The Super Eagles of Nigeria ‘shocked’ the world by lifting the African Cup of Nations trophy in Johannesbourg, South Africa, last Sunday soundly defeating Burkina Faso to achieve the epochal feat nineteen years after triumphing in same manner in Tunis. The Chief Coach, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi was the captain of the winning team in Tunisia in 1994. Keshi made history as the second African to have lifted the continental diadem as both captain (player) and coach after the late Egyptian Mahmoud El Gohary. Greatness was knocking on the door of Keshi for sometime but the bi-lingual gentleman waited for the right moment to grab the spotlight. That moment came last Sunday night as his boys made history.
Like millions of soccer-loving Nigerians who religiously followed the championship on television I felt patriotically excited as the disciplined squad fought their way to continental glory by demolishing the almighty Drogba’s Cote d’Ivoire in quarter finals, Keita’s Mali in semi finals and Kabore’s Burkina Faso in the final. Keshi’s triumph brought home the need for indigenous coaches to be considered and respected. He dedicated the victory to his colleagues in the continent neglected and treated with disdain by the hiring and firing authorities.
While we salute the Super Eagles for bringing back the glory days to our dwindling soccer fortunes we must register our consternation at the shabby way officials at the sports ministry handled matters of sports in the country. That coach Keshi, the level-headed “Big Boss”, was rumoured to have resigned hours after the stunning victory by the Nigerians sent out the wrong signal to the world of our disorganisation and tactlessness. According to the veteran coach the Minister of Sports and the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) President had threatened him with sack in the middle of the competition unless he delivered the trophy; whereas Keshi was owed a backlog of unpaid salaries and match bonuses; the official car promised him was never delivered etc.
Now that the presidency has waded into the matter and resolved same one hopes that the corrupt greedy elements running (sorry ruining) our sports affairs would change their crude mentality and embrace the positive ‘transformative’ era sweeping the entire landscape. Stephen Keshi is a professional international coach who has been tried and tested (by even foreigners) and found to be competent. He must be given his dues and allowed to take the Super Eagles to greater heights. His boldness and patriotism must be saluted and encouraged!
According to the Senate President, David Mark, who represented President Goodluck Jonathan at the continental soccer fiesta’s closing ceremony the football officials were trying to impose a so-called “foreign technical adviser” on Keshi pressurising him to accept same, something he rejected. The problem with those running our soccer is that they are greedy, unpatriotic and bossy. They wanted to impose a white man on Keshi, an expatriate whose contract they would inflate for their selfish purposes.
There is a certain ‘Moses’ in the Super Eagles line-up who did great things during the AFCON championship in the rainbow nation. Victor Moses — his story rings a bell and challenges our collective hypocrisy as a nation-state. It is one hell of a tale that exposes our religious zealotry and calls to question our patriotism. The story could be called a ‘zero-to-hero’ moving tale told to prick conscience, to arrest the development of religious intolerance in our embattled society. It is a story of determination to overcome a personal grief, one that appeals to our basic instincts seeking elusive accommodation of our compatriots irrespective of tribe, tongue or creed.
Victor Moses is an orphan whose parents were brutally burnt to death in Kaduna during a religious conflagration in the north in 2002 during the Miss World riot. Late Pastor Austin and Josephine Moses were working in their church when uncircumcised Islamic fanatics murdered them by burning down their church premises! The young Moses was only eleven years old when this gory incident happened! He escaped the tragedy because of his love for football, something that has brought him fame and fortune now! He was out playing soccer with his peers when the tragedy struck leaving him orphaned! Faced with the gruesome circumstance of his parent’s murder the young lad was taken to London by his Uncle to seek asylum.
Today he seems to have coped with his childhood trauma; today this same Victor Moses betrayed by his country’s failure at nationhood and lack of love among the many competing religious and ethnic groups is standing tall among the other Super Eagles having aided the team to reach the African soccer summit. This same Moses that would have been killed by religious bigots up north is the same guy now donning the green-white jersey proudly, waving the green-white-green flag and singing ‘Arise-O-Compatriots’ in Jo’burg to honour his home country that never cared about him and his troubles. Thousands had been slaughtered in the north by hate-mongers and Boko Haram elements just because they were Christians but Christianity cannot be defeated in Nigeria!
Apart from Victor Moses and his amazing story of survival and belief in self and country we have other heroes that made South Africa 2013 a memorable soccer event. One of them is ‘Ogbuenyi’ Sunday Mba who plays in the local league, Warri Wolves; he must rank as the greatest revelation of AFCON this year. (‘Ogbuenyi’ in Igbo language simply means: “the slayer of the elephant”). Mba decapitated the ‘Elephants’ of Ivory Coast and went ahead to score the magical trophy-winning goal that saw the Super Eagles crowned as the Champions of Africa. No doubt the victory has greatly lifted the spirit of Nigerians and the tempo must be sustained in this season of bloodletting and corruption.
The heroes of AFCON 2013 included the Togolese national team ably led by the gangling striker Emmanuel Adebayor. Though they were defeated narrowly in the quarter finals by Burkina Faso the boys proved soccer pundits wrong by qualifying for the next round in a ‘group of death’ that had ‘super powers’ like Cote d’Ivoire, Tunisia and Algeria. They included the brave team from Cape Verde (a small island nation of less than a million souls) who came to South Africa with little hopes but went to the next round where they were stoppped by Ghana. They played football with passion and made their country proud!
The ‘villains’ of SA AFCON 2013 included the deposed defending champions (Zambia) who crashed out of the tournament in the first round failing to advance to the quarter finals! Coach Herve Renard and the Chipolopolo boys proved that their victory of last year was at best a fluke, a flash in the pan! They included the coach of Burkina Faso, Paul Put, a Belgian fugitive who was linked to match fixing in his home country. They included the infamous referee from Tunisia who officiated the semi-final match between the Black Stars of Ghana and the Stallions of Burkina Faso. The suspended Slim Jdidi later admitted that the red card he had issued to the Burkinabe attacker, Jonathan Pitroipa, was done in error!
The ‘villains’ included Ghana and her Black Stars who went back home empty-handed once again like they did in the last edition last year. Incidentally it was the same third-placed Mali that defeated them and went home with the bronze medal! Most of the few goals the Kwesi Appiah-led side scored in the continental tournament were through questionable penalties that if the Burkinabe coach were to be their coach one would have suspected match-fixing via collusion with referees! They included the “virus-attacked” Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, a controversial pitch reduced to lesser grass and more sand leading to complaints from many quarters. The round leather game could have been played in a better pitch!
Nigeria, the conquering African soccer Champions, seriously needs a ‘Moses’ to deliver her from self-inflicted national mala
ise, a ‘Moses’ to heal her of the wounds inflicted on her by combined forces of terrorism, religious violence, corruption and leadership otiosity. The ‘Moses’ of our time may be on his way but he is not here yet! With the opposition organising themselves and forming a merger party (APC) our hopes and dreams are ignited again for a new dawn! What is required now is for the mobilisation of our short-changed people to be intensified and individual sacrifices to be made to save Nigeria from imminent collapse.
Now that a soccer ‘Moses’ has shown the way — patriotically and professionally — by teaming up with Keshi-assembled talented brave young men to bring glory to the fatherland we are still awaiting the political ‘Moses’ (like the biblical Moses who led the Israelites to the promised land amid tribulation) to lead us aright towards the greatness of our nation. Given the superlative performance of the Super Eagles what we need right now is a smart government that sets priorities right; we must therefore endeavour to produce (come 2015) that deserved smart government led by a progressive president who will lead us aright — showing the way with patriotism, courage, dignity and frugality.