The Minister of Sports and Chairman of the National Sports Commission, Bolaji Abdullahi, has shed more light on the alleged resignation of Coach Stephen Keshi after the victory of the Super Eagles at the 2013 African Cup of Nations.
In this exclusive interview on the team's return flight from South Africa, Mr. Abdullahi said, "I am aware that people were using my name to intimidate him [Keshi]."
Keshi reportedly told a South African radio station that he resigned his appointment through a letter to the Nigeria Football Federation and was awaiting their response.
The news of Keshi's resignation spread like wild fire as NFF officials, caught unaware, initially kept mum. When they eventually summoned the courage to speak, they claimed they never received such a letter.
Findings had shown that Keshi was unhappy about the continuous interference of NFF officials in his duties such as the selection of players for matches.
It took the direct intervention of Mr. Abdullahi, who was with the team in South Africa, for the Nigerian coach to rescind his decision.
Keshi was told I would fire him
Upon hearing of the rumoured resignation of the Nations Cup winning coach, Mr. Abdullahi approached Keshi to seek clarification.
"Up to 3:00 a.m. in the morning before heading back to Nigeria, I had a meeting with Stephen Keshi and I asked him where did he get the story that somebody was going to fire him and he said he heard the Sport Minister said he was going to fire him.
"So it's all them say, them say; and I asked him you have my number why didn’t you call to confirm and he said he was very sorry," the minister said.
"For me the bottom line is this and I can say it here for the records, there was no time that I for one day contemplated the sacking of Stephen Keshi," he added.
After Nigeria defeated Cote d’ Ivoire in the quarter final of the AFCON 2013, Keshi showed his displeasure with the attitude of some officials of Nigerian Football in an interview saying he could resign even if Nigeria won the competition.
"The most important thing is what I'm doing. If back home they don't like what I'm doing... Well, you can't force someone to love you. If I win the cup, I may pack and leave," Keshi said.
My name was used to intimidate him
Mr. Abdullahi gave what could be the closest insight into the reason for Keshi's statement. He said he is aware some officials were throwing his name around in order to intimidate the Nigerian coach.
"I am aware that people were using my name to intimidate him, to say all kinds of things to him for one reason or the other; there was no time that I contemplated his sack," the minister said. "Stephen Keshi for me has done well. I think some individuals within the federation were not happy and those people probably used the name of the minister to intimidate and it became a story."
The minister spoke on the collective effort of all Nigerian football officials in ensuring the victory of the Super Eagles.
"Victory on the Arena does not mean or determine what happens on the field alone. For example, what determines victory is not what happens in just 90 minutes; many things happen behind the scene. So much effort were put together," he said. "I encouraged everyone to work together as a team few days before the victory."
The Sports Commission Chairman, however, said the Eagles success in South Africa was just the beginning of good things to come in Nigerian football and sports in general.
"We have not reached the destination this is just the beginning," he said. "I think referring to a country that won the last nations cup and can’t qualify out of the group stage, I don’t want Nigeria to be like that."
He said he wants the Super Eagles to also win the 2015 Nations Cup.
"I want us to win the next one because we must develop the template, and we can only do it in an atmosphere of peace," he said. "We will bring everybody together and begin to work together as a team and I believe if we do that we will continue to win."