Salute to our World Cup 2014 Footballers

There is a certain group of our

Naija countrymen who automatically switch on to hibernation mode whenever our

national football team plays. Most of them insist that they have very weak

hearts that cannot withstand the rigour and tension that soaks anyone foolish

enough to invest interest in a team as unpredictable as Nigeria’s senior

football team. If you have met anyone of them, they’ll readily support their

disrespect and disdain for the senior national team with a certain year when we

played the Roberto Baggio team. ‘We were nearly there…and so close to beating

the Italians but we messed things up at the very last minute’, one of these

pessimists groaned recently.

I was one of those pessimists

that I described up there until now. Rather than soar or sink with my country,

I’d take a walk, preferring to get someone tell me the outcome of any match

involving the Super Eagles (the result in many cases was usually the-nearly-there-Roberto-Baggio kind of

fiasco). So, in giving the impression that I was protecting my weak heart from

falling apart, I’d sometimes pretend to listen to the commentary on radio. But

the commentaries were not even much help. They push your blood pressure sky

high up the ceiling when the ball is still far away from the

goalpost, the over-zealous commentator usually says, ‘Gooaaal…oh no, it went

over the bar!’

Formerly perennial pessimists of

our football like me established a nexus with our failures in football with our

way of doing things as a people and as a country. Most of us have never really believed that

football is the only thing that unites Nigerians. That belief (that football

does not unite Nigerians) has been predicated on the strong notion that for

there to be unity, certain emulsifying factors have to be in place. I cannot be

hard put to mention some of those emulsifying factors – things like a

commonality of language, faith, and a belief in the core values that propel the

positive things of life. The kind of ‘unity’ that football has often brought

lasts only 90 minutes, what a friend referred to as a truce among the plurality

of ethnic values and interests that play

out every day in Nigeria. Unity cannot be that temporal and full of tension

like football. Most of us non-believers in the football-is-the-only-thing-that-unites-Nigeria anthem had gone

ahead to propound another theory – a theory that insists that instead of

football, corruption in its grandness and profundity has been the greatest

thing that ‘unites’ an Ibo and Hausa, Hausa and Yoruba, and Ibo and Yoruba (I

use these words as synonyms for the various tribes in Nigeria). Corrupt people

have no tribe, and are always united by their intention and their avarice.

I pursued my disinterestedness in

the ‘unity of football’ with a campaign calling for a support for non-football

sports as another vehicle for national cohesion. It is still on ground. It is

an attempt to get corporate bodies, multinationals, individuals irrespective of

their ethnic or religious or political divide to do something to balance the

unusual attention that football gets as against all other sports, and through

which other nations shine and shine bright. We may be able to discuss this, and

be able to get better information if you get in touch with me on this.

In spite of this former

disrespect and former disdain for Nigerian football at the senior level,

certain things stand out today. One, our

football players have broken a 15-year hiatus and jinx and have gone ahead to re-establish

and stamp our dominance as football kings in the hearts of Africans. Two,

in the build up to the matches we played to get to the World Cup Finals, our

team surmounted incredible odds, skepticism and after we qualified to be in

Brazil, our team displayed a resolve that we were not just going to participate

but that we were going to go far. When I think about these, a well of pride

swells up in me that out of the 196 nations inhabiting our universe, we were

part of a doughty group used the instrumentality of our football to make

eloquent statements that in spite of certain seeming insurmountable odds, we

can and yes we can.

Our boys have done very well and

have been very good ambassadors. We didn’t win the World Cup but we surpassed

the results of England, Spain, Portugal, Australia, Switzerland and Greece. And

long after our brothers Cameroon, Ghana, and Ivory Coast were sent home, the

world continued to hear Nigeria, Nigeria, Nigeria and Nigeria in that splendid

match against Argentina. The lesson of

our participation in the World Cup finals in Brazil is the Nigerian example: that in spite of hatred leading to the taking

of innocent lives by terrorists, in spite of continued skepticism and an

avalanche of unfair and unconstructive criticism directed at the authorities who

have supported our boys, we can remain resolute and forge ahead as Nigeria.

I recommend that we should stop

here and semi-audibly mention the names of these boys and coaches

who used the platform of the World Cup to showcase the resolve and tenacity of

the Nigerian spirit: Keshi, Amokachi,

Enyema, Agbim, Ejide, Efe, Oboabona, Omeruo, Oshiniwa, Elderson, Egwuekwe,

Odunlami, Uchebo, Rueben, Obi, Yobo, Onazi, Azeez, Ameobi, Nwofor, Michael,

Odemwigie, Musa, Emenike, and Moses.

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