Walking in Siasia’s shoes

As of the time of putting down my thoughts on this topic, coach of the Nigerian U-23 team that won Bronze in the just concluded Olympic games, Samson Siasia, was yet to be paid his outstanding five months salary. And this is despite the fact that a foreign coach has been appointed who will be paid in dollars.

The NFF Secretary-General, Dr Mohammed Sanusi, explained that the stringent procedures of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) were responsible for the delay. “The money is already there in our account, but we need to regularise the TSA procedures before we can claim the money. We are almost through with the process.” I hope it would be paid as soon as this almighty TSA procedure is done with.

Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder at our way of showing gratitude. Here is a team that brought the nation the only glory from the Olympics, despite all the hardship the team went through before and during the games. Yet, the only concern of the NFF officials is how to deal with the team for having the audacity to tell them off! No official welcome, no meeting with top government officials, not even a handshake from the president or his representative. And even before he came back from Rio, the football body withdrew the only official car assigned to Siasia from his wife. How vindictive can we get!

The way the NFF has carried on so far, it is as if the gentleman, the most decorated African football coach at the Olympics, having also won a silver medal in Beijing in 2008, is being punished for the money given to the team by Japanese Plastic surgeon and billionaire KatsuyaTakasu. The doctor had given the team $390,000 to share for winning the bronze medal, Nigeria’s only medal, at the Olympics.

The NFF had raised objections to the money gifted to the team and had called for an investigation; insisting that the money should have been routed through the NFF for onward distribution to the team.

But Siasia explains, “The man was just curious how a team that was neglected and abandoned could arrive in Rio under five hours and defeat the Japanese team that had all they needed and have been put together for over three years, that was his amazement.” He said the entire amount of $390,000 was shared equally among all the members of the team, including the supporting staff.

“The Japanese benefactor said $200,000 and $190,000 was supposed to be for bronze medal and it was split among the players and officials equally. It is not my personal money and this must be made clear. What I got was what every other player or official in the team got – about $14,000 dollars each.

“The man came to Salvador where we played and gave $200,000 as draft to me and also gave $190,000 to Mikel because he cannot write a cheque to every member of the team. He made it simpler so that we all can share the money and now we are paying to the individual accounts of the boys. The money was never meant for me or Mikel alone but for the entire team including the doctors and other backroom staff”.

Apart from being impressed by the performance of the boys, DrKatsuyaTakasu is also a great fan of the Nigerian football team and he must have been following the progress of football in the country for some time. This definitely must have given him some knowledge of the kind of politics played in Nigerian sports and how greedy the officials could be. This probably explains his decision to write the cheques in the names of both the coach and the captain of the team. And he didn’t do it independent of the Nigerian authorities, an official letter from the Nigerian Embassy in Tokyo was written to the team, introducing DrKatsuyaTakasu and acknowledging that he was well known to the Embassy.

If I were in Siasia’s shoes, I would take the same steps and damn the consequences. He has indeed done well for the team and for the country, and he and his team should have been treated like the heroes they are rather than being treated so shabbily because of the greed of some officials.

As Siasia observed in one of the interviews he granted after the Olympics, perhaps they were so treated “because most of them (the NFF officials) were actually waiting and praying for us to fail. But we disappointed them by winning that medal.” What a shameful attitude!

The NFF’s treatment of the dream team tends to support the generally held view that no one serves Nigeria and comes out with his/her dignity intact. As someone said, “you either come out with a bad reputation among your kinsmen or you come back dead.”

It is a shame though that despite the many billionaires (genuine or otherwise) that bestride this country none but a foreigner thought it fit to rescue these boys. It is a shame indeed.