Restoring trust in football through behavioural advocacy: A case study from Nigeria

Bob Olukoya and Aderonke Ogunleye-Bello1


The purpose of this chapter is to apply the case study of a Nigerian football coach recorded collecting a bribe to illustrate how moral repair (Walker, 2001) and ethics of care (Gilligan, 1982) can be complementary to the predominantly punitive and retributive justice system in Nigeria. Football is no doubt the most popular sport in Nigeria and it unifies the nation the way nothing else does (Omilana, 2018). The Super Eagles and the Super Falcons (male and female national team respectively) are well loved and have enjoyed great successes in Africa and on the world football stage (Asokan, 2010). However, both football leagues in Nigeria are currently going through a challenging period mainly due to historical integrity issues that have led to sponsor and fan apathy. Football coaches in Nigeria, especially with the national teams, are high-profile individuals and subjected to public scrutiny, especially during the countdown to continental and international tournaments. The dominant narrative within the media and amongst fans is that the selection process had been corrupted and players are chosen based on their willingness to bribe the coach (Nwosu & Ugwuerua, 2015).

This chapter is focused on a case study relating to a coach of the Super Eagles found to have been bribed, and how he was addressed by the responsible football federation. Did this response restore trust? What other step(s) could have been taken in attempting to restore trust? The chapter will conclude with recommendations on what could be done to discourage similar behaviour in future promoting values such as care, remorse, ethics and virtue-based rules at its core.

The case study: Salisu Yusuf

Nigeria, in the wider context is a country that is tough on societal ills with an unforgiving penal system. While capital punishment remains on the books, the prison service was recently renamed the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS), pardy in recognition of the fact that there is the need to move towards rehabilitation and away from punishment and retributive justice (Afilaka, 2019).

This is a case study of a Nigerian coach recorded collecting a bribe from undercover reporters posing as football agents. The subject of the sting, Mr Salisu

Yusuf, was a respected assistant coach of the Super Eagles (Nigerian senior men’s national football team). He was also in charge of the Nigerian U/23 men’s team. In July 2018, the news broke that Yusuf had been caught accepting a ‘bribe’ - US $1,000 - from undercover journalists. Posing as football agents, the journalists paid the bribe on the pretence that it was to facilitate the selection of two players into the В-Team of the Super Eagles scheduled to represent Nigeria at the 2018 edition of the African Nations Championship. Yusuf also agreed in the video to accept a financial payoff if the players in question eventually secured transfers to foreign clubs as a result of their exposure in the Championship (Sulola, 2018).

Conviction and punishment

After an inquiry by the disciplinary committee, it was found that Yusuf had breached his duty' as a senior coach and had brought disrepute to football and his employer - the Nigeria Eootball Federation (NFF). It was further found that the decision to accept the cash was a deliberate one, and not merely an error of judgement as suggested by some of Yusuf’s advocates (Ugbane, 2018). Yusuf was subsequently banned from all sporting activities for one year and fined US$5,000. He protested his innocence throughout the trial and was fiercely supported by the highly influential Nigerian Football Coaches Association (NFCA).

The NFCA representatives claimed that the hearing was unnecessary and supported the view that the cash was a gift, as contemplated within Article 20( 1) of the FIFA and NFF Code of Ethics, which provided that gifts and other benefits were permitted where the gift is ‘symbolic or trivial value and would not create a conflict of interest’. However, Article 20(2) clarified that gifts ‘shall’ not be accepted if there is any doubt as to their purpose or intent. The disciplinary committee held that the coach ought to have rejected the gift (Olawale, 2018).

Public opinion

Yusufs one-year ban and fine by the disciplinary committee was viewed by the public, the media and other external football stakeholders as unusually lenient and a: ‘mere slap on the wrist’ (Udoh, 2018, p. 1). While the gift giving culture in Nigeria has been described as including ‘polite corruption’ (Brownsberger, 1983), it is also clear that people: ‘know the difference between a polite gratuity and a bribe’ (Salisu, 2000, p. 6). The public perception in Nigeria was also that the NFF and its disciplinary committee were too eager to close the case and ‘move on’ with the hope that the public would sooner, rather than later, forget the saga.

The reverse, however, was the case, as the public opinion continued to build against the NFF. This was exacerbated as Yusuf, who was viewed as a role model within and outside football, did not show any remorse (Edefe, 2019). Journalists tied this case back to a previous incident in 2016, involving the highly rated Daniel Amokachi, former captain and coach of the Super Eagles. Amokachi disclosed at the time that young footballers (U/17 cadre) invited to the national camp were required by the coaches to part with at least N250,000 (700 USD) each in order to make the team (Ochayi, 2016). The NFF did not take Amokachi’s revelation seriously and never investigated the claim. Rather, the NFF and the NFCA at the time, defended their coaches and demanded empirical evidence from Amokachi (Ugbane, 2016). The audiors observed that, had the NFF taken the allegations from Amokachi seriously and instituted an inquiry or review similar to the Wood Review (2018) in Australian sport, the Yusuf saga might have been averted. This was predicated on the fact that issues of bribe-taking would have been in the forefront of public discourse and might have influenced Yusufs judgement.

After Yusuf was sentenced, the public was of the opinion that the NFF had again missed an opportunity to use the case of a very popular coach, who had obviously erred, to lead the advocacy for the restoration of trust and confidence in Nigerian football. The NFF was further criticised for not being proactive, especially as the chairman of the ethics committee publicly declared that Yusuf committed a moral wrong rather than a legal wrong (Editor, 2018). No lasting measures were put in place by the NFF to forestall or dissuade other coaches, players and their agents from future moral breaches.

To balance the leniency perceptions of the public, an analysis of the options open to the NFF disciplinary committee reveals that the committee has limited powers in sentencing. The FIFA rules (FIFA, 2019) regulating breaches of Art 20 (1) and (2) provided for a maximum fine of CHF10,000 (US$10,000 approximately) and a ban from all football activities for two years for a first-time offender (repeat offenders gets a maximum of five years) (Art 20(3)). Yusuf, as a first offender, receiving a US$5,000 fine and one-year ban represents a 50% reduction in the recommended tariff. The disciplinary committee and the NFF justified the reduced sanction on the fact that the coach was previously of unblemished character and that the players in question were an automatic pick for the national team anyway (Okeleji, 2018).

Based on the public reaction described above, the punitive and retributive focused judicial system in Nigeria had not satisfied the yearnings of some of its critical stakeholders (the fans). Can the moral repair concept and Ethics of Care theory fill in this gap?

Moral repair

Margaret Walker argues that moral repair is ‘an unavoidable human task’ given that our human fallibility is replicated through traditional restorative justice processes. Reparations can strengthen individual dignity' and mutual trust in the wake of serious wrongdoing (Walker, 2006, p. 6). At the most basic level (everyday practice), moral repair is simply a response to wrongdoing (Walker, 2001), such as through an offending party' offering an apology' to the offended party' and guaranteeing not to repeat the behaviour in question. Mere apology' might not suffice in such circumstances and retributive justice may also be impracticable. Therefore, reparative effort, which includes a complex process of the acknowledgement of wrongdoing and the desire to re-establish broken trust in order to forge better relationship between the offender and the offended groups might be desirable

(Brannmark, 2008). For example, moral repair can be applied within the context of historical injustices spanning generations that have damaged relationships, such as the slave trade and the apartheid regime in South Africa. In Australia, a National Sorry Day has been held each year since 1998: ‘This day gives people the chance to come together and share the steps towards healing for the Stolen Generations, their families and communities. Stolen Generations refer to Indigenous Australians who were forcibly removed from their families and communities’ (Passi, 2013).

Ethics of Care theory

The Ethics of Care was developed out of the identity' and moral development research by Carol Gilligan (1982). It is premised upon the fact that humans are inherently relational, responsive, connected and interdependent (Walker, 2006). Sometimes referred to as feminist ethics (Bogaert & Ogunbanjo, 2009), due to its focus on care and compassion rather than justice-based rules. Gilligan posits that morality' based on pursuit of justice alone was incomplete and likely to become oppressive and damaging (Pettersen, 2011). In the same vein, critical ethicist Nel Noddings also contributed to the theory by promoting the view that values such as care, ethics, trust, mutual consideration and solidarity should be embedded within the justice system (Noddings, 1984, p. 2). Higher standards of responsibility', Noddings claimed, are usually associated with people with a moral duty' of care, in contrast with people merely under legal obligations (1984, p. 2). She went further to argue that the law in most cases simply forbade people from acting in a particularly harmful way, whereas moral obligations include both refraining from acting in a harmful manner, and also providing help to others whenever needed. Care, empathy and relationship building are at the core of the theory (Held, 2005; Slote, 2007)."

In applying the principles of moral repair and Ethics of Care to the case study, there are two critical stages. The first is to establish the existence of a moral wrongdoing, and identify the perpetrator, beneficiaries and victims. It is evident by virtue of the pronouncement of die disciplinary committee that trust had been broken or, at very least, damaged. The coach was found to have brought the game into disrepute (Okeleji 2018). The breach was made public which means that it impacted on the broader footballing community' so that fans, players, parents of children playing, the NFF and football stakeholders including licensees, broadcasters and sponsors are all victims. Yusuf was both the perpetrator (although on this occasion, not the initiator) and sole beneficiary - however, under different circumstances, there could be multiple parties, i.e. multiple perpetrators and beneficiaries.

The second stage is to formulate a clear pathway in dealing with the wrongdoing. The options include doing nothing and allow the wrongdoing to fade away or either to forgive or make amends (Walker, 2006). The first option is rarely recommended. The victim(s) is/are at the heart of the forgiveness pathway. According to Walker: ‘forgiveness is a variable human process and a practice with distinctive versions’ (2006, p. 152) and the mode and manner of forgiveness is solely at the discretion of the victim(s). Walker was careful not to provide a definitive explanation of forgiveness. Rather, she acknowledged three definitive features of forgiveness that have been commonly discussed by other writers. Forgiveness is predicated upon ‘getting past resentment’; ‘restoration of relationship’ or ‘permanently settling or fixing a past wrong’ (Walker, 2006, p. 169). Walker’s position was that forgiveness can endure even if all the three features of forgiveness remain indeterminate. None should be insisted upon as a prerequisite for forgiveness. Each individual and community has their peculiar way of forgiving, which must be respected. Recalling that the victims in the case study were football stakeholders and the NFF, the key question is, who then forgives Yusuf and how is the forgiveness determined and translated? These will be discussed further below.

The third pathway to moral repair is making amends, which is firmly within the realm of the wrongdoer. Making amends is described by Walker as: ‘intentional reparative action by party or parties who acknowledge responsibility for wrong, and whose reparative actions are intended to redress that wrong’ (2006, p. 191). These could range from a straightforward public apology to engaging in behavioural change advocacy as previously mentioned. The most important aspect is that amends are made to the victims with a view to trust restoration.

Why is trust important in sport?

The uniqueness, or as described by Bruyninckx (cited by Nehme & Ordway, 2016, p. 208), the ‘exceptionalism’ of sport, is well recognised. The Nice Declaration on Sport (European Council, 2000) introduced the term ‘specificity of sport’ in reference to sport’s special characteristics (Smith & Stewart, 2010, p. 2). This uniqueness, according to Hoye et al. (2008, p. 507), transcends consumer behaviours, relationship between sport and government, regulatory regimes, strategy', organisational structure, human resource management, organisational culture, governance and performance management, etc. Sport has become a protected ‘social institution’ (Smith & Stewart, 2010), despite its capacity to generate huge commercial resources, based on its necessity for competitive balance and uncertainty of outcomes (Zimbalist, 2002; Szymanski, 2006; Healey, 2012). These dual concepts form the bedrock of professional sport and have driven the drama, passion and rivalry that has transformed sport, especially team sports such as football, into the global, entertaining and economic phenomenon that it is today (Buraimo & Simmons, 2008, p. 146). The challenge, as identified by Nehme & Ordway (2016), is that if the social contract, or social licence (outlined in Chapter 5 Jamieson and Ordway, this volume), is breached through any attempt to tinker with the competitive balance or uncertainty of outcome, then trust in sport is destroyed. In this setting, if the outcomes of games are pre-determined, or players are selected by how much they can pay, not by how well they can play, then sport is robbed of its spontaneity, integrity, appeal and meaning (Szymanski, 2006). It is paramount that trust is preserved, and sport administrators put measures in place that will dissuade behaviour that undermines trust at all levels. Relating this to the case study of Yusuf, receiving money in order to field players, as already established, is a fundamental breach of trust, which can potentially affect the competitiveness or otherwise of the teams involved.

Pre-condition to restoring trust: Addressing the culture of deviancy

In responding to breach of trust issues, it is pertinent to adopt a holistic stance (Harley, 2012), bridge communication gaps (Chambers & Craft, 1998), review existing systems and explore ways of rebuilding trust within the affected community' (die football ecosystem). The first step then is to examine whether a culture of deviancy exists within the football community and hierarchy:

(i) Response from the Offender (Yusuf): The national team coaches are high-profile and widely regarded, fairly or otherwise, as role models for other coaches and players alike. In this case study, despite being the second highest ranked football coach in Nigeria, Yusuf did not appear to show any remorse before or after his sanction. It is also telling that none of the commentators, nor Yusuf himself, seemed concerned that coaches would agree to meet with ‘player agents’, despite stating upfront in the videoed meeting that their mission was to undermine his decision-making process as a coach.

Remorse on the part of the wrongdoer is a critical condition precedent to the application of the moral repair (making amends) and the Ethics of Care theory. However, the NFF cannot force the coach to feel or demonstrate genuine and sincere remorse as contemplated by Gilligan and Walker. If the wrongdoer does not show remorse, it is likely to reflect a personal unwillingness to repair trust and may be evidence of a culture that trivialises ethical imperatives and ignores deviant behaviour, which needs to be addressed.

  • (ii) Response from the Senior Coach (Gcrnot Rohr): Not only did the senior coach, Rohr, not show any genuine outrage, he publicly supported Yusuf as a victim of entrapment (PH, 2018). Ignoring the FIFA Code of Ethics, which applies to coaches (FIFA, 2019), Rohr also did not report the meeting to his employer or to the numerous anti-bribery agencies in Nigeria (such as the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission - ICPC). Rohr may have been concerned that as he had only been in the country' since 2016 (Ayinor, 2016), and if he ‘made waves’ his contract may have been terminated. The alternate argument is that, as a senior German coach for over 20 years, Rohr would have been aware of the zero-tolerance policy on corruption in football, and what his obligations were (Ordway, 2014). If Rohr knew that Yusuf had been approached, it should also have been mandatory' that Rohr report it to the NFF and FIFA (Hill Commandment 4, Pielke, 2011).
  • (iii) Response from the Nigerian Football Coaches Association (NFCA): While some stakeholders may feel it is entirely appropriate for the NFCA to stand by their member in the wake of the public outcry' that followed the release of the video recording, others may believe that the NFCA responsibility was to back those coaches who are ethical, and would not have accepted the bribe. Instead, the NFCA spokesperson at the time described the gift as ‘trivial’. The NFCA agreed that the behaviour of Yusuf‘dents’ the reputation of their association but stated that they did not think the integrity and reputation of football was negatively affected (Udo-Okpo, 2018). The NFCA clearly exhibited a high level of tolerance for deviance and contributed to creating a culture of impunity and cheating.
  • (iv) Response from the NFF: The NFF followed its own rules and that of FIFA in diligently investigating the matter in relation to Yusuf (but not Rohr as mentioned above). However, there was public outcry when the one-year ban and $5,000 fine was announced. As set out above, the NFF were unable to clearly communicate the restrictions placed on the domestic tribunal by the FIFA regulations, and why it was felt that a 50% reduction in the FIFA recommended sanction was appropriate. The challenge for the NFF position became even stronger when Yusuf was first restored to his old job after his ban was served, and then was seconded by the NFF to oversee the affairs of a Nigerian club in the prestigious Confederation of African Football (CAF) Confederation Cup, after that team parted ways with their manager (Oyeleke, 2019). These decisions poorly reflected on the supposed conscience of football in Nigeria.
  • (v) Response from the fans, sponsors and other external stakeholders: The public outer)' and media attention around this case study indicated that there was a trust deficit between the NFF and some of its external stakeholders, especially the fans, which in turn had led to a disconnect between the two. It was clear that the fans wanted more than a ‘box-ticking’ disciplinary process. However, as illustrated above, the NFF appeared to prioritise addressing the issue in a timely manner, rather than the substantive causes. While an argument about fairness for people having the opportunity to make amends and get on with their lives after serving their sanction is acknowledged, the NFF, in reinstating Yusuf to his old job without having accepted responsibility for his actions, means that the NFF’s efforts were significantly undermined.

This case also highlighted a missed opportunity for the government, sponsors and broadcasters to influence the action taken by the NFF. While there may still be a view that: ‘Most Nigerians continue to question government’s involvement in sports matters that they believe should be left for the private sector’, the fact is that the NFF is reliant on government funding and that: ‘The National Sports Policy of Nigeria highlights the obligations of the federal government in sports, including football, with an emphasis on the administration, management and sponsorship’ (Okolie-Osemene & Okoh, 2014, p. 5).


One popular way to demonstrate the rebuilding process is to sanction the offender. In this case study, the NFF punished Yusuf. However, as already discussed, sanctioning one individual offender alone is insufficient to repair the damage done, particularly where there was widespread belief that this incident was merely one of many other cases that had gone undetected and/or unpunished. Therefore, additional ways to renew and promote integrity, fairness, solidarity, responsibility and respect are needed to restore trust in Nigerian football. A holistic (Ordway & Opie, 2016), Ethics of Care approach, including behavioural integrity awareness campaigns, ethical training, and establishing a code of ethics is recommended to achieve moral repair and to restore trust to Nigerian football as follows.

1. Behavioural awareness advocacy

It is clear from the foregoing that rules, regulations or codes cannot be the only solution to Nigeria’s integrity problem. Rather, the challenge is ensuring that rules, codes and regulations are understood and adhered to. In this case study, the fact that Yusuf continues to insist that the money he collected from the undercover reporter was merely ‘symbolic and of trivial value’, as provided in the FIFA codes, could be a product of ignorance and lack of appreciation of the importance of ‘letter and spirit’ of the law. If a high-profile football coach and administrator of his calibre- can get it so wrong, then hundreds of local coaches throughout Nigeria may act in similar manner (if not worse).

As a result, there is an urgent need for the Integrity Unit of the NFF to embark on sustained anti-corruption awareness throughout the country. The advocacy must be focused, friendly and in multiple languages. The content needs to be geared towards educating all stakeholders, from the grassroots to the professional level, on the damaging effect that deviant behaviour, no matter how petty, can have on the game and their careers. For instance, major sponsors had abandoned Nigerian football partly due to the accumulation of integrity challenges, which includes match-fixing, age fraud, nepotism, funds mismanagement, electoral malpractices and breaches of contract (Ifetoye, 2019). If these sponsors refuse to return to Nigerian football, the loss will be felt by everyone, especially those at the community level. The message must also be clear about what people should do when they witness or become aware of unethical behaviour. If this advocacy is well planned and implemented, it will go a long way in restoring trust and rebuilding the image of Nigerian football.

2. Regular training and coaching conferences

These are essential for coaches irrespective of status. With global technological advancement, coaching has become more scientific and many Nigerian coaches could benefit from training that better equips them for the job and raises their level of technical competence. Online training, face-to-face conferences and awareness-raising, regarding the dangers of corruption and of negligence in their coaching work, could improve their ethical competence and renew their commitment to the job. This will strengthen their moral fibre to be able to resist desperate players and agents who may offer gifts and a percentage of their wages in order to curry favours and/or be selected as one of the first 11 players in the team.

3. Code of ethics

To support these measures, the NFF needs to strengthen its code of ethics for its members, particularly including the referees and the NFCA, to guide them on how to behave professionally and promote fairness. This can support the work of every member, official and coach at all levels in Nigeria. All coaches should sign the code of ethics at the time of accepting their contracts. Stiff penalties must be spelt out for deviant behaviour, such as bribe-taking (Hill argues for life bans: Commandment 5, Pielke, 2011). As part of the code of ethics, a comprehensive coaching policy for football should be developed for the country, to ensure that a high level of technical competence is achieved alongside with deepened ethical awareness.

A separate code, supported by ethical training, could also be provided for match and player agents. This guidebook can be used by every agent and would constitute a germane part of the roadmap to sustainable football development. The understanding of the need for this clarity is not new internationally (e.g. Dee, 1992; Kelly & Chatziefstathiou, 2018). In line with the FIFA Code of Ethics, the NFF Code must also cover player and match agents and clearly spell out their obligations, such as found in the Football Federation of Australia [FFA] Code of Conduct:

A Player, an Official and an Agent must not:

  • (a) accept bribes through the offer, promise or acceptance of any Benefit in return for violating his or her duties; or
  • (b) provide for a Benefit any information concerning a Club, its team’s actual or likely composition, the form or injuries of Players or possible tactics (other than in connection with a bona fide media interview). (FFA, 2017, Art 4.2)

Having such commonalities in the way everyone works would be good for the industry and help to promote fairness, solidarity and respect from juniors all the way up to the national women’s and men’s representative teams. (Further discussion on the drafting of Codes of Ethics can be found in Chapter 4 by Riedl, this volume.)

4. Timely payment of salaries and allowances

As demonstrated by the research of Declan Hill, the adequacy and timeliness of remuneration is crucial to ensure robust integrity (Commandment 3, Pielke, 2011). Predominantly in Africa, and Nigeria in particular, salaries and allowances of coaches and at times players are left unpaid for several months, usually caused by the mismanagement of funds or sponsors defaulting on payments. There is also no state sponsored social or financial support for citizens on low income or the unemployed. Therefore, if coaches and other sports professionals are not paid on time, it has profound and fundamental effects on these players and their families. Nigerian teams have had a long history of protesting to bring attention to these contractual breaches (e.g. Ndlovu, 2002; Waldstein, 2014), including at the Premier League level (Okolie-Osemene & Okoh, 2014). As recently as 2019, both the Super Eagles and the Super Falcons had to threaten strike action in order to receive their promised payments (Okeleji, 2019). Whilst not justification to resort to criminality or deviant behaviour, it would be self-defeating for the NFF to embark on behavioural awareness advocacy whilst basic contractual terms remain unfulfilled.

Restoring trust through behavioural advocacy 18Б

5. Clear guidance on accepting gifts

The NFF, as part of its oversight function, must set out clear guidelines on when it is appropriate to accept as gifts, and from whom gifts can be accepted. Unsolicited gift offering and acceptance is normal in the wider Nigerian society and it is unrealistic to expect football to be an exception. This cultural norm was clearly demonstrated in the attitude of Yusuf and the NFCA. This ambiguity can be removed by the NFF through either banning the acceptance of gifts - solicited or otherwise by its coaching staff - or outlawing the acceptance of cash and establishing a threshold on non-cash gifts (e.g. N 3,000 or $10). It would have been interesting to note what the reaction would have been if only the conversation, but no evidence of cash, had been recorded.

Conclusion and final considerations on restoring trust

A single solution to the challenges of bribe-taking and other deviant behaviour in Nigerian football cannot produce the desired result. A multifaceted and holistic approach involving all stakeholders is required. Starting from the national coaches, who occupy a special position of trust that must not be abused nor utilised for personal gain, the NFF must be alive to its responsibilities as the regulator of football in Nigeria and the coaches’ employer. To be effective, the recommendations discussed above need to be implemented and communicated throughout all levels of the game.

More importantly, when breaches of the rules inevitably occur, a balance is needed: while punishment and retribution may be appropriate, the breach cannot be treated with levity. Rather, a robust inquiry into why the wrongdoing happened and the factors responsible must be conducted. The immediate acknowledgement that trust has been broken, and an understanding that it can be mended through the care and just moral repair process is crucial. The interests of the victim in the breach must always be paramount; in this case the loyal fans. Above all, regular behavioural advocacy for coaches and agents aimed at consistently orientating them on the highest standards of professional and social behaviour, supported by a code of ethics embedded into their job descriptions and accreditation processes, will go a long way to restoring trust.


i Trust loss - In whom (or, in which group) has trust been lost in this case?

ii Trust correction - How, if attempted, has the restoration of trust been tried?; and;

iii Lessons learned - How could the lessons from this case be applied to other sports, nations, states, other districts for the same sport, or other sports to prevent a further loss of trust or at least to restore trust?

  • 186 Bob Olukoya and Aderonke Ogunleye-Bello Note
  • 1 The authors are grateful to the feedback on this chapter provided by Kemi Ogunyemi, Catherine Qrdway, Stirling Sharpe and Richard Lucas.


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