As Nigeria’s Super Eagles gather in Uyo preparing to play Libya in the Akwa Ibom State capital on Saturday, it brings to the fore the ugly side of selections to national sports teams.

Nigeria will face Libya in their third game in preparation for the 2019 African Cup of Nations. They had lost their first match against South Africa right at home in Nigeria but defeated Seychelles a few weeks ago away. The Eagles are playing catch-up, being third in their group, with Libya and South Africa on top.

But the players are reporting in camp, still with the aura of the punishment imposed on their first team coach Salisu Yusuf who was banned for one year by the Nigerian Football Federation last month, for receiving bribe to influence players selection to the national team.

The coach was directed to pay a fine of $5,000 to the Federation within three months and he was also asked to stay away from football-related activities, while his ban lasts.

Salisu Yusuf was given a one-year ban after a video of him surfaced receiving $1,000 bribe to influence players’ selection.

The Ethics and Fair Play Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) investigated Salisu, after he was filmed last year by Ghanian reporter, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, receiving bribe to field two players, Osas Okoro and Rabiu Ali, in the 2018 CHAN Competition in Morocco between January and February, with the Eagles reaching the final, where they were defeated 4-1 by the hosts.

The journalists, in the video, also offered Salisu 15 percent of future player sales if the players in question secureed transfers after the tournament.

In its report after its own investigation, the Federation said it was convinced that Salisu received the cash gift, although it could not ascertain if the gift influenced his decision to select the players because the two players could have made the team on the basis of their talent and performance.

Yusuf however, denied being bribed to field players, claiming that the money was not an inducement and fell within guidelines from the world governing body, FIFA, and the NFF about accepting gifts. He had also claimed that the money he collected was $750, not $1,000.

Coach Salisu Yusuf was left out of the Eagles coaching crew for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier against Seychelles on September 8, 2018. He was first assistant coach during the last World Cup in Russia and was due to lead the Nigerian team to the Olympics in 2020.

Although Salisu says he will appeal the ban, his promising career seems to have gone down the drain in this moment of indiscretion, greed and corruption which has eaten deep into the fabric of this country.

Football is not the only sport where there have been rumours of bribery, sex and politics in team or athlete selection. But because of the popularity of the soccer game, its ability to make Nigerians forget their woes, tribe, religion and political leaning (at least for the duration of the match or tournament), it is more pronounced.

While it will be tough for a coach to field players based on political considerations like federal character, it is quite probable for coaches to be appointed with politics and nepotism as deciding factors. It can only happen here of course, as we have seen obviously incompetent and unqualified people occupy sporting positions for which they seem to have no clue.

It is a bold step by the Football Federation to have quickly investigated the Salisu Yusuf bribery affair and wielded the hammer, albeit a light or wooden hammer of just one-year ban. He could’ve gone scot-free as others have done in different areas of the country’s life.

In other climes, the punishment could have been stiffer. Sam Allardyce was removed as England manager, not for taking a bribe, but for ‘negotiating a fee of £400,000 to represent an overseas firm that was hoping to profit from Premier League transfers, before he had even named his first squad’. He called it ‘entrapment’.

Let’s hope that Salisu’s case will send a signal to other coaches and officials, even in other sports, that it cannot be business as usual.

Many sportsmen and women have complained that they don’t get selected because they refused to ‘play ball’. Some sportswomen claimed to have been sexually harassed before they can be selected or even invited and some male players are asked to pay money to be chosen to play for their country, state and even clubs.

This must stop.


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