(Adds quotes, fan reaction, Fashanu comment)
By Felix Onuah
ABUJA, June 30 (Reuters) - Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has suspended the national soccer team from international competition for two years following their poor performance in the World Cup, his office said on Wednesday.
“Mr President has directed that Nigeria will withdraw from all international football competition for the next two years to enable Nigeria to reorganise its football,” Ima Niboro, Jonathan’s senior communications adviser, told reporters.
“This directive became necessary following Nigeria’s poor performance in the ongoing FIFA World Cup,” he said.
Nigeria were knocked out in the first round.
After meeting the country’s World Cup organising committee, Jonathan also said the accounts of the committee should be audited.
“If any financial misappropriation is discovered, all officials responsible will be held accountable,” Niboro said.
Jonathan’s decision came a day after the executive committee of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) met to review the team’s first round exit, in which they picked up a single point and finished bottom of their group also containing South Korea, Greece and Argentina.
Niboro said the sports minister would be writing to FIFA shortly to inform them of the decision. He said the minister for the federal capital territory, Abuja, had been instructed to build a “Football House” where the team could be based.
“The problem of Nigerian football is structural. We need to reorganise the structures and there is need to withdraw from all international football competition so that we can put our house in order,” Niboro said.
A statement said the federation apologised to the “federal government and all football-loving Nigerians for the early ouster of the Super Eagles from the World Cup” and added Nigeria would seek to play more friendly matches to get more experience.
“It’s the right decision ... President Jonathan has made a bold step to clean up the rot. We need to move the country in football,” John Fashanu, a former England footballer partly of Nigerian descent, told local sports radio.
“We cannot be held to ransom by anybody.”
Some Super Eagles fans were shocked by the decision.
“Sounds to me like the president is trying to score cheap political points ... the next major international competition is two years away anyway,” said one irate fan in Lagos, asking not to be named.
The NFF said it wanted Swedish coach Lars Lagerback, appointed on the eve of the finals, to stay and put together a wide-ranging programme to harness young talent.
The statement also said the federation disagreed with those claiming Nigerian soccer was in a dwindling state.
“No previous board has qualified Nigeria for all major tournaments internationally,” the statement said.
The government instruction to withdraw could prompt sanctions from FIFA, who have taken a strong stand against political interference in the sport.
A FIFA spokesman said: “We have had no official information from the Nigerian FA about this case specifically but in general FIFA’s policy towards political interference is well known. Our statutes do not allow for any political interference.”
Nigerian sporting administrators have often been accused of corruption and incompetence and the federation was roundly criticised after sacking coach Shaibu Amodu in February, just four months before the World Cup finals.
Amodu was dismissed because Nigeria only managed to finish third at the Nations Cup finals in Angola in January.
Nigeria were banned by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in 1996 when then President Sani Abacha withdrew the team from the African Nations Cup finals in South Africa because he had been criticised by Nelson Mandela over the judicial execution of political opponents.
They could not compete in African competition for two years but were able to qualify for the 1998 World Cup in France.
The CAF refused to comment on the Nigerian president’s decision when contacted by Reuters on Wednesday.
Nigeria were set to begin their bid to qualify for the 2012 African Nations Cup finals in September against Madagascar. (Writing by Randy Fabi, additional reporting by Yinka Ibukun in Lagos, Mark Gleeson in Johannesburg; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Jon Bramley)