By Bola Bolawole –
Last Tuesday, grief, anguish, and sorrow were added unto the on-going stress, suffering-and smiling of Nigerians. Our people had their hands full already, what with the never-ending fuel scarcity, deplorable power supply, and escalating economic crisis? The crashing out of the national team, the Super Eagles, from the 2017 African Cup of Nations (AFCON), was like pouring petrol on raging fire for soccer-loving Nigerians.
Beaten 1-0 by Egypt at Alexandria, Egypt by the Pharaohs, that defeat effectively marked the end-of-the-road for the Eagles, who will thus be absent in Gabon when the best of African football showcases next year.
Imagine anyone talking of the best of African football and Nigeria is excluded! Alas! This will not be the first in recent times; in fact, we missed the last edition in Equatorial Guinea, meaning that Nigeria shall be missing in action in two consecutive AFCON meets under the watch of Amaju Pinnick. This is why calls for his resignation have resonated well. But as in most things Nigerian, Pinnick has said he will not resign; rather, he will cling to office and play the blame game. Nigerian sports administrators are at their best when they shuffle blames. Everyone and everything will be blamed – except themselves! Yet, truth be told, they are the greatest culprits!
The qualification was not lost last Tuesday, though. The road had been tough and tortuous long before then. Had the Eagles won last week’s first leg in Abuja; they would have been in a better standing. Allowing a late goal from the Egyptians to cancel their early advantage condemned the Eagles to a hopeless bunch only hoping against hope. Trust Nigerians, we love miracles; but miracles are exactly what they are – they happen sparingly and not all the time. If it happens all the time, then, it stops being a miracle. We have had the Damian miracle, for instance, but how many times since then has it replicated itself? So, better, then, to say that we love magic or that we always hope for magic to happen when we are confronted with a hopeless situation, especially in sports. Otherwise, we would have known long time ago that we stood on slippery grounds as far as qualification for Gabon 2017 was concerned.
We sacked Stephen Keshi for failing to qualify for the last AFCON edition and brought in Sunday Oliseh, the appropriateness of which was doubtful from the word “go”. Then it was one crisis after another as no leopard ever succeeds in changing its spots. For the few months he spent in the saddle as national coach, Oliseh was in ferment. Then, abruptly, he jumped ship and abandoned us mid-stream. Lack of patriotism, some have called the Oliseh action; but methinks it was hard-nosed realism. The man knew he might not qualify the Eagles; he also knew what waited for him in the circumstance. He knew the Football authorities were already contemplating a foreign coach. He knew it was only a matter of time for the parties to part ways. He patched up his quarrels with the authorities so he could collect outstanding allowances, cut his losses and run. And that was what he did at the most auspicious time. Blame him if you will but do not at all try to absolve the Football authorities. All the coaches and everyone else cannot be wrong while only the egg-heads in the NFF are the saints.
The problem with our sports – Football inclusive – is with the coaches as much as it is with the administrators. Within a couple of years, the NFF moved full circle: From Samson Siasia to Stephen Keshi to Sunday Oliseh and back to Samson Siasia. What kind of administrators are these? Voodoo administrators and trial-and-error administrators? There is the need to throw the searchlight on the administrators themselves. If they are now angling for foreign coaches, that is just an escapist way out of a problem with deeper roots. Even if we take it at its surface value, we should go further afield by also asking for foreign sports administrators to come to Macedonia and help us. When some foreign companies were having problems with their Nigerian managing directors, what they did was to bring in “white” managing directors to stabilise things and bring the companies back to profitability again while the Nigerians were kicked upstairs as “Chairman” of the Board.
Sad, but that is the reality of our present existence. Nigerian administrators, be it in the public or public sector, have not generally discharged themselves creditably. Is that also not our experience in politics? Who were those who ran this country aground? Requisite managerial skill is scarce here; worse still, honesty and integrity are a rarity. Put people in position and all they do is run it aground. They eat the fruits and also eat the seeds they ought to have planted for regeneration to continue. If not that government continues to give subventions to football and other sports, the whole place would have long ago collapsed completely.
Festus Onigbinde, notable sports administrator and football tactician, has described the AFCON debacle as spilled milk; he is dead right. No reasonable person should cry over spilled milk, as such is a fruitless effort. Onigbinde has also warned, however, that if care is not taken, we may draw blank over other important competitions ahead of us, such as the Olympics and World Cup. To be forewarned is to be forearmed; but that, as they say, is for the wise. I dare to add that it is for those with integrity; who are not blinded by greed and selfish interest. When the head is rotten, it cannot but affect the whole body.
Corruption is all-pervasive in the Nigeria of today and no institution or agency of government is spared. Corruption has whacked sports in Nigeria; the whole place stinks to the heavens. Clearing the Augean stable is a task that must be done. Only after this can square pegs be put in square holes. Sports should build from bottom up; but we choose to climb our own tree from the top. We rely almost exclusively on foreign sportsmen rather than build from the bottom. This is the same mentality that informs the craze for foreign coaches. Yet, until we learn to be self-reliance in all fields – education, health, sports, agriculture, technology etc. – we can only dream but will hardly achieve meaningful and enduring greatness.
The writer can be reached on [email protected] 0705 263 1058