Next weekend, Nigerians will be casting their votes to elect the next President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
I have my Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) and, God willing, if everything goes well (nothing seems certain these days in this uncertain political climate) I shall be exercising my right to cast my single vote for a candidate of my personal choice. I hope that this time my vote will count.
I do not believe that any one of the several other times I voted in my life since Independence has really counted for anything. The usual shenanigans that took place in the process of the elections diminished the credibility of such elections that my humble opinion about national elections is not flattering, to say the least.
In the past five years, or so, I have become more politically aware and active. I have also discovered that my involvement with sport for most of my life makes me to look at life through the prism of sport. I see that football is not immune from the vagaries of Nigerian politics.
Football should be serious business in Nigeria but it is not. Since the 1990s it has not been. Yet it is about health, education, infrastructural development, travels, business, security, law, architecture, tourism, entertainment, social interaction and even politics. Football is about morals, discipline, teamwork, team spirit, fair play, sportsmanship, winning and losing, creativity, strategy, motivation, and so on.
I even now see large swaths of the story of Nigeria captured in the tale of Nigerian football – a country of immense potential yet wasting like a beautiful flower in the desert. Nigeria could very easily have become one of the most powerful nations on earth but, like its football, the country continues to drift aimlessly in the sea of squandered opportunities through poor leadership.
On the eve of the Nigerian elections, therefore, I am asking myself who to vote for between the political combatants.I have observed that some athletes, active and retired, have publicly endorsed the incumbent president, and I wonder why!
Successive governments have never understood and used sport seriously to address the issues of the youth, unemployment, infrastructural decay and financial brigandage going on in the sector.It has been agonizing watching the country fail to use the power of sport to positively impact and engage the youth, and to drive the development of domestic sport and join the global sport industry, one of the fastest growing in the world!
I look around at all the national sports structures and institutions put in place by our country’s founding fathers at the start of our emergence as a nation, and I weep.Go take a look at what has happened to all our national sports monuments and institutions. Examine the lives of the country’s past heroes and see what the programs of successive past governments have done to them. Go take a look at the National Stadia in Abuja and Lagos, and the National Institute for Sports, and shed your own tears.
There is absolutely nothing to celebrate about Nigerian sports now, or in our immediate past. So, I wonder, why any athletes would now pollute the apolitical sacredness and sanctity of sport and endorse continuity of the present state of affairs. Since that has been done anyway and all others have been silent in denouncing those claiming to represent the interest of all sports persons, it is only reasonable for those who think differently to also raise their voices and dissociate themselves from the cheap parade ongoing in the present political campaigns.
As a representative of generations of past sportsmen and women in this country, there is no basis to join those endorsing a continuity of what obviously has been a colossal failure. I have decided that when it comes to the moment to cast my single vote, it will be for change from the failure of the past, and for audacious hope in the future!
The Eagles Of 1980 – 35 Years After!
35 years ago, I was one of sixteen young Nigerian football players that walked onto the turf of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, before an audience of some 100,000 Nigerians packed in a 60,000 capacity stadium like sardines to attempt to create history.90 minutes later, driven by the passion of millions of Nigerians, the goal was achieved. The Green Eagles played beyond their capacities, flew high above the Desert Warriors and destroyed the invincibility of an Algerian team that was at its peak and its best, obviously more experienced and probably even better than the Eagles.
On the night, Nigeria could not be stopped having come through some really difficult early matches. We played our best match of the championship, scored the highest number of goals and won the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in our country’s history. The President of Nigeria at the time, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, led the sea of Nigerians that physically watched the event live at the stadium. As young men, we were over the moon. We had worked very hard and prepared well under the guidance of professional sports managers and administrators. Nigeria had well-established sports institutions, a clear sports policy, a clear strategy and vision for sports development.
We saw ourselves as ambassadors and patriots serving our country willingly in answer to our nations call to duty. Our victory in 1980 was the culmination of a process that started in 1976 when the national team went to Dire Dawa and against all odds returned with bronze medals for the first time in our history. That was the impetus needed to aim higher and we did. In that spirit, we went to Ghana in 1978 and reinforced our confidence.
When 1980 came and the event was to hold in our country we believed we had to win and were ready. The preparations were hard but meticulous, driven by our single-mindedness to be part of history.The entire country was involved on March 22, 1980. It was a day none of us that played in that match would ever forget. We soared like eagles.
In the end, hard work, good luck, the people’s support, our government’s commitment, paid off. We won. And we were deservedly rewarded well without any solicitation by us. This day, 35 years after that victory, I can still play back in my mind almost every minute of the final match – the blaring trumpet of late musician Zeal Onyia marshaling Nigerians to the great battle, the vociferous singing of 100,000 Nigerians at the stadium, and the rampaging supercharged Green Eagles.
It was a day when the elements had no choice but to side with the Eagles, and to provide Nigerians with the cause to truly celebrate. 35 years after that victory, the heroes of 1980 are still remembered by most Nigerians. Six of those heroes have passed on to the great beyond – Muda Babatunde Lawal, Best Ogedegbe, Okey Isima, Alloysius Atuegbu, Martin Eyo, and Tunde Bamidele.
The rest are alive and kicking, not by our strength but by the grace of God, grateful for the opportunity of life, and of that day, March 22, 1980 when our names were written in Gold in the archives of Nigerian football. On behalf of all 22 of us, including Emmanuel Okala, Sylvanus Okpala, Felix Owolabi, Shefiu Mohammed, John Orlando, Frank Nwachi, Christian Chukwu, Ifeanyi Onyedika, Henry Nwosu, Moses Effiong, Charles Bassey, Godwin Odiye, David Adiele, Kadiri Ikhana, Adokie Amiesimaka and I, I use this opportunity to say thank you once again to all Nigerians for their support and love still being bestowed lavishly on us since 1980!