BY ROBERT OBIOHA
Last Sunday, the Super Eagles won this year’s edition of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in South Africa after beating the Burkina-Faso team by 1-0 in a 90-minute thrilling and scintillating encounter. This is the third time the team has won the trophy.
The last time it won the Cup was 19 years ago. I congratulate the entire team and their coaching crew for their patriotism and commitment to what should be the national ideal-excellence. It is given that one thing that unites all Nigerians is football. We play it, live it and even eat and drink it. There is soccer pitch in every nook and cranny of the country.
Nigerians love the round-leather game as if a Nigerian invented it in the first place. I know as I child that every round objects like orange, breadfruit, or mango is football and we kicked it with great zeal and gusto. As expected, all Nigerians including our politicians are applauding the team for a well-deserved victory. The praise is even coming from those who never gave the team a chance at the beginning of the tournament. The Eagles, before the tournament, were written off. Football pundits and bookmakers never reckoned with the Stephen Keshi-led team. The nation’s football house never contemplated victory for them.
There was a sack rumour for the team’s coach which the football house later debunked when it was apparent the team was coasting home to victory. Nigeria is a very difficult terrain to operate even as a football coach. Those that handle our football, for years, have killed the game through over-politicization. These oracles of the nation’s football house would like every tribe in Nigeria to be represented in a team of 23 players or thereabout in a country of over 250 tribes and 160 million people.
Most times, coaches are never allowed freedom to choose the players. For some time now, we relied heavily on foreign based-players as if those playing on the local league are bereft of talents. Before, we used to fancy foreign coaches but recent experience, especially in the AFCON competition, has demonstrated the importance of local coaches over European coaches.
Eagles’ victory is a clarion call on all of us to start believing in ourselves. There are so many lessons we can learn from football. One is that, for Nigeria to develop in all spheres, we must always put forward our best. It does not matter if the best is from a particular tribe.
There is no part of the country that does not have one talent or the other. As we are different, we are also differently gifted. If all of us engage in areas we have special ability over others, the nation’s harvest will be bountiful and colourful.
Nigeria is failing simply because the politicians do not want to use our best. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to do something in this direction but along the line other factors came into play and derailed it. Nation building is like building a football team. It takes time to build a formidable team. It also takes time to build a strong nation. In football, there is team spirit.
Team spirit here means collaboration, accommodation and dialogue within the team. No one player will claim the victory because the members of the team work as one. It is when we work together that we stand as a strong team. If we work across purposes, we fall apart.
Are our politicians cashing-in on Eagles’ victory aware of the need for all of them to work as a team for the benefit of all Nigerians? Currently, Nigerian politicians are working for themselves and their families. Patriotism is in their mouth but not in their heart. They preach patriotism in the public and practise crass and rugged individualism in their closets. There is no way Nigeria can develop with our rugged individualism and consumerist-capitalist economy.
Our capitalism should have some welfarist components in order to work well. It should have a human face. The current players that won the Nations Cup are not the only best players in the land. Without fear of contradiction, Nigeria has the capacity to produce about four or five of such teams if there is a transparent and committed football talent hunt in the country. Some of the nation’s best football talents are languishing in Ajegunle, Gboko, Ogoja, Ibadan, Onitsha, Enugu, Kano, Maiduguri and many neglected parts of the country.
It is sad that there are allegations of bribery before a player can get to the local league or before being called to the national team. Going outside our shores to play is a tall order. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for our players to get to the big clubs in Europe. However, there are few exceptions.
So many football talents are being wasted in the country as we are wasting our doctors, nurses, engineers, writers, builders, carpenters, and teachers. While our factories are shrinking, churches and other worship centres are expanding and booming with prosperity miracles.
I agreed with some soccer fans interviewed at Teslim Balogun Stadium viewing centre, Lagos, that the money for the Cup is not what Nigerians are after. They are after bringing the Cup to Nigerian soil after many years of eluding us due to poor planning of those at the nation’s football house. Bringing the Cup home is a product of hard work.
It is not by mere wishful thinking or prayers as some religious fanatics would have us believe. It is a product of perseverance and believing in yourself that you can do it. It is not by miracle or anointing oil. Though prayer has its function as well as mother luck but God is always on the side of a strong battalion. The Super Eagles won because they played like champions and so God crowned them champions.
The gods of soccer will only be on the side of a stronger and winning team. That is exactly what happened on Sunday in Mandela’s rainbow country. I commend the team’s psychologist. He actually worked on the psyche of the players.
The players never lost hope at each point in time. There was no moment of noticeable low morale. From 1-1 draw to winning the Cup! That is a good success story. It is a good Nigerian story suffused with drama and suspense. It is the ideal we all should aim at, if this country will succeed. We should do away with this ethnic mindset and start seeing each other first as a Nigerian before our tribal configurations.
Whether 1914 was a mistake or not, we can still make it work. The only paradigm for such to work is to emulate the example of our national team where tribe and tongue has little or no significance. We should borrow a lot of lessons from football and use them to unify this highly fractured entity called Nigeria or ‘Naija’ by the youths.
My friend, Alhaji Alhaji, from Sokoto State, is one Nigerian patriot who has made me to still believe and have faith in this country by the way we relate even though we never met in person.
Surely, there are other Nigerians like him. But the problem with Nigeria is that we always have leaders that cause division and disaffection hiding under religion and ethnicity whenever it suits their purpose. If a Nigerian loses an election, instead of accepting defeat, he blames it on his religion or tribe. It does not matter to him that he never campaigned in those places he did not win. It does not bother him that he has been playing one religion against the other in his utterances.
Beyond the euphoria of celebrating the Super Eagles’ victory and mouthing slogans of patriotism and unity, let our politicians match their words with action as regards national cohesion and unity. Our politicians are the ones causing disunity among Nigerians. Ordinary Nigerians would like to live in peace and harmony with one another but our politicians keep splitting us for their own pecuniary gains by introducing tribe and religion into politics. Let’s build our nation like a football team and score the needed goals that will launch us to greatness. Up Eagles! Up Nigeria!