Nigeria’s football is in the news for the wrong reason once again! Convicted Singaporean match-fixer, Wilson Raj Perumal opened the lid recently when he claimed that he helped Nigeria qualify for the 2010 World Cup held in South Africa through his match-fixing network. In a mind-blowing expose published in his new book, ‘Kelong Kings’, Perumal revealed how he influenced match results to help the Super Eagles qualify for the first ever World Cup held in Africa.
The country was in a quandary before the last qualifier against Kenya following the prospect of yet another painful ouster from the 2010 World Cup after missing out of the 2006 edition in Germany. In Nigeria’s Group B which included Kenya Tunisia and Mozambique, Tunisia with 11 points was on top, while Nigeria with nine points had her fate in the hands of the Mozambicans to beat the Carthage Eagles in the last Group B matches. The Super Eagles were away to Kenya in a must-win game and Tunisia travelled to Mozambique for outright victory or a draw to pick the group’s slot. Surprisingly, the Super Eagles won 3-2 in a pulsating game at the Kasarani Sports Complex, Nairobi, while Tunisia lost 0-1 in Maputo. Could the results have been fixed?
Perumal revealed in the book that he had meetings with an unnamed Nigerian football official in which he promised to help his country qualify for the World Cup in return for free rein in organising three warm-up matches and getting a cut of the money FIFA provides for hosting a training camp during the tournament. First, he claimed to have influenced three players on his payroll to help Nigeria to victory in one of their qualifiers. He also said he promised the Mozambique FA a $100,000 bonus if they were able to hold Tunisia to a draw and so stop Tunisia leapfrogging Nigeria and picking the ticket.
Though the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) promptly dismissed the claim as an attempt to tarnish Nigeria’s image in global football, it is imperative to warn that the football house needs more than mere verbal rebuttal to clear the country’s name. The NFF is left with the moral task of proving Nigeria’s innocence. Indeed, we suggest it should drag Perumal before FIFA, the global football ruling body, to substantiate his allegation. Should he fail, a libel suit should not be ruled out.
However, we dare say it is disheartening that Nigeria is earning ignoble reputation in the global football family. The nation has been tarred with age cheat scandal, ‘vote for dollars’ scandal involving a former executive member of FIFA, Dr. Amos Adamu, and now this alleged match-fixing. In 1989, FIFA banned our national youth teams for fielding over-age players in its organised youth tournaments. The birth dates of three players – Dahiru Saidi, Samson Siasia and Andrew Uwe – at the 1988 Olympics were found to be different from the ones used by the players at previous tournaments. Nigeria was found to have falsified their ages at the Under-20 level, and this earned her a two year ban. For this reason also, she was stripped of the right to host the 1991 FIFA World Youth Championship.
The nation’s football recently had a place in the Guinness Book of Records with a large scale match-fixing saga involving four teams in the lower division of the national football league. The clubs recorded scandalous score lines in a promotion race in the Division Three League. Plateau United Feeders beat Akurba FC 79-0 to undo Police Machine, which also walloped Babayaro FC 67-0. Match officials were reported to have connived with the club officials to drag the game into disrepute. Several months after the national shame, the culprits are still walking the streets free. The NFF chose to keep its investigation on this scandal to itself.
Similarly, an international friendly match between Nigeria and Argentina in Abuja three years ago was marred with match-fixing allegations, thus rubbishing the Super Eagles’ 4-1 victory over Argentina’s senior team. Though FIFA eventually cleared Nigeria of any complexity in the allegation, the scar created by such embarrassment is difficult to erase.
We therefore, urge the NFF to do everything possible to clear Nigeria’s name. Should it fail to pursue the case to a logical conclusion before the World Cup 2014 kick-off in Brazil, the ripple effect on the Super Eagles could be better imagined. It surely will have psychological effect on the boys. We are, therefore, calling on the NFF to ensure that FIFA clears Nigeria of the mess before June 16 when she takes on Iran.