FIFA presidency: Kalu vs. Odegbami, others, by Ebere Wabara

The refreshing quest by the eminent and visionary international entrepreneur, foremost manager of human capital, Pillar of Sports in Africa and former action (thanks to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo for this unprecedented epithet) governor of Abia State from 1999 to 2007, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, to become the president of the more than100-year-old Federation of International Football Association became public information via a DStv SuperSport programme, “Soccer Africa”, in August and has spread like a conflagration across global shores. The adumbration of the news in Nigeria assumed the life of a constituent of the country’s 2015 sporting calendar.
Ever since then, no day has passed by without local and regional reaffirmation of the laudable intent by diverse and multifarious sports personalities and authorities. The outpouring of endorsements is such that if the final decision were to be a regional or sub-regional thing, the acclamations and ratifications would have presented the topmost football administrative position in the world on a platter to Dr. Kalu. However, considering the behemoth nature of the office, there are many dynamics and global stakeholderships.
Shortly after Dr. Kalu’s expression of interest, the football mathematician whose precison with shots and passes in his heyday as the captain of the Green Eagles (now Super Eagles) remain unequalled in Nigerian football history, Chief Olusegun Odegbami, declared his own candidacy for the summit football office. It must be underscored that mathematical Odegbami is one of the few players in the country with an elevated intellectual bent and is about the most visible of his peers in terms of cerebral entrepreneurship and contemporary sports issues at multifarious corporate and institutional levels.
If the predecessor of Dr. Kalu as the Pillar of Sports in Africa, Alhaji Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, were to be alive today, he would unhesitantly endorse his successor for the plum, universal job. There is no doubt that Odegbami has the right to aspire to head the world body—what is critical, however, is his capacity, global reach and holistic pedigree. Distinction as a player is the minutest and inconsequential consideration, let alone criterion, for qualification for the FIFA Presidency. Dr. Kalu may not have displayed any provincial soccer artistry or national football wizardry as Odegbami had excellently done, but Dr. Kalu’s unparalleled management of Enyimba International Football Club culminating in the unprecedentedness of an unparalleled back-to-back glorious and historic winning of the Confederation of African Football Champions League in 2003 and 2004 and the tournament’s Super Cup stands him on the best continental stead. That attainment was the first time Nigeria will win the CAF continental laurel in 39 years. At the risk of profuse optimism, I have the conviction that, if Chief Abiola had been alive and age allowed him to contest FIFA Presidency, nobody would have challenged him in Africa, how much less Nigeria!
On August 9, 2015, one of the titles on the stable of The Sun headlined its story on this advocacy “Kalu’s dream gathers momentum”. I strongly disagree with the caster of that headline because Dr. Kalu is passionately desirous of the engagement that he is ready to throw in anything that would legitimately ensure victory for him and the continent. Therefore, the matter has transcended the realm of dream. Ceteris paribus, Dr. Kalu is on the path of making history as the first African to hold that office. As you read this, many consultations, meetings and strategies are going on, all geared towards the election of Dr. Kalu as FIFA President next year. For me, it is a reality in process—not a dream.
In all sincerity and without any prejudices, Odegbami is good for this job, but Dr. Kalu is better in virtually all parametres and by extrapolation the best candidate to represent Africa at this golden point. Indeed, if it was a race for the headship of the Nigerian Football Federation, Odegbami would dust other contenders because of his robust antecedents vis-à-vis the localisation of the NFF circumscribed jurisprudential trajectory as opposed to the FIFA universality.
At the crescendo we had reached before the Odegbami intervention, the task left was the mobilisation of African football federations for their support towards the actualization of this project. We should not, ordinarily, be dissipating energy on double candidature when the goal should have been backing a candidate with the utmost potentiality and superlative prospect of clinching the job. In all fairness, I had expected that a personality like Odegbami should have joined other sporting giants by throwing his massive weight behind Dr. Kalu instead of the present peripherality of interest. Personages like the erstwhile Director-General of the National Sports Commission and former FIFA and CAF Executive Committee member, Dr. Amos Adamu, international football legend John Fashanu and leader of Africa’s biggest supporters’ club, Dr. Rafiu Ladipo, who have all endorsed Dr. Kalu’s imminent leadership of FIFA cannot be wrong. More Nigerians as you will read presently have also unsolicitously backed Dr. Kalu,
Undoubtedly, this is the best opportunity for Africa to get the FIFA top post for the first time. It would be a tragedy if we allow the self-created chance to slip away on grounds of our domestic disorganization and throwing of spanners in the contest. It is obvious that on a comparative scale, Dr. Kalu most probably is better than any other aspirant that has emerged and may still jokingly come out. I had expected that with the towering football image of Dr. Kalu his candidacy would have elicited consensual ratification by all member-countries (and citizens) of CAF. Alas, there are still muffled, discordant and spoiler voices!
For anyone to think of being at the helm of affair of FIFA, the person must have the supranational influence, tested and accomplished personality and a depth of managerial acumen of experienciality. FIFA Presidency is not for local champions, but for men with evidence of sporting accomplishments at various levels and dollarized affluence. Even without any insight, it is clear to most People here and elsewhere that Dr. Kalu is eminently qualified for this crown of sporting administration. An issue does not require overemphasis because of its naturalness.
Politics is integral to the FIFA race. Being a dogged politician and one-time number three presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Dr. Kalu is in a vantage and inimitable position to bring his wealth of experienceto bear on this football portfolio. As I mentioned earlier, what we need ahead of the FIFA election next February is extensive campaign that will involve a superfluity of messages tailored towards the realisation of this noble objective. For sure, FIFA politics is different from our local politics, which means that Dr. Kalu needs to go the extra mile, reach out to the people behind the football system here and outside the shores of this country, familiarize himself with the inner workings of CAF and FIFA, if he has not done that already and immediately establish credible platforms to catalyze his campaign. Dr. Kalu’s transformative profile and growing of football in this part of the world are the greatest testaments to his anticipatory replication of the same on the global stage. His contributions to sports development are testimonious of his commitment to this human facet long before now.
It is not surprising that former military leader, 74-year-old General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida has supported the candidacy of Dr. Kalu. With more and more distinguished Nigerians backing Dr. Kalu on his aspiration, the time has come for him to wrap up his candidacy with formal and public endorsement by the NFF and ultimately the CAF. This would remove the veil that makes some people see the quest as a dream instead of the reality that it is. This is very critical because without it nothing will jell, ultimately.
Not many people know that Dr. Kalu is still engineering the round leather game through the promotion of his club, OUK Football Club that is now known as Abia Warriors of Umuahia, a key team in the Globacom-Nigeria Football League System. His unflinching commitment to football even after setting continental records with Enyimba International FC is amazingly inimitable. None of his governorship or political mates has devoted so much interest in the development of football in Nigeria and on the continent. He is not coming from the blues to aspire for FIFA topmost calling. That Dr. Kalu and Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr., GCON, principal proprietor of Globacom, are best of friends today is a function of their inseparable love for the sovereignty of football in our country and transnationally.
At this point, I can assuredly say that the 54 African Football Federations will at the opportune time collectively root for Dr. Kalu. It will be a disservice to our continent and indeed the world if Dr. Kalu does not emerge the preferred candidate and go ahead to assume the leadership of FIFA to God’s glory and our honour. I know full well that other countries outside Africa may have their own candidates and possible seek to play the FIFA politics more than we do, but with enigmatic Kalu they will have the shocker of their lives because of his global reputation, recognition, opulence as one of Africa’s richest men and networks of networth tentacles spanning business, politics and football. They should know and have a rethink in their own interest.
Dr. Kalu’s eventual victory as FIFA President will have immeasurable benefits for Nigeria and Africa. This is evidently so because no African has headed FIFA since it was established. Implicatively, our interests as a nation and continent will enjoy some measure of statutory boost and prominence with our man inevitably in charge. The Igbo say that if you are not at home to look after your yam, it will burn or goats will help you take care of it! We need a man like Dr. Kalu in FIFA. He will administer the world football-governing body more than he did in Enyimba FC. Africans need this pride for the first time in global football history.
According to the NFF President, Amaju Pinnick: “The FIFA presidential race is a very serious matter, an intense affair that demands playing the political game on a global canvass.” This corroborates my foregoing assertion that you need a man of the calibre of Dr. Kalu who has the capacity, competency and resources to play the cards. The competiton is not for minions from “small” African countries or even Nigeria, comparatively speaking!
I will end this article with a quote from former FIFA and CAF Executive Committee member, Dr. Amos Adamu: “If you put Odegbami and Kalu up for selection, for me I will sincerely pick Kalu as he has proved his integrity as a top-class administrator and in the area of marketing, he has also been there at the world level. Odegbami proved his worth as a player in the field of play where he was fantastic no doubt about that. But he failed to translate this to the areas of administration and marketing. I do not want to support a candidate that would travel to two or three countries for campaign across the world and would start asking the people to raise funds for him to continue the campaign. This is capital intensive and someone like Odegbami does not have the capability compared to the financial prowess of Orji Kalu who has a world-class airline business in another country and a chain of other multi-billion business empire.”
My final line: Odegbami is good and qualified for FIFA presidential contest, but Dr. Kalu is better for reasons adduced above and many more!
. Wabara ([email protected]/08055001948) is the media adviser to Dr. Orji Kalu.