In the football equivalent of the 'church and state' governance debates, the Nigerian Senate has demanded an overhaul of football in the country – despite the Super Eagles winning the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year - but is wary of becoming too involved in running the game.
A new bill to repeal the Nigeria Football Association Act 2004 and enact the Nigeria Football Federation Act 2013 passed its second reading on Tuesday with senators deploring the current state of football in the country but divided on the issue of government interference and how to attract multinational sponsorship.
Senator Adamu Ibrahim Gumba led a debate on 'A Bill for an Act to Repeal the Nigerian Football Association Act Cap. N110 Law Of The Federation Of Nigeria 2004 And Enact The Nigeria Football Federation Act 2013 To Provide For The Administration Of The Game Of Football In Nigeria And For Related Matters 2013'.
Perhaps the most striking statement of the debate was made by Senate President David Mark, who lamented the poor state of the Abuja National Stadium, which he said had been overrun by reptiles and weeds.
The Bill seeks to establish programmes on developing football including coaches and referees. The bill was also described as an attempt to bring Nigerian football in line with FIFA requirements and away from government control, as well as in line with international best practices.
Gumba said: "One of the highlights of the new bill being presented to you is the membership of the Federation (NFF). The new bill seeks to ensure that only those who are actually involved in competitive football matches are members of the Federation and not just organisations and establishments as contained in the extant Act."
Senate Leader Abdul Ningi said the current NFA Act "is a home-grown act which was developed internally but it is not in consonance with FIFA status" whereas the new Bill is in line with FIFA Statues which governs all football federations all over the world.
He stated that under the current arrangements "it is almost impossible for government not to be running football in Nigeria. All the football teams in the states are more of parastatals of their state government so government cannot fund football and remove its hand from day to day running of football. So we need a balance between government funding and private initiative so that football will not collapse in the country."
Senator Smart Adeyemi spoke in support of the Bill explained that passing it would ensure that Nigeria takes the lead on the African continent. He added that multi-nationals should be compelled to sponsor the game as they make so much from Nigeria.
Senator Enyinnaya Harcourt Abaribe, chairman Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, rejected this suggestion saying that there will never be scarcity of companies that would want to fund the game.
Senator Abubakar Yar'adua opposed the Bill saying that what it aims to achieve has already failed, which is to ensure that government politics is not in play in the Federation. He also stated that it is impossible for the government to give funds to the football body and have no intervention at all.
Senate President David Mark in his remarks said, "It will be a major embarrassment if Nigeria fails to qualify for the World Cup. Football unites Nigerians and we have to do what it takes to save football in the country. Government cannot fund football and not be involved and this is what FIFA doesn't want so we need to strike a delicate balance. This Bill needs to be accelerated so that we can remove the gray areas. Government alone cannot run football."
He also acknowledged that all issues mentioned, especially Senator Yar'adua's observation, would have to be looked into at the Committee level to ensure a better system. In Mark's opinion "90% of the problems are due to the fact that some people are playing politics with the administration of football. That's why our football is not going anywhere."
The Bill passed through its second reading and was referred to the Senate Committee on Sports and Social Development.