How Widespread is Corruption in Nigerian Football?

In less than one year, two of Nigeria’s top coaches have been slapped with embarrassing bans for offenses related to unlawful financial dealings.

Just after the 2018 FIFA World Cup, videos emerged of Salisu Yusuf, Nigeria’s assistant coach, accepting monetary gifts from persons who disguised themselves as football agents and wanted their players to be included in the Super Eagles team at the 2018 Championship of African Nations CHAN earlier that year.

Barely twelve months after the incident, a letter from FIFA surfaced announcing a lifetime ban on another respected Nigerian coach. Samson Siasia was accused of allegedly accepting money to influence the outcome of Nigeria’s matches following confessions from convicted match-fixer, Wilson Perumal.

Both Yusuf and Siasia represent some of Nigeria’s best heads in the game.

While in charge of Enyimba and Kano Pillars – both in the country’s top-flight – Yusuf won one league and two Cup titles. At the national level, he led Nigeria to a silver finish at the 2018 CHAN and has also had two spells as the second in charge of the Super Eagles.

Siasia himself also has a rich pedigree with the Nigerian National teams. After announcing himself into the coaching scene at the 2005 World Youth Championship where his Flying Eagles team were only stopped by a Lionel Messi inspired Argentina in the final, he led the country’s under 23 side to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, where he was once again beaten in the final by a Messi led side.

In 2010, Siasia became the ‘first democratically elected coach’ of the Super Eagles when virtually every football fan in the country ‘elected’ him to take over the helm after the departure of Swede Lars Lagerbach. His reign did not meet the high expectations of his appointment however and he was fired eleven months later, failing to qualify the team for the 2012 AFCON.

Siasia returned in an interim role in 2016 after Sunday Oliseh’s resignation. Before then, he had led Nigeria to a bronze at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.

No doubt, both cases have raised concerns about the integrity of the game in Nigeria, but more importantly, they have left a huge lesson for other coaches.

“If you look at it overall, Nigeria’s coaches have a lesson to learn here,” BBC columnist Oluwashina Okeleji noted.

“People have a mistrust and concept about Nigerian coaches. They’ve been labeled as unprofessional, they’ve been said to be unethical in their dealings and this indicates that they have a whole lot to learn. They have a whole lot of growing up to do and they have to be more professional.”

But has the entanglement of such high profile names in the obnoxious web of financial scandals truly provided a hint on the prevalence of shady dealings behind the curtains of the country’s football?

“I think it happens in Nigeria,” renowned football writer China Acheru comments.

“I have seen it a couple of times but it will be difficult to explicitly mention those cases because the burden of proof will be on me and I don’t have the resources to provide such proof. But it’s a regular thing in Nigeria where players, through their agents have to ‘tender’ to be signed by clubs or to play games. I hear it happens in the national teams, but like I said, the burden of proof will be on me.”

While Yusuf’s offense was accepting money from agents who wanted their players to be included in the CHAN team, Siasia is accused of accepting money to influence the outcome of matches, something Acheru finds hard to believe.

“For the one, Siasia is accused of, that’s scary to me because receiving money to influence the outcome of games is unimaginable.”

But match-fixing is not an unheard problem in the country. According to Acheru, suspected cases of match fixing becomes very common during the closing stages of league seasons in the country.

“Everytime in the Nigerian League, especially in the last three games of the season, where a club needs to win the game to either win the league or qualify to play on the continent, or they need to win by a certain number of goals to avoid relegation; and a result seen as unthinkable eventually happens, then nine out of ten times, some behind the curtain deals occurred.”

Indeed, there have been ‘unthinkable’ results on the final days of league seasons in Nigeria, the most notable being the case where two lower-tier sides – Plateau United Feeders and Police Machine needed to boost their goal differences in the bid to gain promotion. Playing simultaneously, the teams won their matches 79-0 and 67-0 respectively. The Nigeria Football Federation subsequently slapped heavy sanctions on the four clubs involved in the scandal, including their players and officials.

But those could be pardoned due to the fact that they were amateur sides, but in the country’s second tier of the professional league, we saw Akwa United beat Calabar Rovers 13-0 on the last day of the season. They needed that many goals to qualify ahead of Bussdor FC.

We had also seen a few years later in the Nigeria Professional Football League, the first tier, Kaduna United beating an already relegated Zamfara United 8-0 on the last day of the season.

With such cases seeming quite common, it is hard to doubt that more inquiries will be presented in the future, potentially implicating many other top coaches and throw the country’s football into chaotic ditch. Despite this scary proposition, Acheru insists that corruption is not the country’s uniqueness and foresees a future for Nigeria football.

“There is no country in this world where we don’t have illegal dealings in different aspects of life. So the fact that we have illegal dealings in Nigerian football will not mean that there is no future. The future of Nigerian football is bright.

“I think the difference is how you nip it when it happens. For example, Salisu Yusuf was promptly slammed with a one year been from the (Nigerian) federation. Samson Siasia was alleged to have done something similar and FIFA banned him for life. The issue is not if illegal things happen or not, it is how you handle it when people are caught in it. If you make an example of one or two people, others will think twice before engaging in it.”  

Thanks to China Acheru and Oluwashina Okeleji for their comments.