By Raymond Eyo
After all has been said and done, it is now official: Nigeria has won its third African Cup of Nations (AFCON) title in 2013! Congratulations to all the players, to Coach Stephen Keshi and the rest of the technical team. Congratulations to all Nigerians as well!
I am personally very happy with the win because I saw it coming. In fact, on January 21, 2013, before the Super Eagles played their first match and whilst many wrote them off, I wrote a blog post in which I concluded that “I have the conviction that the Super Eagles will do Nigeria proud by winning the AFCON 2013!” Even after the team’s not very convincing performance in their first two outings that ended in draws, I remained confident that they were going to go all the way.
With victory comes great responsibility. For the Super Eagles, the immediate tasks are to ensure qualification for the World Cup in 2014 and a good performance at the Confederations Cup in June, itself a dress rehearsal for the World Cup. Now that one impressive victory has been achieved, what’s the way forward for Nigerian football, in the short, medium and long-terms? To begin with, Chinedu Ekeke has some advice for Coach Keshi: “Keshi should call Osaze Odemwingie, calm him down, and invite him back to the team. That’s called being magnanimous in victory.” I concur with that position especially given that Osaze’s experience will boost the Super Eagles more, going forward, particularly if they are to make any impression when they come up against very skilful world-class teams at the Confederations Cup in Brazil.
Secondly, it is remarkable that Keshi’s gimmick to include home-based players greatly paid off. For instance, Sunday Mba scored the decisive goal in the quarter-final fixture against the highly-fancied star-studded Ivory Coast team and the lone goal in the final. The implication of this is that we must invest more in our home league so as to better prop up the budding football talent we possess. For that to happen, the standard of our Glo-Premier League must also be beefed up. For a long time, the NFF has been embroiled in one controversy or internal dispute or the other. Now is the time for true patriots to arise and save that body from its seeming endless fecklessness.
Also, reports that Keshi was going to be sacked until things turned positive for the team go a long way to demonstrate the gross incompetence in the NFF. Keshi is quoted to have said “Nobody believed in me. They were sure that this team would not get anywhere and they wanted to sack me during the competition.” Why reveal plans to sack a coach when a tourney is still ongoing? Why not rather encourage him and the team to put in more effort and amend their vulnerabilities? Was some NFF apparatchik desperate to pocket funds that should have catered for the team in the knock-out stages? This revelation suffices to cause the NFF to do some serious soul-searching and reform how they do business. Based on this hapless treatment alone, talk less of the unpalatable fact that Keshi was still owed a backlog of salaries and that his official car was only on paper as well as that he didn’t get the cash due him whilst in South Africa, again coupled with the reality that his players were being owed a lot of money, his resignation was well justified. It is however commendable that, after interventions by the presidency and the sports minister, Keshi has patriotically agreed to withdraw his resignation. We take it that the embarrassed Federal Government and the NFF will promptly sort out Keshi’s tenable grievances and be jolted to act right henceforth and save themselves, and our country, all the trouble and ignominy that such unfortunate developments come with.
Nigerians take football very seriously. In fact, the love of football amongst Nigerians bestrides national life like a colossus. Such is the passion for the world’s premier game in the country that the February 10 AFCON victory has variously been described as Nigeria’s happiest moment since the fall of Sani Abacha!
No responsible government undermines national positive energy. Rare moments like the AFCON 2013 victory produce a collective release of national positive energy and inspire patriotic fervour that should never be taken for granted. A responsible and creative government will readily cash in on the national mood by immediately mending its ways, where derided, and taking pragmatic steps to deliver democratic dividends that add value to its people.
Ostensibly, and in particular, the great attention that Nigerians pay to their national football team puts pressure on the powers that be to deliver on a sustainable policy and governance framework that ensures that the sport thrives. The NFF and the FG must therefore get their football/sports management right so that our victories like that at the AFCON 2013 don’t become once-in-a-blue-moon exceptions like Thomas Hardy once wrote, “Happiness is but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain.”
On the whole, Keshi has shown us what great things we can achieve in our football and indeed, every other aspect of our national life when we get our leadership right. Keshi’s exemplary disciplinarian work ethic should ginger our leaders at all levels to get their act right for until that happens, again, Hardy’s gnome above, will remain the sad reality of Nigeria, where “Happiness is but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain.”