Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Code of Conduct: How to Tame Player Power

I HAVE developed the following “Q&A” from some of the issues raised by readers on the planned re-introduction of a Code of Conduct for the Super Eagles. In addition to the 1995 code that I published last week, this represents my humble contribution to the work of the panel set up by the minister of sports essentially to recommend ways of ensuring overall discipline in the national team.

QUESTION: The committee set up by minister of sport, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, to investigate the bonus row in the Super Eagles before the Confederations Cup in Brazil is already sitting. What is your take on the committee?

ANSWER: My initial reaction was to question the necessity of the committee. The episode in Namibia when the players refused to travel to Brazil unless they were paid a certain amount as bonuses was quite disgraceful and embarrassing for Nigeria. But such agitations are not new in the Super Eagles and I thought an in-house administrative panel within the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) should have been adequate to deal with it. However, it looks like the NFF is even relieved that the ministry took over the investigation. I think the NFF is overwhelmed by the problem and they are happy that the ministry has stepped in. But it’s quite ironic that it’s the year we won the Africa Cup of Nations after waiting for 19 years that we are experiencing this. It says a lot about our ability (or inability) to manage success which I wrote about soon after the Nations Cup victory. I only hope that the outcome of the probe will be properly managed so that it doesn’t cause disaffection within the Super Eagles or distract the team in its bid to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

QUESTION: Are you saying you would have preferred that the episode in Namibia be swept under the carpet?

ANSWER: No. But I would have preferred that the investigation be handled less dramatically.

QUESTION: The first term of reference for the panel is to establish the remote and immediate cause of the bonus row. What do you know about that?

ANSWER: I guess the primary remote causes has been widely reported by the media. The NFF proposed to cut the team’s win bonus by half from $10,000 to $5,000 allegedly because they couldn’t afford it anymore. The $10,000 was introduced by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) set up by the Federal Government in 2009 to assist the Super Eagles to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. I remember warning the NFF at the time that they would not be able to sustain what was effectively a jumbo bonus, and that they should quickly return to status quo which was $5,000 for a win. They didn’t act on time. Now that the players have got used to receiving $10,000 for a win for over three years, you don’t expect them to just accept a cut without a fight. That is what happened in Namibia.

QUESTION: Do you support the manner of their protest, refusing to travel until the money was paid to them in Namibia?

ANSWER:  I did not approve of their manner of protest. I condemned it at the time. I thought they should have proceeded to “play under protest” like we normally say, out of respect for their country and the fans and demand later that the matter be resolved before the World Cup qualifiers resumed in September. I didn’t like the way the players held their country to ransom over bonuses. It was blackmail.

QUESTION: Who were the ring leaders amongst the players.

ANSWER: I wouldn’t call them ring leaders. I would just say they led the agitations because player power is recognized in football. I was reliably informed that Vincent Enyeama and John Mikel Obi led the protest, supported rather reluctantly by Austin Ejide. These three were the senior players in camp. I was told that the younger players were ready to accept what the NFF offered to pay but they couldn’t break ranks with the senior players.

QUESTION: What role did the coach, Stephen Keshi, play in the whole affair?

ANSWER: Let’s face it: the relationship between the NFF and Keshi has been one of mutual suspicion since the “resignation drama” that ensued after the Nations Cup victory in South Africa. Both parties have been moving from one intrigue to another. They don’t fully trust each other. The NFF reportedly accused Keshi of instigating the players in Namibia because he receives double of whatever the players get as his own bonus. Keshi rejected the allegation and said his only concern was the welfare of his players. The only way to determine the coach’s true motivation in a situation like this is to disconnect the calculation of his bonuses from that of the players. It shouldn’t henceforth be a percentage of whatever the players get, high or low. Bonuses for the coaches should be negotiated separately just like their salaries. That would be my first suggestion to the probe panel.

QUESTION: The second term of reference for the panel is to draft a Code of Conduct for national team players There was no mention of a code for football officials. Does that not suggest that the minister had already concluded that the players were at fault in the Namibia episode?

ANSWER: That is a very logical reasoning. But I hope that the panel will be thorough in their investigation so that they can also make thorough recommendations. For all you know, the officials may also share in the blame. For example, how and when did they inform the players about the bonus review? Timing is critical in matters of such nature. Also, did the officials adopt a persuasive or dictatorial approach? Different strategies are  applicable to different scenarios. The probe panel will have access to all the information about what actually transpired in Namibia. If they find that the NFF also did not handle the matter appropriately, I expect them to report it and make appropriate recommendations on the conduct of officials as well. The code should not be for the players alone.

QUESTION: By the way, is a code of conduct a common thing in football? Do other countries have such documents for their national football teams?

ANSWER : Every sphere of human endeavour has a code on what is acceptable or unacceptable behaviour, otherwise there will be chaos in the society. The code may however be written or unwritten. For instance, the Nigerian constitution is our primary code of conduct document as a nation. It is written in  book form. By contrast, the British constitution is unwritten. It simply developed from their customs, practices and values. And the principles it espouses are respected by the British people.

Coming to football specifically, the English FA only last year introduced a 16-page booklet that includes 33 dos and don’ts. The document states the standard of conduct required of England players at all times, Club England values while on international duty and procedures for sanctions in event of alleged breach of the code. The FA chairman, David Bernstein, said the code had been mulled for some time, but it became imperative following the racism controversy that led to the removal of John Terry as England captain; as well as the Twitter posts by Ashley Cole in which he insulted the FA hierarchy but later apologized.

QUESTION: Are there things that Nigeria can borrow from the England code?

ANSWER: Certainly there are. But if we’re only looking for how to deal with bonus issues, we are in for a disappointment because there’s not even a mention of bonuses in their document. Theirs is about the issues of respect, professionalism and communication.

QUESTION: So, they don’t have any problem with players’ bonuses at all?

ANSWER: No, they don’t. The fact is England players don’t care much about the fees they earn on international duty because it’s not much. Their primary motivations are the pride in wearing the England shirt and a quest for achievement. Nigerian players are equally patriotic and have great pride in wearing the Eagles shirt. But the value we attach to patriotism as Nigerians is not that high unless money is also attached. This is the way we are as a people.

As recently as Euro 2012, England players’ appearance fees (not “bonus”) were £1,500 for a win, £1,000 for a draw and  £750 for a loss. Each player also received a lump sum of between  £10,000 and  £15,000. For players who earn thousands of pounds WEEKLY in their clubsides, the international appearance fees are small change. Most of the time, they don’t even collect them. They donate the fees to charity.

QUESTION: How come Nigeria is paying the Super Eagles so much then, and we are still having all these agitations from the players?

ANSWER: Part of the reason for that is corruption and reckless spending on the part of officials. The other day, I read an apparently leaked report about how much the NFF had paid out as bonuses to the players and coaches since Stephen Keshi took over. The report was meant to create an impression that the players and coaches were greedy which indeed is true to some extent. But the report did not disclose how much the NFF had also spent on estacodes for its officials, journalists, legislators, friends and concubines and other parasites who joy-ride with the national teams to all manner of competitions without serving any function.

Apart from being well paid by their clubsides which most Nigerian players do not enjoy, England players will probably not dispute their moderate appearance fees because they don’t see their FA officials and members of the British Parliament travelling to competition venues (sometimes with their spouses) at government expense. In Nigeria’s case, such reckless and wasteful spending is commonplace in our football. The players see it everyday with their korokoro eyes and if they can’t stop it, they don’t see why they should be made to pay for it by reducing their bonuses. That is the crux of the matter. Furthermore, whatever the players and coaches earn during their active years is all that they will ever get, whereas the officials will still collect gratuity and pension on retirement. The players have good reasons to detest officials feeding fat at their expense, yet complaining about cash crunch.

QUESTION: How do we now deal with that?

ANSWER:  We need a code of conduct for football officials as well. And the key elements of that code should be to stop the culture of wasteful spending of public funds. President Goodluck Jonathan recently set the ball rolling when he reportedly banned government ministers and civil servants from travelling to organize or attend wedding parties in Dubai and other places abroad. He also banned them from accepting chieftaincy titles on which government funds and other resources are usually expended lavishly and with impunity. If the players observe a noticeable reduction in the number of unnecessary officials that accompany them to competitions, they will start believing the NFF’s claim that they are broke and cannot afford to pay $10,000 as win bonus. Also, the sports authority should institute a contributory welfare scheme for national team players that can offer some post-retirement benefits, no matter how minimal. That will demonstrate to the players that the country cares for their future well-being.

QUESTION: Does the England FA also have a code of conduct for officials.

ANSWER: Yes, they do. In fact, there are also codes for match officials, coaches, team managers, spectators, parents and ‘carers’ at club level. But just like the code for the national team, these other codes say nothing about prudent management of funds. In their society, that is taken for granted and any abuse of public funds for personal benefit is punished quite heavily.

QUESTION :  Have you personally witnessed a bonus revolt before in the Super Eagles?

ANSWER: Yes, I did at USA ‘94 World Cup. Before the tournament, the NFA and players had agreed on $3,000 for a win. But after the first match which we won 3-0 against Bulgaria, they insisted on $5,000 for a win and that was what they got for beating Greece 2-0. They also demanded and collected $2,000 for losing 2-1 to Argentina even though there was no budget for a lost game. Before the second round game against Italy, the players raised their demand to $10,000. The NFA didn’t have the money, so the Federal Government of Late General Sani Abacha directed the Nigerian ambassador to the USA to mobilize $250,000 for the team. Unfortunately, Nigeria lost the game, so the NFA had to return the money.

QUESTION: Stephen Keshi was the Super Eagles captain at USA ‘94 and he must have led the agitations. There were several other similar instances when he was a player. Perhaps the present NFF have good reason to suspect him of instigating the current players, now that he is the coach.

ANSWER: That is a reasonable suspicion but it may be difficult to prove. Keshi is a wise man and he wouldn’t leave any traces even if he was guilty. That is why I have  suggested that his own bonus and that of other national team coaches for that matter should be negotiated independent of their players’ bonuses henceforth.

QUESTION: What other recommendations are you expecting from the probe panel?

ANSWER: Frankly speaking, $10,000 win bonus for every qualifier is outrageous and I will support a return to status quo ante. But he who asks for equity must come with clean hands. The panel should advise the sports authorities to cut wasteful spending. That will give them the moral right to only pay the bonuses they can afford within their annual budgets. Finally government must not succumb to the players’ blackmail again in the future.

(DEAR READER, you have the right to express your opinion here. What's your opinion on the above story? Go down to the 'comments' area on this page and have your say now.)


  1. Oga Mumuni. E ku ongbe o. You are spot on in your responses to all the questions raised. I also salute your dispassionate, bold and fair assessment of the issues at stake. If even the NFF and Sport Ministry only would submit to existing codes for public servants in the country, they would be a good example for the players and coaches to follow. Ultimately if all these codes are not strongly enforced with offenders severely punished, they may as well end up being dumped on the shelf where they would eventually gathered dust like others before them.

  2. Oga Mumini,
    As Ayekooto said: E ku ongbe o!
    Bulls-eye shot about the officials having to approach with 'clean hands' the question of code of conduct.
    But the issue is not fundamentally about corruption. It is about GROSS INCOMPETENCE.
    The NFF, as ever, is INCOMPETENT. Period.
    Our habit of fingering corruption for every institutional failure detracts from the intolerable incompetence of relevant officials.
    We shall continue to stumble until we determine that football is an industry (not a recreation), and thus detail capable administrators to run it.
    The code of conduct is simply a placebo; the disease persists.

  3. Mumini like Ada Orile said it's about incompetence more than corruption, everything is attributed to corruption and most of these allegations are unfounded. In a situation where you begging players to play you cannot have a strict code of conduct.

    The British pays like $23,000 per appearance and we pay $10000 for a win which is not outrageous but a lot in Nigerian standard.
    The $3000 paid in 1994 will buy as much as $10000 will buy today with the level of inflation, so they can be paid $3000 in 1994 it's not bad, but the question is can they afford it ?

    We the Eagles were not winning they were paid $10000, now that they were a championship team you slash their bonus by 50%, an abrupt decision will bring abrupt reaction.

    What should have been done is to slash it to $7500 and warn them ahead that in 6 months it's going down to $5000 with a good explanation and compromise . And to let you know no protest is welcomed anywhere.


  4. Nigerian Football team has finest players in the world -