Big Lessons from Abu Dhabi By Dele Momodu
Fellow citizens, this is certainly a good time to be a proud Nigerian. It must be obvious to all and sundry what the source of that pride is. If you missed the Nigeria-Mexico under-17 final match played in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, last night, you missed a great deal. The game was that wonderful. Our guys played with mathematical precision. Their approach was scientific. And they had no time to waste. They must have realised the hopes of 170 million people rested on them. Ours is a country where bad news has been the order of the day. We could afford to indulge in the giddiness of football and derive some fun in a rare moment of ecstasy.
I’m glad I didn’t miss that incredible match despite a bout of satanic flu that nearly knocked me out like a victim of trypanosomiasis. Thanks to my ever dependable Ghanaian Assistant, Michael Yirenkyi, who woke me up from a deep slumber. The whole of Africa was represented in that game. The match was so gripping that I sweated profusely inside an air-conditioned room. Those of us who watched from home were probably more anxious than those at the stadium. One, two, three goals, the game was sealed and delivered. Nothing was going to stop us now. We made the Mexicans eat the humble pie. I saw their coach drink water as if he was one of the players. The game must have been too hot for him to the point that he was famished and needed to replenish. He looked forlorn and pitiable. I saw a Mexican female fan staring into oblivion and outer space. She was chanting what seemed like incantations. I don’t know how efficacious prayers could be at that stage when your team was already three goals down. But hope is always the last organ to die in man. Failure is a bad thing. It diminishes its victim. And great Mexico was no exception.
The Nigerian players were simply majestic. All the boys played well, the reason we didn’t see loads of changes. There was no sense in confusing a good team. They played like a team that definitely wanted to rule the world. Champions are usually imbued with uncommon passion and unlimited stamina. The determination of these young boys to excel was always palpable from the start of the tournament. They left no one in doubt as to the direction they wanted to go. They united against all foes, thus confirming the aphorism, united we stand, divided we fall. They made the game of football look so beautiful to watch. They entertained. They scored. And they won. That was not all; they sent a powerful message to you and me. It is very easy to bury ourselves in the euphoria of victory like we always do before we return to status quo. But we must seize the opportunity to remind ourselves of a few salient points.
There are very big lessons to learn from what happened in Abu Dhabi. I will pick them one by one for easy and straight-forward analysis. These boys were young. Youthfulness granted them a few advantages. They were energetic. They were brave. They were adventurous. They were daring. They had many things to prove. It is difficult to achieve what you cannot achieve as a young man when you’ve become too old and tired. Let me put it another way, all great achievers started showing signs and promise of what to come as infants. You can’t suddenly become a genius in geriatric age. That is why they always catch them young in developed societies. No nation can be great without securing the future of its youths. Primary and secondary education are germane in the building of that solid future.
Let’s translate this into issues of Leadership. The world’s greatest Leaders did not achieve greatness overnight. Many of them had sound education. They worked in important institutions or ran successful ventures. They had proven records of spectacular talents. They didn’t have to wait on anyone to move from glory to exaltation. They were products of hard work, raw determination and tenacity. Examples abound in Nigeria. Abubakar Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Oba Adesoji Aderemi, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Olusegun Obasanjo, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, Moshood Abiola, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, King Sunny Ade, Mike Adenuga Jnr., Aliko Dangote, Tony Elumelu, and others were all young, vibrant and energetic men when they catapulted onto national stage, continental prominence and international recognition. Sorry, if I appear like a male chauvinist by using only men for the purpose of illustrating my argument. Ours was a male-dominated society (and still is) before the women started breaking down the walls of superstitions prejudice.
Those Leaders were like the young players we saw yesterday playing out their hearts. They were well-fortified with quality education. Many of them studied abroad and returned home with the hope of stepping into the shoes of the out-bound colonial rulers. Some of them arrived home with lofty dreams of transforming the seeming backwardness of Africa into a continent of possibilities. They wanted to replicate some of those brilliant developments they saw abroad. The brightest among them saw the need to establish a university, stadium, radio and television, a skyscraper, housing estates, water corporations, cooperative societies, government colleges, free education, free health, aerodromes, supermarkets, and so on. That was before politics reared its ugly head and began to destroy to wonderful institutions.
If Nigeria had remained in the hands of technocrats and not under the grip of political jobbers, perhaps the story would have been different. The politicians became so rancorous and cantankerous and it was only a matter of time before something would give and the whole edifice would come tumbling down. I watched the video of a BBC interview with Kaduna Nzeogwu on YouTube last week and could not believe how youthful, charismatic and idealistic he was. Only a young man would have embarked on such an audacious mission without thinking of repercussions. That purported revolution failed because of our peculiar configuration along ethnic and religious lines. Jerry John Rawlings was much luckier in that he managed to sustain a revolution which set Ghana on the path to rediscovery and national re-orientation. Ours was blown apart and exploded into an orgy of war and brigandage resulting in one of Africa’s bloodiest civil wars. Despite the imperfections of our post-colonial political Leaders, they were much more patriotic, disciplined, committed and certainly less corrupt than the ones who emerged much later.
The Nigerian under-17 team displayed our diversity and how it can be harnessed. No one complained yesterday that there were more Northerners in the team. We forgot our ethnic and religious differences. There was no zoning, quota system or Federal character. The coach was not accused of ethnic bias or religious bigotry. The boys played as one indivisible family. The bigger lesson in this is that Nigeria must jettison all those artificial barriers that have encumbered us for too long before we can move forward. All those ethnic jingoists who make state of origin the only credential needed for positions of power and authority must think twice. Small boys have shown us how we can unite to lift Nigeria up by putting our best materials forward. I don’t care how many Yoruba or Igbo or Hausa or Ijaw or Ibibio, or Tiv or Fulani boys were fielded yesterday. All I wanted was what the boys delivered. It was impossible for 250 or more ethnic groups to be represented in a game of football.
There were only eleven boys on the field at a time to represent millions of us but they sparkled like a million stars. I saw Muhammed, Okon, Awoniyi, Yahaya, Bello, Idowu, Alampasu, Nwakali, and others sweating it out on our behalf. That is how it should be. If we had replicated the same spirit in politics, we would not have been in this mess. Our attempt to represent every single tribe in the political affairs of Nigeria is what has led to the present conundrum.
The effect of our huge population was also felt yesterday. Nigerian supporters out-screamed the Mexicans. Those who are advocating for the break-up of Nigeria should bury their heads in shame. I’m firmly of the opinion that there is strength in number. The Chinese and the Indians have convinced the world about because they have used their humongous population to massive advantage. The stature and status of Russia diminished after the collapse of Soviet Union. I can’t imagine what would become of the tiny nations that would come out Nigeria in case the unexpected happens to us. The proponents of the death of our union need to be told, without any equivocation, that breaking up Nigeria would only be the beginning and not the end of our problems.
I draw relevant examples from state creations. How many of our states are better off today than when we had only six regions? What difference has the presidency in the current dispensation made to the people of Niger Delta or the South South in general order than creating a few emergency billionaires? All the other states that produced Presidents in the past, it would be nice to examine what they gained.
This is why I often wonder why we’ve allowed a few selfish people to hold us to ransom through the self-help strategy of throwing all of us into disarray by using ethnicity and religion to confuse us. I’m not sure if you often imagine like I do about what drives a Nigeria politician. What are his motivations? What are his dreams? What is his mental state? Why does he behave like someone permanently on high? Why does he love, crave and spend money so much? What exactly does he do with his primitive accumulation of wealth? What are his principles, philosophy and ideology? Which God does he worship?
Wherever two or more Nigerians are gathered, arguments must ensue about the political upheavals in our country. Our citizens have become anti-socials who can no longer engage in decent conversations over dinner. We talk and moan wildly while eating. We gossip and lament our woes endless.
A simple game of football provided all the answers we crave. The Nigerian politician is just selfish, pure and simple. He knows the truth but would not do the needful. He would never be a team player because he thinks it is better to claim all the glory and perks. But some of the best players hardly score themselves. They are those who know how to pass the balls to the waiting strikers.
They are the type of selfless leaders Nigeria needs urgently and desperately.
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