Mohammed Edewor is not a new name in Nigerian football. He was chairman of the defunct Concord Football of Abeokuta and lately headed the management team of Lobi Stars Football Club of Makurdi.
A native of Delta State, the legal practitioner’s affection for the round leather game is immeasurable as he talks football, thinks football and knows the intricacies of the game. His wealth of experience in football management spreads across Europe and Africa and that is what he wants to bring to bear on Nigerian football. He said his ambition is to become the next President of Nigeria Football Federation. He spoke with a select number of journalists in his Lagos office early in the week. Jacob Ajom was there. Excerpts
Why do you want to be the next NFF President.
Roughly, I will summarise my credentials. I have sat in boards of football clubs and ran two myself. Sat in the board of Anorthosis Famagusta in Cyprus, sat in the board of Ethnikos Piraeus in Greece, where I was the vice President. I single-handedly encouraged Nigerian footballers to Europe in the days when it was not fashionable. The number of players I have assisted to further their careers in Europe could be as many as 65, may be more.
I was in the committee that moved for our very first World Cup that was played in America. The then head of State picked six of us and our terms of reference was: we must get to USA ’94. That committee was headed by Alhaji (Yusuf) Ali. My brief was bring, us players from the goalkeeper to the top. We also incorporated Westerhof. So, what was the problem then, unlike today where you have a goalkeeper that is injured and you don’t have a second one, in those days we had Peter Rufai, we had Agbonivbare, it just goes on and on. Even the second tier ones were very good. Jerry Ugeh, Rufai Junior, Ike Nwachukwu, the names kept coming on. When you had a (goalkeeper) crisis like the one we have now, and if I was in that position, I could do one of the following, I could have taken four or three boys, like I did before USA ’94 and put them in first class clubs across Europe and in six months time you can pick two or three from among them. You don’t have to leave it to the clubs and scouts.Today we don’t even have a league from which to pick the best. When we were running football, I ran a private club and I ran it effectively, independently. We didn’t need the large sums of money that have been put into football now. Never in the history of this country that football has seen so much money than in this generation. Yet we still lack the platform with which to develop it because it is being done by people who believe it is them before football.
If you look at the Multichoice deal. It didn’t trickle down. In Lobi Stars, because it is one of the very few clubs where players’ salaries were met. We, without naming clubs, even come to the help of other clubs, competing in the Premier League with minor things like we don’t have fuel to travel or even money to feed their players. Imagine, if I am playing you in a competitive game and I give you a hundred thousand to feed, definitely, I am bound to win. That is the level of degradation that these set of administrators have taken football to.Somebody should ask them, what has happened to the DSTV money? What happened to sponsorship money? Somebody should sit down and show us the books. Between when DSTV came into the league and now, where is the money?
Players like Sunday Eboigbe formerly of the Super Eagles and Abiola Babes who paralysed neck down. We have to look at football as a profession and the NFF should work with the players’ union and see how to help him for his services to Nigeria. Apart from Eboigbe, a lot of these boys have sacrificed their youth playing football and were not opportune to become lawyers like Adokiye Amiesimaka or Engineers like Odegbami or go abroad and become big like Emenalo and so forth. NFF should work out a programme and liaise with the players union to help these guys because there is enough money in the kitty now. There has never been so much money like there is now. When I ran Concord FC we came second in 1992, then there was no money in football like we have today but Sani Toro ran it in the middle of the chaos. There was this day we were going to play Cameroon and as at 1 O’Clock in the afternoon we hadn’t secured the flight yet for the trip. We had to go and beg ‘Baba Okada’ Chief Igbinedion, to let us take the flight with half the money so when we return we pay up the balance. Another instance was when we were going to Congo Brazaville, Chief Igbinedion gave us the plane free.
Today there is so much money and nobody is accounting for it. If you hear the amount of money that is coming in from television rights alone, you will marvel. I will like to say DSTV is 80% of our problem, why football is not being watched, football is now suffering.The argument that DSTV killed our football is sound, but what came out of DSTV somebody is sitting in Abuja and has not articulated how it will trickle down. It stopped at the commercial level;. That commercial level, somebody has to go and look at it. It doesn’t have to be all Edewor. My take is that those who have the wherewithal in management, you don’t have to play the game before you want to be the chairman of NFF. The person has to have a sense of management and transparency. You don’t have to be the chairman of Shooting Stars, no it must not be that. Afterall, the chairman of the English FA came from corporate Britain. He didn’t have to come from a club, but has an interest in football. He never ran football. He understands numbers. Apart from numbers he also brought in smart people to work with him. For instance he didn’t have to bring somebody from Rangers or Rivers United to run the FA. And they are running it perfectly.
What is your agenda, should you succeed in your bid to become NFF President?
My first assignment will be to reorganise the league. I will introduce a 4-tier league. The Premier League will comprise of 24 clubs, Pro 1 will have 24 clubs. There will also be 20 in Division 3 and below that the state leagues which will comprise of academy teams. Four teams will go down and four will be promoted to the Premier League.
I will set a minimum wage for all the clubs and each club will sell at least 70% of its equity shares to the public. I know in the beginning it will hurt the players, it will hurt the system but we will survive as the long-term benefits are enormous. It will help accelerate the growth and development of the clubs in the country. It will take us back to the days when clubs like Mighty Jets of Jos, Abiola Babes, Leventis United, Racca Rovers and the list goes on were there. Government involvement in club football killed our football culture. Despite the huge spending, what officials do with the huge budgets I do not know. If you rewind this league, which is a quasi-professional league because nothing is professional about our league yet. For instance, if I say I will pay you N100,000 every month, and at the end of the month I call you and say, hey! Come take N50,000 first, I will see you with the balance later, that is not professionalism. If clubs are under private hands, they will agree a monthly salary they can pay and it will be consistent. Nobody will tell you take N40,00 or take N50,000 instead of what you agreed on.
The good thing about giving it to the private sector is that this television contract would have been scrutinised. In the old days it was myself, chief Udoji and Chief Teluwo of VIP Insurance. Imagine, for instance, when Bendel Insurance was in private hands it was at the very peak, now under government control, with the huge sums of money they budget annually, it is in Division 2 (pro1), with very slim chance of going up.
After the standard wage I will then go to the referees. The refs can make or mar our football. I would talk to the referees union. I would rather see the referees become professionals. They are the guardians of football. If you want sincerity and you want the game to grow. One of the reasons I was told in South Africa why we were having problems with sponsorship was that you can determine who will win the next match. All the home games are won and all the away games you lose or draw. The referees are like wives you don’t want to let go, you tell her I still love you. You must have a way of nuturing them as professionals with conscience.
You sound more like you want to be the chairman of a football club than wanting to be the President of NFF. I thought you will be looking at a holistic approach to football development in the country?
Practically, it is very easy for us to sit here and say every aspect of the game in Nigeria is dead. No, that won’t be correct. There are parts of it that are still good, afterall, we just qualified for the World Cup, although I see that there could have been some issues that could have disqualified us out of incompetence. I am sure all of you know that three points were deducted from Nigeria’s point haul. It could have been disqualification. Somebody sat there in Abuja, with a house full of staff, didn’t know that X player was used in a particular game and is disqualified to play the next game? That is enough to get somebody impeached, if there is provision for it. Those kind of things, you computerised it if you have competent staff at the secretariat. All the records will be at the tip of their fingers. You click it, the computer will show that this guy cannot go. How they forgot it, I do not know. Even at club level, if my manager should forget that, he will pay dearly for that. Here I believe it was taken for granted that nothing will follow. And indeed, nothing happened. That was straight forward incompetence.
In the compound development, marketing and advertising aspect would be contracted out. We should give it to a third party because there are dynamic and competent young men and women out there with very bright ideas, waiting to be tapped.
Bring in three or four of them and hand it over to them. There shouldn’t be we don’t have money. FIFA gives us money. Marketing should give us more towards the development of the game. Marketing should give us more than what we get from government and FIFA. To reall develop this game, you require much more that what FIFA gives. Tell me, for instance that you are going to play a friendly game in Russia, was that done by you or by a third party? The marketing arm of the FA should generate 90% of the income to the FA. It shouldn’t be we gave it to Mr A and this is our percentage. No it shouldn’t be that, instead, it should rather be, we made 90% and we gave him 10%.
We all transfer players …I don’t think anybody has transferred players in this country more than me, I know how it works. The FA must see how the clubs benefit from the transfer of their players, although there is nothing to transfer now, because the league is not producing the quality of players for export. Where are the Okochas of today, Before Okocha there was Etim Esin, that was the era when football was great in this country. Now you have to scratch your head to find players for the national team. We have resorted to bringing players from London, Germany and so on. It’s okay, for as long as your mother or father is from Nigeria, you are Nigerian. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Our league is not producing anything. The reason it cannot produce quality players is because of poor administration. Cameroon still bring. There are more Francophone players in the EPL now than from Anglophone. You find players from Cameroon, Senegal, Ivory Coast than Nigeria where England was supposed to be our comfort zone, where our boys were supposed to be comfortable in terms of language. The Francophone players are dominating because they are coming from leagues that are better run, leagues where people watch football, where the administrators are desirous to develop it.
We are from a country where quota system is observed in almost everything we do. The man presently occupying the NFF seat is from Delta, and you are Delta. Won’t this work against your ambition?
I can’t be dissuaded because of where I come from. I will give it a shot. If quota was in football before Pinnick, the last three NFA chairmen came from the same zone. That will not bother me one bit. I am the kind of person who will ensure every part of this country receives equal attention, in terms of development. Money from FIFA meant for development will be channelled to all the 36 states, including Abuja. Even the annual meetings, I have no reason to take it to Warri, Port Harcourt or Calabar. I will take it to Biu or Sokoto before I start coming down South.
What plan for women football?
The same zeal, the same approach as the men’s game. We had quite a number of exciting female clubs in the past, Kudirat Abiola Babes, Jegede Babes, Pelican Stars, Ufoma Babes, etc. The women play excellent game. I am the type of person who, even if I am driving along the street and I see kids playing a kick-about, I stop to watch them and enjoy myself. I don’t have to watch the big boys and girls only. Female football even gives me more encouragement than the male game. But they have the same problems like the men’s game. I just need a chance to fix these problems.