Nigerians had little sympathy for
their national football team on Thursday, saying their two-year
withdrawal from international competition was well-deserved
punishment for their embarrassing showing at the World Cup.
President Goodluck Jonathan on
Wednesday disbanded the
national team, who were knocked out in the first round after
failing to win a match in South Africa, suspended the football
federation and withdrew Nigeria from international competitions
for two years to allow for a rebuilding process.
"It is a good thing that the
government came out to
intervene in football," said Benjamin Chidebere, a civil servant
in the commercial capital Lagos.
"Football unites all Nigerians. If
you a Yoruba man, a Hausa
man, an Ibo man, football makes us drink together," he added,
referring to some of the country's more than 250 ethnic groups.
The government instruction to
withdraw could prompt
sanctions from FIFA, which has taken a strong stand against
political interference in the sport.
Some in Africa's most populous
nation, where five decades of
oil production have enriched an elite while the majority live on
$2 or less a day, said football was not the only area where
Nigeria needed to tear down everything and start again.
"There's a bigger issue underlying
this. Nigeria should go
back to the basics in everything, like the kind of schools we
build. There's a general laxity about everything," said
54-year-old musician Duro Ikujenyo.
Nigeria's lower house of
parliament took a different view,
however. It passed a motion urging Jonathan to rescind the ban
and instead allow a parliamentary committee to investigate the
problem behind the poor performance of the Super Eagles.
"This is the most stupid directive
I've heard," said one
team fan, pointing out it could lead to an even longer ban as
happened under former military ruler Sani Abacha.
Nigeria were banned by the
Confederation of African Football
(CAF) in 1996 when Abacha withdrew the team from the African
Nations Cup finals because he had been criticised by Nelson
Mandela over the judicial execution of political opponents.
They could not compete in African
competition for two years
but were able to qualify for the 1998 World Cup in France.
Newspaper editorials and fans attributed part of the
team's failure to endemic corruption.
"It is good that the aged and
tired team has been
disbanded," the Punch newspaper said in an editorial.
"But the government should
immediately go further to fight
the monsters of greed and graft in the football administration
which are at the heart of the poor performance at global
competitions," it added.
Jonathan has ordered the accounts of the country's World Cup
organising committee to be audited and any officials found
responsible of wrongdoing to be punished.
A presidency source said the
government earmarked more than
2.5 billion naira ($17 million) for the World Cup organisers,
soccer team members and coach.
FIFA spokesman Nicolas Maingot
said football's world governing
body had been informed about the withdrawal.
"It's very early to say (if they could face some kind of
sanction). FIFA has a very clear position on government
interference," he told reporters in Johannesburg.
Some believed Nigeria's team would benefit in the
long run even if they were punished by FIFA.
"Even if FIFA goes ahead to slam
this ban on Nigeria, it is
but a little price to pay for a decision that may well return
Nigeria to its glorious past in football," said the Action
Congress, an opposition political party.
Other Nigerians worried that the
ban would hinder
opportunities for the country's young soccer players.
"The decision was made in haste,"
said Otunba Olatunde,
national chairman of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club.
"They should have asked the old
players to leave and bring
in new players. Let them play friendly matches so that the young
players can be groomed."
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