(In memory of Keshi and Amodu)
Death, the grim reaper, scored two devastating goals against the Nigerian soccer fraternity last week, throwing the nation into deep mourning. First, it plucked the amiable ex-coach of the Super Eagles, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi. Then, it snatched another ex-coach of the national team, Amodu Shuaibu, just when we all were still grieving over Keshi.
The two deaths have greatly shocked me, as other compatriots who knew the two men. I spoke with Keshi a few months ago, February precisely. He needed an assistance, which was obliged. I can still remember his deep-throated laughter, asking me to guess who was calling.
“If I tell you, will you pay me a hundred thousand dollars?” I teased.
“Oya, try make we see,” he replied
“It’s Keshi now. You think I don’t have your number?”
“Ok, you win. But no hundred thousand dollars for you. Where you want make I get that kind money?” Then, he let out that trademark laugh of his. That laughter died with the man June 8, 2016. Sad. Quite sad and tragic!
Of course, I also knew Coach Amodu Shuaibu. Beyond the fact that he was a fellow Edo man, I interacted a bit closer with him in the early days of the Oshiomhole administration. He was always around, offering assistance here and there in sports matters. He was warm, humble and amiable. He was easily an easy-going man, a man of peace. I believe he was also a reliable and dependable man, which accounted for his being called to rescue the Super Eagles at critical moments, which he obliged. Sadly, he too is gone. Just like that. This underlines the transience of life: Here today, gone tomorrow.
But, we all must be consoled by the quality of lives lived by both national icons. They left their footprints in the sands of time, and etched their names in the hearts of the people. As a sage puts it brilliantly, it’s not the years in a life that matter, but life in the years!
When the Super Eagles under the late coach and Big Boss of the national team, Steve Keshi, won the African Cup of Nations in South Africa, I did a piece, eulogising the prowess of the team and the super coach.
Below, is that piece, published February 11, 2013, which I believe should be a memorable tribute to Keshi…and Amodu, since they were both involved in the fortunes of the national team.
Eagles of gold and glory!
EVERYBODY likes gold. The English playwright, Geoffrey Chaucer, was dead right when he declared in a moment of poetic ecstasy : ‘Gold stimulates the heart.’ I don’t know what else stimulates the heart better than gold. Golden age. Golden necklace. Golden wristwatch. Golden bracelets. Many people, especially women, can die for gold. Gold sounds good, not so?
Gold is also a state of the mind: To think gold is to think excellence, perfection, to be the best. Muhammed Ali was the golden boxer of his days; John Fritzgerald Kennedy was America’s golden president even though he had a short-lived tenure. Ghana had Kwame Nkrumah, the golden president of the anti-colonial struggle and father of the Ghanaian nation. We also once had Murtala Mohammed, our golden head of state who, like JFK, was snuffed out after barely six months in power. We had others: The independence leaders, who did what they could to put us on the path of gold, which we are still trying to find, which we almost had but lost to lack of focus and seriousness.
I don’t know about you, but I am reluctant to call successive Nigerian leaders, who have ruled at the centre golden, because if they were truly golden we would not be where we are as a nation, where we seem to be making progress in reverse order. So, we agree that we have had mostly bronze medallists as leaders, some would argue, no medal leaders. We seem to be stuck in motion without movement, some sort of abracadabra of the more you look, the less you see. Yearly, we have budgets running into trillions, yet paradoxically the army of the unemployed lengthens; hardship is multiplying; jobs are vanishing and hope has become hopeless. A nation debating whether 67 billion dollars in our foreign accounts has suddenly developed wings or not can’t be said to have being managed by golden leaders. If the money hasn’t just vanished, where is it? What impact has that and other budgeted monies made in the life of the Nigerian? Certainly not expended in the overall interest of the people. Gold comes to those who dream gold, who smell gold, who dig hard for gold. Are they that rule us today doing that?
However, it is not only Nigeria that is in search of the right leadership. The whole of Africa is in search of golden leaders, to lead the continent out of its decadence: Economic, social and infrastructural. Instead of gold, Africa is the continent rubbished by the dusts of misrule by its army of directionless rulers, who can in no way be called golden. Ask Mo Ibrahim, the man who instituted awards for good governance but can’t seem to find a leader worthy enough to wear the crown. I am not saying all African leaders are crooks, but we seem to be the continent with a reservoir of kleptomaniacs and tyrants for whom being in power means self-service, not community or national service. If not, we would not be the continent of hunger and diseases, perennially in search of aids and grants that are in themselves laden with toxins. Africa is rich enough to make her peoples rich, but the poverty of leadership keeps the continent poor. That is not a statement open to debate or disputation.
But this column from the headline above is not about politics per se, even though you can’t fully detach sports from politics. In the world we live, sports is politics, and politics is sports; football is big politics. Nations are rated based on their exploits in the field of sports. The giant of Africa must truly be giant in the field of soccer to be respected by smaller nations; while small nations who kill giant nations become envied and respected.
Thanks to Coach Steven Keshi and his boys in South Africa, we have regained our lost glory in soccer. We have proven that we are truly the giant of Africa. From being underdogs, our Super Eagles became the top dogs, putting smiles on our faces. The smile our leaders deny us by their directionless leadership of our nation. If Keshi were a politician and elections are truly free and fair, this guy would get overwhelming votes on account of his superb leadership of the Super Eagles. Truly, nothing succeeds like success. Truly, we have a national team that ‘stimulates our heart’ and a coach that emblazons his name in our hearts.
The lesson of Keshi’s success is simple: Focused and creative leadership galvanising a team to surmount daunting obstacles. It is the spirit of ‘can-do-ism’, which runs in the veins of every Nigerian. Leadership was all it took to ignite the fire and the passion. And we became golden! Oh, God of soccer, you are a Nigerian.