we must give all the support we can. And I think it gives me an opportunity to talk to the members of NFF that we must solve our problems. I think that with this kind of world recognition we have today, the only thing we can do is to show example here in Nigeria, how we think a football association should be run and we must put an end to the crisis we are presently going through.”