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With Tiko Emmanuel Okoye, firstname.lastname@example.org 0805-410-3468 (sms only)
Millions of connoisseurs of the round leather game in Nigeria not only missed the opening ceremony of the 2013 Orange African Cup of Nations (AFCON), but they equally could not watch the opening game in Group C between the Super Eagles of Nigeria and Burkina Faso. It is an open secret that football is one event that makes Nigerians act and relate as a united people. Whenever any of the nation’s teams is engaged in an international football competition, creed, tribe, state and political affiliations are thrown overboard.
This is why one public affairs commentator once reportedly described football as an opium that can be used by a people-savvy president to make Nigerians stroll up and down the national landscape with an air of insouciance, thereby providing him all the freedom he needed to do as he pleases without questions asked! While such a point of view might amount to stretching the truth, it however underscores just how devoted Nigerian fans are to football. That is why I am somewhat surprised that aggrieved and peeved fans have not taken to the streets to protest the inability of the country to broadcast live matches from the AFCON tournament taking place in South Africa.
One of the ‘street parliamentarians’ – a.k.a. “Free Readers Association” – within the vicinity of my house had conjectured that fans have already resigned themselves to the fact that the team the nation now parades is a lackluster one, so there is nothing to lose by not watching the matches. He further averred that the blackout is in the best interests of the nation, both in the short and long terms, since there would be no reported cases of deaths attendant with stress-related disorders (hypertension, stroke, etc)! He concluded his ‘speech in plenary’ by positing that it would have been an entirely different story if matches from the English Premier League were similarly blacked out as diehard supporters of football clubs such as Manchester United and Chelsea would have gone on the rampage.
What shocked me was that he was shouted down by an overwhelming majority of listeners, who insisted that they were ready to make any sacrifices necessary to curb the shylock activities of owners of AFCON broadcast rights who perceive Nigeria as money miss road. Why I was shocked is that most Nigerians have a short memory and are not prepared to sacrifice the satisfaction of a desire on the puny altar of patriotism. I remember only too well that during the anti-fuel subsidy removal protests, many inpatient car owners called those protesting the hike in pump price at the petrol stations all the names under the sun, asking them to step aside if they had no money to buy fuel at the escalated price!
I personally believe that the owners of the AFCON broadcast rights and their agents and collaborators in Nigeria knew the disposition of the average Nigerian very well. They were said to be boasting at their Transcorp Hilton Hotel base that they ‘understand Nigeria very well’ (you and I know what that means). They averred that their powerful and influential lobbyists at the top echelons of government had already made the necessary arrangements, and that all that remained was for the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria (BON) to make the necessary recommendation to the government to pay up! They were doubtlessly smugly hoping that the possibility of a backlash against a looming blackout would be enough to nudge the government and television station owners into caving in to public opinion on the issue. They must be licking their wounds and counting their losses by now because the expected public outcry did not materialize. Their sudden apprehension and desperation became obvious when they started engaging in what Information Minister Labaran Maku called “casino pricing” – going from $8million to $6million and then $4.5million.
For a while, it was touch-and-go whether the government would stand its ground or cave in and dole out funds to the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) to take unilateral action. Knowing how endemic the cankerworm of corruption is, I do not need a soothsayer to tell that President Goodluck Jonathan must have been subjected to all kinds of pressures by political do-gooders to meet the greedy demands of the broadcast rights owners. There must have been some government officials, apparently seething with rage at the ‘intransigence’ of BON and with an eye on the huge cuts they were promised by the rights owners, who must have kept impressing on the president that Nigerians are football crazy and that the blackout would cost him very dearly at the poll in 2015 when he seeks reelection in 2015.
I consider the entire broadcast rights saga as most nauseating, degrading and insulting. It is crystal-clear that a bunch of rent seekers have been exploiting the corrupt tendencies in the corridors and hallways in the past to feeding fat on suffering Nigerian masses. This nation – derisively called “Africa’s sleeping giant” (while a giant is sleeping a tiny mouse can disgrace it!) – has traditionally served as a cash cow that must be milked to death by foreign buccaneers and their local partners in crime. Can anyone imagine how South Africa, Africa’s biggest economy in terms of GDP, and with a per capita income of $13,000, can be charged $2million, Ghana, with a per capita income of $3,500 charged $500,000 and Nigeria, with a per capita income of $2,500, charged a whopping $8million ab initio!
It has been said that the total cost of the tournament is about $6million, so if Nigeria had paid up, it would have meant that she paying the bill for all African nations put together (including the more economically buoyant South Africa). This also means that the broadcast rights owners and their alleged collaborators in CAF and the Nigerian government would have been smiling all the way to their various banks in Switzerland and Cayman Islands at Nigerian taxpayers’ expense!
I am completely thrilled that the federal government decided to restore our sense of national pride by accepting BON’s recommendation to call the bluff of the dandified foreign owners of the AFCON broadcast rights. Let us just hope it is a sign of better things to come in all areas of our national life. We must all be grateful to the current BON Director-General for taking the lid off the rotten world of CAF-approved marketing of AFCON broadcast rights. The chairman, High Chief Aleogho Raymond Dokpesi, and the management team, of African Independent Television (AIT) must equally be congratulated for the able manner in which they so effectively brought the issues involved to the public domain.
FIFA long ago dispensed with the arrangement that provided for an in-house football marketing organization because of the sharp practices it encouraged. Reputable multinational companies such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola now regularly sponsor different levels of FIFA competitions. But in Africa, CAF is still stuck with the old ways of doing things. It is said that virtually all the members of the CAF Executive Committee are sleeping shareholders of these so-called sports marketing companies. I personally think Issa Hayatou has stayed in office as CAF president for far too long and must be made to vacate the scene – willingly or unwillingly!