(OPINION) WHY NFF must make an example of Salisu Yusuf – By Solace Chukwu

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Salisu Yusuf, coach of Nigeria during the 2018 CHAN semifinals Nigeria training session at the Grand stade Marrakech in Marrakech, Morocco on 30 January 2017 ©Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

The Super Eagles coach, caught on tape accepting money in an undercover investigation, must now serve as a cautionary tale.

Rohr and Yusuf at a game.

 

To prove that things can always get worse, Nigeria has yet another scandal in its football constituency to grapple with. Where, however, there was, and still is some uncertainty surrounding the legitimacy of both claimants to the NFF presidency, there is no mistaking the content of Tuesday’s explosive BBC undercover report. In it, Super Eagles assistant manager Salisu Yusuf features prominently, appearing to receive a sum of money as part of a discussion centring on two members of the African Nations Championship squad he oversees.

The implications of this are grave, of course. The takeaway from the video is twofold: first, that he received the sum of $1000 from a reporter presenting himself as a player representative. Second, he seems to reach a verbal understanding with the reporter regarding a percentage of the fee from a future transfer, dependent on the participation of certain players in the CHAN.

In the first, it is unclear what the amount offered is intended for. Yusuf has defended himself by claiming that it was a gift, with no strings attached. Backing up this defence is the fact that players involved (their names are withheld in the report) were, by all indications, already regulars within the team, and so their inclusions were not influenced by the cash offered and accepted.

This defence somewhat misses the point, which is this: the moment the reporter presented himself as a player representative, there is immediately a question of conflict of interest surrounding any ‘gift’ offered. The second takeaway, though, is rather less defensible, as the promised percentage is clearly stated, and he replies with an assurance that the players in question would be part of the squad.

Again, the line of defence that these players were already integral members of the squad is moot; the surprise dropping of previously important players on the eve of tournaments is not unheard of, and no one’s place in a team is a given. The situation also makes one wonder about Peter Eneji, a member of the squad who was named in it despite being injured and unavailable, and who was only fit to appear in the final, a game in which he underwhelmed thoroughly and was promptly sent off. In light of the recent revelations, what seemed simply incomprehensible at the time now takes on a shadier interpretation.

President Buhari and Sports Minister Dalung.

 

In any case, there is unlikely to be much sympathy for the 56-year-old coach. The phenomenon of coaches getting their palms greased in exchange for fielding certain players is neither new nor surprising. It is part of the larger rot in Nigerian football at all levels; it was bound to blow up at some point, and Yusuf, in so simply allowing himself to be trapped, will be made an example.

On the one hand, it is a bit tough on him. The mild-mannered Zaria-born coach is one of the most respected in the country, and has managed some of the biggest clubs in the land, from Kano Pillars to two-time African champions Enyimba, largely without scandal. On the other hand, it is precisely his large profile that makes his such a prime scapegoat.

He is by no means the worst of the bunch, but he’s the one whose hand was found in the jar, and the consequences must necessarily be hefty, not so much because his indiscretion is overly heinous (indeed, much of the video can be construed any number of ways), but because the football authorities in Nigeria have to send a message, a sort of deterrent.

This would also be a means by which the beleaguered NFF can re-assert their control, and stave off the sense of circus around the nation’s football. It will (and should) almost certainly lead to Yusuf losing his position with the national team. Anything less would further undermine the Glass House.

In that sense, Yusuf’s sacrifice is not merely punitive, but also symbolic.

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