All I want is opportunity to clear my name, Siasia pleads

Samson Siasia led Nigeria to a silver medal and a bronze at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and the Rio 2016 Games respectively.

It’s less than a month to March 19, 2020. It is a date former Super Eagles’ Coach, Samson Siasia must appear before the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) in Switzerland to prove that he has never been involved in match-fixing. If he failed to appear in person in Zurich, then he must find another job other than the football business.

But football is the only job Siasia knows how to do; it is what he has done all his life. The tragedy is that raising the money required to keep him in football has become a daunting task since FIFA banned him for alleged match-fixing, even without hearing from him.

Siasia is in that state in a man’s life when he feels the noose is being tightened around his neck for no just reason.

Nigerians, good people all, are the only ones that can save him from this nightmare.

Siasia has been pleading to Nigerians to help him raise the $250, 000 (about N90 million), which he needs to pay to CAS for the body to sit on his case.

Apart from the money, he also has to buy flight tickets for himself and his legal team, as well as pay thousands of dollars to his lawyers. All these he must do before March 19.

What is the issue?
In August last year, the world football governing body, FIFA pronounced a life ban from all football activity on Siasia, saying he had been found guilty of accepting an offer to receive bribes in order to manipulate matches.

FIFA said it wrote Siasia twice but he “ignored” both mails, hence the sentence.

Stung by the allegation and the attendant punishment, Siasia’s lawyers promptly filed an appeal with CAS. To hear the appeal, Siasia must pay to CAS $250,000 (about N90m).

FIFA confirmed it began an investigation into Siasia on February 11, 2019, which stemmed from an investigation into attempted match-fixing committed by Wilson Raj Perumal.

Announcing the sanction, FIFA wrote on its website, “The adjudicatory chamber of the independent Ethics Committee has found Mr. Samson Siasia, a former official of the Nigeria Football Federation, guilty of having accepted that he would receive bribes in relation to the manipulation of matches in violation of the FIFA Code of Ethics.

“The formal ethics proceedings against Mr. Siasia were initiated on February 11 2019 and stem from an extensive investigation into matches that Mr. Wilson Raj Perumal attempted to manipulate for betting purposes.

“This large-scale investigation was conducted by FIFA via its competent departments and in cooperation with the relevant stakeholders and authorities.

“In its decision, the adjudicatory chamber found that Mr. Siasia had breached art. 11 (Bribery) of the 2009 edition of the FIFA Code of Ethics and banned him for life from all football-related activities (administrative, sports or any other) at both national and international level.

“In addition, a fine in the amount of CHF 50,000 has been imposed on Mr. Siasia.

The decision was notified to Mr. Siasia today, the date on which the ban comes into force.”

This is what the former Flash Flamingoes striker is battling to extricate himself from. He has appealed to Nigerians for help, but the target is still too far.

Speaking to The Guardian at the weekend, Siasia confessed that this is the most challenging time of his life. He could not explain how this type of nightmare could happen to him.

And to think that he has never met the man he is accused of conspiring with to fix matches, makes it more confusing to the former Super Eagles’ star.

Narrating all he knows about the man in question, Raj Preumal, Siasia said, “In 2009, I was out of work and looking for a coaching job. I then got an email asking me if I wanted to coach in Australia.

“I didn’t know how the person got my email, but we started talking about the job. He said I should bring African players and Nigerians to play in Australia. I said no problem, I will bring them.

“We started exchanging correspondents back and forth. We talked about the salary, sign on fees and bonuses. All these were done by email. Then, later, he said my demands were so high and that they had hired a cheaper coach.

“The players did not go to Australia, I didn’t get the job and that was the end of it. That was in 2009.

“There was nothing like any match discussed. We only talked about getting a job and the players I would bring to the club.

“The club was not made known to me.

“Nigerian don’t even know the truth. You know anything about Africans is seen as corruption. There is no one person in Africa that is seen as good. They believe we don’t have good people and that is not true.

“The narrative is that every black man is a criminal. Who knows; if some black men who had been convicted had their day in court what would have happened?

“We have many good, honest and respectable gentlemen and women in every facet of life. Go to the Army, Navy, businesses and the professionals we have honest and dedicated people contributing their quota to the elevation of humanity.

“I am saying that this thing they are accusing me of, I am innocent. I need a fair hearing. I cannot accept that they banned me for life because I didn’t check my email.

“Is it not too harsh? You caught a guy on camera and you ban him for one year…all the players that racially abuse blacks nothing happens to them. What has FIFA done to help those assaulted and discriminated against.

“FIFA is not God, everybody in FIFA is a human being and not God. They can make mistakes.

“You sent me an email and I didn’t respond to it then you ban me for one year…is it fair? Is everybody glued to his internet all the time?”

Siasia said he was not sure if FIFA got to the NFF before taking its decision, opining that the NFF should have been FIFA’s first point of contact.

“When the pronouncement was made, the NFF President, Amaju Pinnick called me to find out if I checked my mail and I told him no.

“He said FIFA cannot ban me without letting me know my offence. I also believe that FIFA cannot ban me without letting the NFF know.

“The NFF said they will help me to get a lawyer, but since then nothing has happened.”

If Siasia failed to raise the money, that means he will have nothing to do with football anywhere in the world again. He cannot coach even a kindergarten team and cannot sit on any committee, board or even referee a game. And the coach dreads asking FIFA to give him more time to raise the money.

“FIFA has shifted the hearing date once because of me and I don’t want to ask them to do that again.

“I just want to go there and clear my name from this whole issue. It has dragged for almost one year. I cannot work unless this thing is settled in my favour.”

The irony is that a coach, who single-handedly raised thousands of dollars for the national U-23 team when the Sports Ministry failed to cater for the Olympics team he was managing in 2016, is finding it difficult to raise money to fight his cause.

Same Nigerians, but different attitude to an icon, who apart winning trophies for the country as a player, has accounted for a silver medal and a bronze for the country at the Olympic Games as a coach.

Time is running out fast and Siasia has no other option than to continue to plead for help.

“Many Nigerians want to help. I have received many widow’s mite from poor Nigerians… some N100, others N500, some as low as N50. Yet, there are some who have made handsome contributions and would not want their names mentioned. I really appreciate.

“I wrote to the President, the Senate President, my state government yet no response.”

“I want Nigerians to believe me because I will prove FIFA wrong and their contributions won’t be in vain.”

Although the NFF Secretary General, Sanusi Mohammed declined to comment on the issue as ‘it is a legal matter at the CAS,’ NFF President, Amaju Pinnick says the federation is trying to help the former Super Eagles’ coach raise the necessary money.

Pinnick told a local website recently,
“From the moment the news broke, I was the first to call him. And we immediately offered to help by getting a lawyer to work with his team, analyze the situation and see how to help him prepare his defence.

“It was during that cooperation that we asked our lawyer to work with his lawyer and himself to come up with a budget and then we would see what NFF can pool and what we can get from other sources.

“I called some people in the Niger Delta region where he comes from and even risked a trip down there to meet some people who could help him raise money.

“But these are not things that we should not be talking about in public so we were surprised to hear that he has been ‘abandoned’.”

Some footballers and his former team mates have also been of help to Siasia.

“Odion Ighalo has been amazing. He is a young man with a good heart and he has been very supportive, along with (Segun) Odegbami and Larry Izamoje,” Siasia told the website.

Former Super Eagles’ Captain, Segun Odegbami, who has been trying to raise Nigerians’ awareness on the Siasia case, described the Olympics bronze medallist as a man badly traumatised.

The man at the centre of the FIFA match-fixing investigation, Singaporean, Wilson Raj Perumal.

He said, “I had to put myself in Samson’s shoes to appreciate his simple and very innocent response.

“I have been in football for almost five decades. The only time I have ever dealt directly with FIFA, in all that time, was when I lodged a protest concerning the integrity of the local elections into the Nigeria Football Federation, and they responded to my petition.

“Beyond that, players and coaches have no business or a relationship with FIFA requiring any form of communication. If FIFA want to contact me now, it makes sense that they would either go through my national football federation, or through the email address they must have received from me several years ago, a Hotmail account that I discarded many years ago. Once in a very blue moon I visit the box and find thousands of ‘useless’ mails that I never even bother to read or respond to.”

Odegbami believes that Siasia was saying the truth when he said he did not read FIFA mails.

“If Samson saw FIFA’s mail I believe him that he would have responded. Period.

“FIFA had not listed any match involving Nigeria as being fixed. Or could Samson have fixed a match not involving his own team?

“So, if no Nigerian match is listed anywhere as having been fixed, how come Samson would be accused of match fixing allegations?

“If the charge is only that he did not respond to their mail, then, surely there is a big mistake somewhere.”

He argued that FIFA must have been in haste or in anger when it took its decisions to fine and ban Samson Siasia.

“Even the letter written to him requesting for his response to the allegation clearly states that failure to respond would attract a penalty of at least 10,000 Swiss francs and a possible maximum sentence of a two years ban.  That’s what the letter said.

So, what justifies a life ban?”

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