Our governments have spent billions of naira over time to promote a positive image for Nigerians everywhere. Regrettably, the popular perception of the Nigerian character remains that of greed, self-interest and other such antisocial escapades. The promoted brand of “Good People, Great Nation” never really took off, and it has become clear that neither catchy slogans nor sexy packaging can change public perception of what is intrinsically a bad product! Ultimately, our national football team’s derisive nickname of ‘Super Chickens’ became a neater fit of our national image than our own self-invention of “Giant of Africa”; consequently, most foreigners believed that nothing good could come out of this supposedly ‘cursed’ land!
The question then is, how did the Super Eagles against all odds win the coveted Africa Cup Nations after a 19-year wait, with qualities and focus supposedly alien to the Nigerian character? With our tradition of tardy preparations, inadequate funding and poor team selection, how did the shrubs we sowed transform into sweet-smelling roses?
As we celebrate the unexpected exploits of the Super Eagles, we may also draw lessons from the performances of the following three members of the team; Stephen Keshi’s exemplary leadership; the indomitable spirit of home grown Sunday Mba and also, the dynamite and humble enigma called Victor Moses!
Undoubtedly, unity, cohesive teamwork, strong determination to succeed, utmost self-belief, and a driving hunger for personal glory and honour to the fatherland produced the Eagles’ unexpected success at the 2013 AFCON.
Keshi’s courageous leadership was certainly a major factor in the cup victory; his team list was based on the perceived fighting and winning mentality of each player and the readiness of his selection to play according to instructions. Indeed, Keshi, himself maintained that individual skills alone do not win such tournaments, and in spite of intense pressure, he remained undaunted and unapologetic for leaving out some star players; for him therefore, merit without consideration of ethnic affiliations or federal character, was the benchmark for team selection.
The coach consistently took full responsibility for his team’s shortcomings, without overtly apportioning blame to anyone. Consequently, he earned his players’ respect and their resolve to give 101 per cent in every match. Keshi, in return, showed genuine fatherly concern and motivated his players.
Meanwhile, unknown to Nigerians, Keshi was silently hurting; but despite unpaid salary arrears and other official deprivations, he refused to moan but instead encouraged Nigerians to have faith in the team’s ability, and confidently remained upbeat about fulfilling his contract terms to take the Super Eagles to the semi-finals of the tournament.
Curiously, also, unknown to most Nigerians, midway through the tournament, the Nigerian Football Federation had allegedly threatened to summarily dismiss the coach if he refused to accept a foreign technical adviser as his boss; in response, Keshi offered to voluntarily resign as coach immediately after the Super Eagles unexpectedly beat the star-studded tournament favourites, Ivory Coast! Consequently, his dedication of the victory to all African coaches and the subsequent aborted resignation were clear statements of protest.
Fortunately, the Eagles camp remained unusually convivial and harmonious despite the distractions. The excellent team spirit was no doubt a testimony of resilience and the mature leadership skills of Keshi; an attribute that has unfortunately been absent in the affairs of our nation for too long.
Keshi’s effortless response to questions in both English and French at press briefings during the tournament must have endeared him not only to French speaking Africans, but also to those Nigerians, who cringe at the poor performance of our national leaders in front of international media.
In a similar vein, Nigerians witnessed the amazing exploits of Sunday Mba, one of the six domestic players in Keshi’s 23-man team. The unusually high quota of local content was justified by the excellent performances of Mba and the other homegrown players. The player certainly lifted the spirits of most Nigerians with his two mesmerising winning goals against Ivory Coast in the quarterfinals and Burkina Faso in the finals respectively; better-known international icons such as Pele and Maradona would have been proud to have scored either goal. Indeed, despite technical and capacity limitations locally, there are undoubtedly many more Mbas, loaded with the ‘Nigerian spirit’, waiting to explode in the service of our country in various fields of endeavour whenever the enabling economic environment presents itself.
Mba’s electric performance and Keshi’s success sent out a strong message that the object of our expensive foreign travails may actually have remained idle in the pockets of our ‘shokoto’. This same syndrome of lack of belief in ourselves, and the cringing adoration for everything foreign, even when the imported quality is inferior, can still be observed in all facets of governance and corporate management in our country.
Finally, we cannot comment on the apparent total commitment of Victor Moses to the national team’s success without a twitch of guilt or at best some embarrassment. Indeed, after his petulance in retaliation to tackles in the pre-tournament match against Cape Verde, it was unlikely that the same player would win the Fair Play award in the final match of the 2013 AFCON. Moses certainly responded positively to the reformative chiding by a very unhappy coach Keshi after the Cape Verde match, as the young man subsequently rode more vicious tackles without any visible emotional outburst in the six matches played by the Super Eagles! Despite the threatening injury he sustained in the match against Mali, he went on to give a superlative account of himself also in the final.
Surprisingly, Victor had a choice to play for England and ultimately enjoy the same cult status of key players in the English team, but it is to his credit and his sense of loyalty that he chose, instead, to play for his fatherland. Ironically, unknown to most Nigerians, the parents of this young man were mindlessly murdered in the mayhem that followed the aborted Miss World Beauty contest in Abuja in 2002! Painfully, the perpetrators of that heinous act remain free; Victor Moses may never forget the brutal separation from his parents, but for him to have given so much of himself to Nigeria in the tournament, the young man must have found it in his heart to forgive his countrymen.
Nigerians everywhere thank the Super Eagles, the team’s support staff and travelling fans for burnishing our national image and delivering on their promise to put a smile on the faces of longsuffering compatriots. However, we also pray that our smiles become a wider grin at the Confederations Cup in June! Good luck!
- Henry Boyo (email@example.com)
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