By Ikeddy Isiguzo
FOR more than 30 minutes last week Wednesday, President Goodluck Jonathan had the time to ask players and officials of the Nigerian U-20 football team, “How are you?” The session that saw him repeating the same question after each person was identified was meant to be a pep talk ahead of the encounter against England in a FIFA competition in Columbia.
We are just concerned about how the President spends his time, actually Nigeria’s time. With the myriads of challenges the country faces, it is unthinkable that the President of a country aiming to be among the top 20 global economies by 2020 could indulge in such trivialities.
The session was unimaginative. The President had to repetitively inquire about the identity of the speaker at the other end, repeated the question about his welfare, told him how well the team was playing, and the satisfaction the results gave Nigerians. Then he reminded him that Nigerians were expecting the trophy.
All this was taking place because Nigeria was among 16 countries that got to this stage of the competition. We were the only country whose President had time to waste in this way. Why would any leader congratulate his team for reaching the round of 16 in a competition that it finished third 26 years ago, and has been runner up twice since then? Is this borne out of lower expectations or a lack of respect for history?
It is possible that while the President called, important matters of state waited. The President’s priority was to get the players to defeat England. He gave neither reason for the importance of the call he was making nor any particular justification for expecting the team to beat England.
We are worried about matters that consume the President’s time. If he was calling the team for a round of 16 game, what will he do if the team at the quarterfinal, semi-final, and the final? What explanations can the President proffer for abandoning pressing national issues for the telephone conversation with a team that is participating in a competition that is seen purely as a developmental event?
How would he clarify the poor attention the players got while preparing for the competition, which really is the time the President’s men should have been motivating them? What really was the purpose of that call?
Those involved in arranging the session , which the Nigerian Television Authority ably aired to international audiences, did a great disservice to Nigeria’s image. They had no idea of the messages they were sending round the globe about the seriousness of the highest office in Nigeria.
Is it imaginable that any leader elsewhere would have been involved in that prattle? Now that the team has made the quarterfinal, does the President realise that he has to talk to the players again? The team has fallen in line with the President’s prompting. Some of the officials reminded the President that his good luck as Vice President saw the team to a second position in the FIFA U-17 competition Nigeria hosted in 2009. His talk with them, then, they claimed was the team’s tonic. The message is direct and simple – the President should continue talking to the team if he wants good results, and the trophy.
We object to a President who promises transformation of Nigeria investing his resources in grappling with maintaining minimal gains.
Nobody who watched that performance will take the President serious, not even if the issue was football. It was cheap publicity well beneath the elevating office of the President of Nigeria.
With all the good luck that was supposed to have attended the team because the President spoke to the team, it crashed out of the semi-final of the competition. Will the President maintain a tradition of calling teams when they play matches, matches at stages that are at their early stages? In case the President has form a habit of making such phone calls, he can restrain himself to when the teams are in camp, again away from public view.
Some things must be beneath the President and remain so. We cannot have our President waste executive time on matters that diminish him and his office. The young men who went to Columbia should return to their trade, hopefully, they could make some progress in it.
I also hope the lesson has been learnt that a presidential phone call is no substitute for good preparation. We should quickly put Columbia behind us, it is a continuation of the ills of football administration. What is left is to see how many of these players would graduate to the senior team.
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