Footballer of the Year, 2019. She is Nigerian and one of our country’s greatest ambassadors in women football. Her latest award is the fourth time she would be declared Africa’s Best Female Footballer, making her equal the record of her compatriot, Perpetua Nkwocha with whom she now shares that distinction.
CAF winners are chosen by members of the Technical and Development committee, journalists, football legends, coaches, and representatives and captains of national teams of Football Federations. Nigerians have always been strong members of CAF in both professional and administrative capacities.
This year, five Nigerians were part of the final decision process in the women’s category. Ahmed Yusuf (aka Fresh), Osasu Obayiuwana, Chisom Mbonu, Tunde Adelakun, and Perpetua Nkwocha.
What shocked most Nigerians and what has now been termed “an act of betrayal” was the realization that none of these five Nigerians considered Asisat Oshoala good enough as the Best Female Footballer in Africa in 2019. Oshoala was voted for and rated the best by outsiders and international football Federations. Ahmed Fresh did not vote at all; he alleges that he did not receive the voting papers from CAF.
Osasu Obayiuwana rated Oshoala 3rd, Chisom Mbonu thinks she is second best, Tunde Adelakun voted her 2nd best, while Perpetua Nkwocha rated her 5th in Africa, even when the judges were to choose from a final shortlist of three. No one would have known the pattern of the vote, were it not for CAF’s transparency. CAF’s openness is commendable.
But was Oshoala betrayed? Osasu Obayiuwana who has had to defend himself vigorously on twitter insists that he wasn’t on the panel of judges as a Nigerian to defend Nigeria’s interest but as an expert who is expected to be professional and fair-minded. In his own opinion, Oshoala was not the best female player in Africa in 2019. He and Mbonu insist that Tabitha Chawinga of Malawi is more deserving of the recognition.
Tabitha Chawinga plays as a forward for Jiangsu in China. She won the best goal scorer award in the Chinese Women’s Super League, 2019. She is without doubt one of Africa’s great exports. She is a younger version of Nkwocha, Mercy Akide, Cynthia Uwak, and Asisat Oshoala, and an immensely gifted player in her own right. She has been shortlisted twice for the African Female Footballer of the Year, and now thrice. She is 23, with big potentials. I understand where Osasu Obayiuwana and Mbonu are coming from.
When Nigerians accuse them of “betrayal”; it would seem as if those critics are recommending favouritism or partiality or cronyism in a process that should reflect fairness, merit and choice. The only problem is that with all five denying Oshoala of Nigerian votes, it really looks as if there was a Nigerian gang-up against a lady who is probably currently at the peak of her game.
Nkwocha whose record (2004, 2005, 2010, 2011) she has now equalled even rated her 5th out of a shortlist of 3. Is that a subtle way of suggesting that she did not deserve a place in the final shortlist in the first place? Is this a case of sibling rivalry? Is Nkwocha uncomfortable with her own record being broken by a compatriot? It is in the light of these questions that Nkwocha’s warm congratulatory message to Oshoala, after winning in spite of her 5th-grade rating, has been dismissed as sheer hypocrisy.
Osasu Obayiuwana and Mbonu have defended the choice that they made. But they really do not owe anyone any explanation. CAF is satisfied with the process and I guess their participation. The fans across Africa are pleased with the outcome. A judge is committed only to the rules of engagement and the criteria governing his or her assignment. He or she should not be bound by either umbilical or nepotistic attachments. I consider absolutely unnecessary therefore, the attempt by both judges to explain themselves to Oshoala’s supporters. Nigerians should get used to the right of persons to make their own choice, as long as there is no supportable evidence of ill-will, mischief or malice.
The truth is that the Nigerian team’s seemingly unanimous rejection of Asisat Oshoala even makes her victory more convincing and credible. She didn’t win because the Nigerian team supported her. She emerged as Best Female Footballer on the basis of her impressive performance and her high estimation in the eyes of others.