By Donu Kogbara
Twenty nine out of the 36 footballers who were selected to represent Nigeria in this yearâ€™s FIFA Under-17 World Cup tournament, have just been disqualified on the grounds that they lied about their ages and are too old to participate.
This discovery was made after the players in question â€œfailedâ€ a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) bone scan testâ€¦.which, according to my colleagues on Vanguardâ€™s sports pages, uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to take pictures of the bodyâ€™s internal organs and structuresâ€¦and can evaluate an individualâ€™s true age by observing the degree of fusion of his or her wrist bones.
Since only seven of the original Under-17 squad have turned out to be eligible agewise, the Nigerian Football Federation is frantically trying to quickly recruit sufficiently talented replacements for the 29 players who have been axed.
I wish I could say that I was shocked when I read this embarrassing story.
But I just shrugged, hissed and shook my head because Iâ€™ve become wearily accustomed to the chronic dishonesty that warps almost every aspect of life in a country where everything is for sale and solid principles are extremely thin on the ground.
Frankly, having witnessed so much wuru-wuru in Nigeria, I would only have been surprised if all or most of the above footballers had passed the bone scan test with flying colours and proved that they were as young as they claimed to be.
I recently concluded that Nigerians would win gold medals on a regular basis if lying through oneâ€™s teeth was an Olympics event!…And that Nigerians would be unrivaled world champions if trying to gain an unfair advantage was a sport!
I have mixed feelings about the criticisms that Hilary Clinton, the American Secretary of State, directed at our leaders when she visited Nigeria two weeks ago.
On the one hand, this country is, undoubtedly, immensely disappointing in several ways; and Mrs Clinton was certainly not being unfair to the VIPs who are responsible for our collective welfare when she described our electoral system as â€œflawedâ€, condemned the widespread corruption and said that â€œlack of transparency and accountability has eroded the legitimacy of the government and contributed to the rise of groups that embrace violence and reject the authority of the stateâ€.
Clinton was also being truthful when she bluntly pointed out â€“ in the course of a town hall meeting in Abuja –that the poverty level has risen to 76 per cent in the past l3 years, despite our abundant natural resourcesâ€¦and that â€œthe most immediate source of the disconnect between Nigeriaâ€™s wealth and its poverty is a failure of governance on the local, state and federal levelsâ€â€¦and that we would have had more decent hospitals, schools, etc, if the nationâ€™s income had been well-spent.
Predictably, outraged government supporters are crying â€œfoulâ€ and claiming that Clintonâ€™s rebuke was unjustified and based on â€œmisinformationâ€ she received from dubiously-motivated opponents of the Yarâ€™Adua regime, including â€œfailed politiciansâ€.
As far as Iâ€™m concerned, the individuals who are so eagerly flying to the defence of our far-from-ideal ruling oligarchy are talking absolute nonsense. You canâ€™t solve your problems if you slyly downplay them or simply pretend that they donâ€™t exist.
Having said all this, isnâ€™t it an etiquette breach for Clinton to come to Nigeria asÂ a guest of our government and then publicly rap her hosts over the knuckles like a disapproving headmistress and tell the world that they are messing up?
If Chief Ojo Maduekwe, our Minister of Foreign Affairs â€“ Mrs Clintonâ€™s counterpart in this neck of the woods â€“ went to Washington on an official visit, would American leaders react cheerfully and think that he possessed impeccable manners if he erected a pulpit and sanctimoniously lectured them about their many mistakes?
I have been to the United States quite a few times and can confirm that though itâ€™s a helluva lot more impressive, comfortable and citizen-friendly than Nigeria overall, it isnâ€™t Utopia by a long shot.
For example: America has a high crime rate and inadequate healthcare system. Meanwhile, American mobile phone operators are so greedy that they charge their customers for incoming calls. As for Los Angeles Airport, it is more chaotic than Abuja Airport. And letâ€™s not even go into American foreign policy disasters!
Some of my friends disagree when I say that Mrs Clinton should have restricted her uncomplimentary views to private sessions with the guys who run the show.
â€œAnyone, even a foreign visitor, is entitled to highlight glaring inadequacies that make Nigerians miserable and put their lives at risk; and our leaders are so useless that they deserve to be publicly disgraced,â€ was one embittered ladyâ€™s opinion.
Ah well. Never mind. Let us pray that Nigeria will one day become a wonderful oasis that attracts more praise than contempt, both internally and externally.