Wobbling and fumbling to football glory

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in Sunday Punch, Nov. 15, 2009 

I had planned to resume after a four-week break with my experiences in Anambra and some other states I visited during my vacation. But football is in the air. Golden Eaglets will play their U-17 World Cup finals with Switzerland today in Abuja. Yesterday, the Super Eagles beat the Harambee Stars of Kenya by 3-2 to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

 The victory of the Super Eagles, no doubt, is a sweet one. Every patriotic Nigerian will continue to rejoice until the conclusion of the game in South Africa. On my part, I have toasted to this victory. It ennobled my soul and renewed the patriotic spirit in me as a Nigerian. My Kenyan friends, Sam and Roberts, will not know peace for sometime. I will make sure I constantly rub in this victory in their consciousness. If they had any doubt that Nigeria is the giant of Africa, this is the time to shut them up permanently. Victory or success has many brothers and sisters. But failure is an orphan. Nobody wants to associate with it.

As our U-17 team file out against Switzerland today, many Nigerians will be praying for a resounding victory. If that victory comes, we will have double celebration. We will have confirmed to the world and to our enemies that the Nigerian spirit conquers all obstacles.

For instance, we fought a 30-month civil war. Many predicted our disintegration. Against all odds, we triumphed. We are still together as a country. Some foreign analysts who are yet to recognise and appreciate the Nigerian spirit have also predicted our demise as a country in the near future. Those armchair analysts will eat humble pie. Nigeria will continue to grow from strength to strength. We are very good at turning any unpleasant situation into something pleasant and lucrative.

 But let’s ask ourselves some pertinent questions. Did we qualify for South Africa 2010 because we prepared well enough for it? Did our U-17 team succeed in the age group competition because they played with their mates? Will the handlers of the national team consolidate the Super Eagles’ victory? Will they start now to prepare for the World Cup proper? Can the Nigeria Football Federation boast of contributing significantly to this national celebration?

If we must tell ourselves the home truth, we are just lucky. We never learn from our mistakes. We always depend on permutations, “prayers”, and sometimes, fraud, to achieve our ambitions.

Just look at our U-17 team. We are all happy at their success. But does that success stand on a solid ground? A lot has been said and written on the fielding of over age players in that team. I won’t bore you with the details again. But rather than commend and honour the man who blew the whistle, Adokiye Amiesimaka, some of us resorted to blackmailing and insulting him.

Those who say Amiesimaka is not patriotic miss the point. To those who say he shouldn’t have released the information now, the question is, if not now, when? I laughed when I read some comments credited to some of our football administrators. To some of them, it would have been a thing of joy if Amiesimaka’s column is stopped.

In my interactions with the man since he started writing for SUNDAY PUNCH, I have realised that he is somebody who holds tenaciously to what he believes in. And he is not somebody who can easily cower. If he wants anything done, he pursues it until it gets done.

That is the type of person our country needs. Unfortunately, Nigeria is a country in search of truth. We are where we are today because people have refused to locate and embrace truth. Hence, it will be foolhardy for anybody to tell us to postpone the search for that truth.

 We hosted the COJA 2003 All Africa Games. A lot of money went down the drain. Some people became instant millionaires. Our hosting of the U-17 World Cup has also been trailed by financial scandals. Sports Minister, Sani Ndanusa, and chairmen of committees and sub-seats are talking from two sides of their mouths. We do not know who to trust or what to believe.

It’s even a miracle that FIFA gave us the nod to host the World Cup. Typical of us, we were not fully ready even when the competition had started. There were hiccups here and there. Flood took over some of the pitches. Publicity was too poor. In Kano, there was electric power failure in the night when a match was on. Ironically, the FIFA Vice-President, Jack Warner, who okayed the facilities in the first place, condemned this show of shame. Conversely, facilities in Egypt that hosted the U-20 World Cup in September/October were ready one year before the competition.

One other thing about the Super Eagles victory is that it will re-energise the delusion in many of us. We will be happy and temporarily forget our misery and misfortunes. The ruling party may make some noise about it. Some prophets will claim to have interceded on our behalf as more souls will troop to their sanctuary for miracles. More prayer requests will be made.

 But as we celebrate, let us remember that qualifying for the World Cup is one thing; doing well in the competition is another. Let us remember that our comatose infrastructure is another opponent we need to defeat on the field of governance. And let us remember that our collective destiny lies in our hands.

If we don’t continuously remind ourselves of these facts, we will be like a beauty queen who uses garri bag to sew skirt and blouse.

 Congratulations Nigeria!

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