Elumelu is coming Ooo, by Emeka Obasi

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Soccer is our national religion where Christianity, Islam and Tradition join hands to spread love. There is neither Bishop nor Imam, fans sing in Igbo, dance like Hausa, drum the Yoruba way without any minority disapproval or political incantations.

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Chairman of Heirs Holdings, Tony Elumelu, represents Nigeria. Born in Jos, at home in Ibadan and fluent in Igbo, the man has found a new love. We all know him as a Banker who sits atop good money which he has used to empower many young Africans.

The last time I watched him doing Agba Baller with Flavour, in an All White Event, it reminded me of the sparkling white of Enugu Rangers, when the Coal City team flew like Antelopes. It did not occur to me that this dance will soon happen in the Nigerian Premier League.

Credit to Sports Minister, John Owan Eno (JOE), the Mohammed who moved to the Mountain. Well, I should not be surprised, the minister comes from the state of Obudu Hills. I guess from the hilltop, he found an ally who was born on the plateau.

Eno paid a visit to Elumelu and deliberations centred on how to make the Nigerian Premier League more attractive. What we presently have is foot without ball. It is a sad reflection of the state of affairs countrywide. Change happens and now is time.

I was so excited listening to the visitor as his host took notes on the phone. Mental notes may disappear but what has been put down becomes Action Plan for something big. The good news is that Elumelu is interested in our football and is willing to bring some of his friends along.

Many may not remember that in 1978, FIFA President, Joao Havelange, watched a league game involving Bendel Insurance and Raccah Rovers at the National Stadium, Surulere. The outcome was a 2-2 draw. The Kano side ended up as League champions while the Benin team won the FA Cup.

After that duel, Havelange declared that Africa deserved two spots at the World Cup. And he lived up to his words. That was how Cameroon and Algeria represented the continent at the España 1982 Mundial. Before them, Africa had just one opening.

Remarkably, Raccah and Insurance, with all their good players did not constitute the bulk of the national team, the Green Eagles in 1978

Yes, there were Baba Otu Mohammed, Hussein Alabi, Annas Mohammed, Ado Ebenezer, Godwin Bankole, Abubakar Wasa for the Northern club and Kadiri Ikhana, David Adiele, Agwo Nnaji, Francis Moniedafe, Chris Ogu, Felix Agbonifo, Henry Ogboe, Peter Egharevba, Emmanuel Obasuyi and George Omokaro for the Southerners.

The regular national team had names like Emma Okala, Christian Chukwu, Aloysius Atuegbu, Patrick Ekeji, Adokiye Amiesimaka, Godwin Odiye, Segun Odegbami, Muda Lawal, Felix Owolabi, Tunde Bamidele. From Raccah and Insurance, Annas, Wasa, Ogu, Omokaro and Moniedafe were still good enough.

Today, even the CAF president will not be willing to watch a Nigerian league match, with empty stands. The spectators, fed up with poor standards and terrible facilities, simply switched camp to European football, from the English Premiership to the Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A and German Bundesliga.

Eno must lead the NFF away from the present setting. We need to attract Elumelu and the corporate world to a saner environment. The talents are there, organisation is the issue. Rules must be obeyed and sanctions applied effectively.

For starters, I do not believe in this Premier League of very hungry clubs and players. If what it will take to bring back the crowd is 10 well managed and fat teams, let it be done. When players are owed salaries, you cannot get the best from them.

In 1975, there were just eight teams in the League – Rangers, Lagos NEPA, Shooting Stars, Vasco, Insurance, Stores,. Asabatex and Darma United. In 1976, Shooting Stars won the African Winners Cup. Rangers got to the semis of the CAF Champions League.

Since 2005, with the crowded league, no Nigerian club has won anything in Africa. We are talking of nearly 20 years of failure. And this is a country of virile young men and women. In the absence of organised football, many have become bandits, kidnappers and ritualists.

Eno should find a way to scare all the shabby clubs by causing the NFF not to register any that cannot forward five billion naira to a consolidated account at the end of this season. With this and proper management, change will come.

If we have Elumelu with that amount, Aliko Dangote, Femi Otedola, Jim Ovia, Abdul Samad Rabiu of BUA Group, Chief Adewunmi Akinsanya of Flykite, Kunle Soname of Remo Stars, Shola Akinlade of Sporting Lagos and Obi Cubana Iyiegbu, we are good to go.

The last time I heard of an Elumelu in sports, was 1979 when Joan Elumelu became the first Nigerian 400 metres Women’s Hurdles champion. That Elumelu, who nearly became Miss Nigeria in 1981, is not related to this Elumelu, although both are Onicha, from different towns in Delta.

In 2015, the Tony Elumelu Foundation, set aside 100 million dollars to raise 10, 000 Entrepreneurs across Africa until 2025. This same Elumelu has offered himself and associates to Nigerian football in 2024, thanks to JOE. Let the change begin.


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