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Samson Siasia: Hold off judgement following Fifa ban

12:04 PM WAT 20/08/2019
Samson Siasia
The past couple of days have seen the former Super Eagles striker's sterling record of service in danger of being completely sullied

There is still a surreal quality to the news that broke a couple of days ago: Samson Siasia, legend as both player and coach of the Nigeria national team at various levels, has been banned from football for life by Fifa.

The finality of it, for one thing.

A life ban is, one would think, a verdict to be reserved for the most egregious of wrongs, for the sort of high-level corruption that, ironically, characterized Fifa itself not too long ago, and that has not exactly been rooted out if the Swiss courts have anything to say about it.

To then apportion that verdict for “having accepted he would receive bribes” – as opposed to actually having received them – seems a little heavy-handed. However, while there can be some surprise at the severity of the sanction, a swift and decisive clampdown on corrupt practice within the game is essential to preserving its integrity.

On Monday, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) indicated their willingness to throw their legal heft behind the embattled two-time Olympic medallist, stating that they had handed over documents received from Fifa to their lawyers to study and advise on a course of action.

“Siasia is a football legend, but most importantly he is a Nigerian,” read a release by the Acting President of the NFF Seyi Akinwunmi.

“While we respect Fifa processes and appreciate that an investigation was conducted prior to the decision, the least we as a federation can do is empathise with him at this time, make ourselves available to him and hope that in some way he is able to clear his name as he has promised to do.”

For his part, Siasia has denied all wrongdoing, and convened a press conference late last week, only to then decline to make a statement. It is believed that he was advised, at the last minute, to keep his counsel and make no public proclamations.

Clearly, the situation is fraught. It is also murky in a way that is unseemly for a man who has so markedly imprinted on the Nigerian footballing landscape.

As a player, he was a part of Nigeria’s most accomplished generation of footballers; as a coach, he has overseen some of the most enlivening milestones of Nigerian football in the 21st century.

That record, somewhat inadvertently, is now besmirched by this latest debacle. The lack of clarity from Fifa regarding precisely which game(s) Siasia agreed to receive a bribe to influence has led to heavy speculation, and the desire to fill in the gaps has led to a number of hypotheses, some more plausible than others.

The biggest suspicion has come to rest on a June 2011 friendly against Argentina in Abuja, a game that a Siasia-led Super Eagles side won 4-1. A blatantly second-string Albiceleste, starring Federico Fazio, Nicolas Gaitan and Diego Perotti, was predictably overrun, with Joel Obi (remember him) putting on a midfield masterclass full of invention and elusiveness.

However, a laughable penalty award in the final minute afforded the visitors a chance to get a consolation, and it was duly dispatched by Mauro Boselli, to the bemusement of the entire stadium.

What at the time appeared to be a simple case of incompetence on the part of referee Ibrahim Chaibou has now, in light of recent events, taken on a more deliberate and sinister colouration.

This is especially so considering that, only in January, the Niger referee was handed a lifetime ban from all football-related matters for bribery and match-fixing.

The association with Wilson Raj Perumal, a convicted match-fixer who Fifa’s statement on Siasia also mentions, is pretty damning.

For some, there is a sense that chickens have come home to roost, and that this latest development, unpalatable as is, is important in laying bare a culture of corruption in the Nigerian coaching fraternity. Certainly, when taken in tandem with the case of Salisu Yusuf last year, it is easy enough to see that the problem is less individualistic in nature and more systemic.

However, until the facts become clearer, and until Siasia gets his appeal – which he has stated his desire to pursue – going, it would be wise to, at the very least, hold off on any hasty judgments.