ABUJA: Nigeria`s government on Monday lifted a two-year ban it imposed last week on its national football team after a dismal World Cup showing, just ahead of a FIFA deadline to do so, a presidential source said.
"The government has reversed the decision," the source told AFP. A formal announcement was expected later.
Nigeria last Wednesday slapped a two-year ban from international competition on the squad after the traditional African powerhouse finished bottom of their group in South Africa with just one point from three matches.
President Goodluck Jonathan also ordered an audit into how the funds allocated for the team at the World Cup were used.
Sports ministry spokesman Tony Ohaeri said earlier Monday the decision had been taken "in the interest of football".
But the move led to an angry reaction from football world governing body FIFA, which takes a dim view of political interference in the sport.
FIFA gave Nigeria until 1600 GMT on Monday to reverse the decision or face "the suspension of the Nigerian (football) federation," leading to calls within the country for the ban to be lifted.
Over the weekend, the Nigerian federation sacked three of its top executives and appealed to Jonathan to reverse the ban.
The remaining nine federation executive members apologised for the poor performance of the national team and pledged to "address the maladministration" of Nigerian football.
But while the ban by the Nigerian government drew criticism from some in the oil-rich country who considered it too harsh, others said drastic moves were needed to move the programme forward.
Kayode Ajibogun, a member of the country`s football supporters club, told AFP on Monday before the reversal that the ban was the right decision.
"The boys performed woefully in South Africa because of bad administration in our sports. So banning them for two years will allow us to put our house in order," he said.
Ex-national team goalkeeper Dosu Joseph said earlier Monday that Nigeria had little choice but to lift the ban.
"I see Nigeria reversing the decision even if it is five minutes to go so as not to incur the wrath of FIFA. Nigeria cannot afford to call FIFA`s bluff because it will not help the development of our football," he said.
Nigeria was not the only country to face accusations of political interference after being eliminated from the World Cup.
FIFA had earlier voiced opposition to French government involvement amid fall-out from France`s first round exit.
France were knocked out after losing 2-1 to South Africa, bringing the curtain down on a dreadful campaign that saw a players` strike, insults hurled at the coach and a volley of criticism from politicians.
But FIFA said last week that France`s government was not guilty of interference after former coach Raymond Domenech and former French Football Federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes were quizzed by politicians.
BDST: 2129hrs, July 5, 2010