Why Supporters’ Club Must Close Ranks

A couple of weeks back, Rauf Ladipo, the president-general of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club, appeared on Kadaria Ahmed’s Straight Talk programme on Channels TV.

Among other things, Ladipo responded to allegations of financial impropriety levelled against the leadership of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club which he heads, by some members of the club. Like in previous times, the president-general denied the accusations and said his traducers were only fighting him for ulterior motives.

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The interview came on the heals of the latest brouhaha in the club which led to the inability of many of the club members in Nigeria to travel to Canada to cheer the Super Falcons in the FIFA Women’s World Cup recently held in that country.

On June 7, at the James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, Winnipeg, Canada, I met some Nigerians who introduced themselves as members of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club in Canada. When I inquired after the Ladipo-led group from Nigeria, they revealed that many of the club members would not be in Canada because the Canadian embassy in Nigeria denied them visa based on a petition written by some aggrieved members of the club against the leadership of the club.

It was the latest in a long-drawn battle between the two groups. As knowledgeable insiders would admit, at the root of the crisis in Nigeria Football Supporters Club is money and who controls it. On one hand is a group of club members who believe that Ladipo has been in the saddle for too long and should make way for some other person. They accuse him, among other things, of sit-tight culture — of refusing to cede control of the group’s leadership to other members. But the Oyo State indigene believes he is still relevant and should not be stampeded out of a club he helped take to its current height.

From humble beginnings in 1957, the Nigeria Football Supporters Club today is universally recognised as a Nigerian brand. It has branches in no less than 15 countries worldwide with at least 57,000 members, according to Ladipo in an interview with me sometime ago. Although the image some people have of the club is that of a band of cheerleaders or loafers who sing and dance merrily in support of Nigerian teams during football competitions, the club boasts within its rank, many accomplished individuals in various sectors of the economy and the recognition enjoyed by the club is seen in the fact that it is now able, unlike in the past, to attract private sponsorship as evidenced by its partnership with Globacom. Apart from Globacom and some other private companies, the federal government under Goodluck Jonathan donated N50 million to the club, which reportedly helped fund the members’ trip to Brazil last year to cheer the Super Eagles in the FIFA World Cup.

It is this ability to attract funds to itself and issues bordering on accountability that some people within the club are probably not happy about.  The division was noticeable in Brazil last year as the club’s camp in the South American nation was split between loyalists of Ladipo, the charismatic president general who has been in charge of the club since 1990 that he emerged the national chairman of the organisation and those opposed to his leadership…

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