Increasingly, the utterances of some Super Eagles players and their representatives who have covertly or overtly accused the late Stephen Keshi of corruption are starting to sound like moaning of frustrated and disappointed players who cannot seem to overcome the disappointment of being dropped from the Super Eagles squads during one of the most successful periods in Nigeria’s football history.
In this month of May, players including Chinedu Obasi, Taye Taiwo, Imoh Ezekiel and Emmanuel Sarki have all been linked to allegations of wrongdoing against Keshi’s coaching administration (between 2011 and 2015). In fairness to them though, the rumours of widespread corruption have been like a dark cloud hanging over Keshi’s reign even before these wave of accusations.
It has to be recalled that even the most self-assessed objective observer raised an eyebrow at Keshi’s world cup squad of 2014 which included some surprising additions and shocking omissions. Rumours of bribery and corruption linked to that squad spread like wild fire hence these allegations have come as no surprise to many – including myself.
However, I think Super Eagles defensive Aficionado Taribo West sums it up best when he said that bribery and corruption in the national team have existed even during his time (in the glorious decade of the 1990s). Nonetheless, he goes on to state that scale of the corruption nowadays is ginormous.
From that statement, the only conclusion I can draw is that everyone is in the corruption: from coaches, the administrators, to agents and even the footballers themselves (who offer bribe or allegedly alter their age to feature in national teams), the scale, scope and size of corruption pervading our football cut across all participants – and not just one coach.
So, I think it is rich for one player to allege corruption against one coach when their own hands might not be totally clean, more so, when their claim may be driven by personal grudge against a coach who believed that he could take the Super Eagles to greatness without their (pompous) services.
Think of the case of Super Eagles flamboyant left back Taye Taiwo. If you draw a timeline based on what he (himself) has said to media between 2012 and 2020, his claims of leaving the Super Eagles based on Keshi’s alleged corrupt practices simply does not wash!
In April 2014, Taiwo was quoted by Daily Post NG as saying: “I’ve been out of the set-up for over two years so I am rather pessimistic than optimistic this time around (of making the world cup squad). Without me playing a part, Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations and qualified for the World Cup, so realistically my chances of making it are very slim.”
In December of the same year, Taiwo said Goal.com: “I’m still very much in active football. At my club I play regularly and my manager keeps wondering why I’ve been shut out of the Nigeria national team. I am a Nigerian and if given the opportunity to do so, I will definitely do that with open arms. Why not? I will surely come.” End of quote.
It has to be recalled that during Taiwo’s exclusion, Elederson Echiejile won Nigeria Afcon gold while Juwon Oshaniwa navigated Nigeria to the second round of the World Cup!
Now, across very many Nigerian media outlets, Taiwo suggests that he wasn’t interested in playing for Nigeria during Keshi’s reign. Who do we believe? The Taye Taiwo of 2014, the Taye Taiwo of 2020 or the Taye Taiwo who claims to be 35 years old (despite many Nigerians suggesting he is much older)?
Corruption is corruption regardless of who may be perpetrating it.
At the time, Keshi offered an explanation to BBC on his rationale for inviting players to the national team.
"There is no guarantee that playing in Europe is enough to get into the Nigeria squad. Everyone must fight for the right to be selected," Keshi told BBC Sport in 2012.
"I don't care where you play, if you fit into my plans and you are committed, then you will get a chance to prove yourself.
Competition is important (to me), then add discipline, commitment and dedication, hopefully that will restore respect and support from the fans." Concluded the coach whose approach brought immense success to the Super Eagles of Nigeria.