Football in Nigeria: Going Beyond E-imaging Eagles in 2014

A few days ago, my friend, Ikeddy Isiguzo, the chairman of Vanguard Newspaper Editorial Board, editorialized that we need a lot of e-imagination to see any future for the Eagles in 2014 and beyond after the debacle in South Africa. Chairman Isiguzo argues that in order for us to fully understand the predication that we found ourselves in (the debacle and President Jonathan’s premature reaction), we need to first roam through the future with a digital mind, e-imagination!

To what extent are Nigerians using the digital thinking, e-imagination mind? Where is our team on the digital scale? Do we have the e-Eagles? Are we thinking of the e-Eagles?, chairman Isiguzo asked. My other friend, Onochie Anibeze, the sports editor for the same newspapers asked, who are those advising the Mr. President on sports? Can football in Nigeria be used to unify a nation through good governance and transformative leadership? What is the role of the minister of sports?

These are tough questions for e-imaging Eagles in 2014, as the year is just four years away. To imagine anything is to be cognitive aware and ready to delve into the realm of philosophical and psychological world. Chairman Isiguzo did a bit of that by referring us to Abraham Maslow hierarchy of needs. He writes that: “Maslow, an American who studied law before psychology, died in 1970. He listed the hierarchies as – physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, self-actualisation. All these have universal applications to human beings and have been used extensively in marketing goods, services, as well as ideas. Over the years, controversies have arisen over whether these needs have any hierarchies at all. For our football, we have stuck to the physiological needs of our players.” It is not good education to only stick to the physiological needs of our players because many of these players are NOT in their survival stage. Many of them are not living on $2 a day and simply put, many are not living in poverty, but their parents may have lived in poverty before they became national and international stars. All Nigerians need to go through the five stages of development if we truly want to reform and rebrand football and sports in Nigeria.

This is my thinking on the issue. If the Eagles of the 2014 and beyond hopes to be a team that has bridged the digital divide or embraced the digital world, and has accepted national and international standards for good sportsmanship, loyalty, patriotism, humanistic tendencies, and global competition, we as nation must rethink how we prepare our youths for football, tennis and basketball. There appears to be an emerging debate in the country as organizations such as the Nigeria Secondary School federation (NSSF), the National Sports Commission (NSC), and the Federal Ministry of education (FME) are now engaged the discussion about the role of education and the need to have sports back in schools.

To begin with, on October 1, 2010, when President Jonathan addresses the nation, marking the 50th independence anniversary, amidst recurrent socio-political problems, economic stagnation and environmental degradation. He should not only address the macro-economic goals such as a full utilization and maximization of human and capital resources, price stability, economic growth and stability, a favorable balance of payment, and a stable foreign exchange rate, he make clear that football and sports have national security and economic growth implications for the nation. We are indeed moving into the digital thinking world with the emergence of globalization. President Jonathan will surely address the provision and stabilization of power supply, the development of critical infrastructures, and the provision of security to life and property.

As the nation moves beyond the FIFA and looks forward to 2011 elections and the year 2020, it is critical to break away from the traditional structure and processes in the delivery of sports in Nigeria. Enough is written about football and sports leadership as the ministry of sports or the NSC continue to model bad governance and leadership. We need to refocus and redirect the creative energies of the sports sector as it grapples with how to adapt to changes brought on by the digital world and the forces of globalization. Chairman Isiguzo is right to suggest that new knowledge and new technology in sports marketing and optimal performance are out there to be tapped. Sports editors and writers have expressed a collective vision for football and sports in Nigeria, including the National Policy on Sports (2009).

A new framework for sports and national development must have some essential features. First, it must have an overarching structure that is conceived broadly and for the long term. In our case, the Ekeji Sports Development blueprint (2009) may indeed provide the framework for an authentic beginning. Second, it must help to strengthen the grassroots foundation of primary and secondary, post-secondary sports and education connection by helping students learn and apply the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs at the local, national and global competitive levels. And third, it should enable strong connections between primary, secondary and tertiary institutions in terms of standards, outcomes, and programs, on one hand. On the other, it should enable strong connections between clubs, local leagues, football associations, and other stakeholders.

Chairman Isiguzo has identified areas that needed immediate attention. The first is the unimaginative NFA Board. He writes that the main challenge to the ambitions of the Eagles in 2014 and beyond is the competence of men and women who run the affairs of Nigeria football. The second is abhorrence of planning. We have refused to join the e-age, the era of taking advantages in technology to make remarkable advancement. The selfishness of our administrators is exhibited in wasteful trip to places that could otherwise be efficiently and effectively covered using technology. The third is that we are a classless
Nigerian football. He writes that we adhere to minimal standards and glorify them. He asks many questions. Why is it so difficult to procure players transfer certificates? Why do we have computers that do not work? Why is the NFA unable to realize that its Committees are the nurseries for ideas? Where else do FA Chairmen do nothing yet the NFA Board courts them because of their votes? The fourth is the poor quality of the home league. The over-dependence on foreign-based players will impede 2014. The poor quality of the domestic league ensures that Nigeria’s addition to the global stock of quality players is decreasing. How many Nigerians are featuring regularly in top teams abroad? Without a home league to give them competition, the players abroad, not minding how bad they are, have guaranteed places in the Eagles. The fifth is an unrealistic assessment of the importance of Nigerian football. We are barely an acceptable force in African football. Our best ratings globally are in junior competitions where our tattered imagine should be a bigger source of concern, he lamented.

The sixth is the deceit of age group competitions. He writes that Diego Amanda Maradona was 17 and the star player of the inaugural FIFA U-20 Championship in Tunisia in 1977. Nine years after, he won the World Cup in Mexico for Argentina. Thirteen years on, he led Argentina to lose the final to Germany in Italy. At USA’94, 17 years on, he played and barring his drugs challenges, he might have lasted a little longer.

Finally, chairman Isiguzo asks, why do we need to do well in 2014? He believes that those who are speculating that the Eagles would do wonders at the 2014 World Cup should be admired for their optimism (patriotism?). He writes that “my study of this situation is that MOTIVATION is challenging. We understand – and misunderstand it – differently. No issue in sports today exhibits the gap between the authorities and our footballers than motivat

ion. The authorities think it is about money. For today’s footballers, it is something more than money. They may not find a name for it. I still guess it is up to the authorities to figure it out. Psychologists would write pages of motivational theories, but the most profound remains Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.”

I am reminded in my days as a professional tennis player that I lacked the motivation, the determination, and the tactical knowledge to overpower my opponents. Today in the digital and globalization world, motivation is both intrinsic and extrinsic. The incentive to thrive must be real. In America, we are experimenting with cash incentive to low performing kids in order to do well in high-stakes testing. I wonder whether Chairman Isiguzo can editorialize this emerging phenomenon in the United States public education.

Written by
Sadiq A. Abdullahi
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