By Patrick Omorodion
Today I dedicate this column to the greatest African that ever lived, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela who joined his ancestors Thursday last week because his life affected so many lives and is still affecting lives till today, even in death. He will be laid to rest today in his ancestral home in Qunu.
Yes it is said that sports and politics don’t mix but Mandela has broken that long held view I dare say. How will you describe the honour given to the hero at last week’s World Cup draw in Salvador, Brazil by FIFA, even though we know that Mandela is an acclaimed friend of Sepp Blatter who heads FIFA.
It was an irony though when it was reported that the Ivorian duo of Didier Drogba and Emmanuel Eboue may be fined for their political slogan, eulogising Mandela through the inscription on their vests during a match.
Limiting myself to sports, Mandela’s presence proved magical for the South Africans at sports events. The aura he exuded almost always served as an energiser for South African sports men and women as shown when they won the African Nations Cup in 1996 and the Rugby World Cup a year later.
His magical presence no doubt helped a great deal in swaying FIFA bigwigs who endorsed South Africa as host of the FIFA World Cup in 2010. Incidentally his appearance at the opening of the World Cup marked his last public appearance till Thursday, December 5, 2013 when he passed on.
It is reported that Mandela was worried the way Nigeria, a country that contributed in no small measure to making his struggle for the liberation of his people and country from the jack boots of Apartheid sucessful, was being governed, making it difficult to give the citizens a good living.
As then president of South Africa in 1995, he was disturbed when late General Sani Abacha wanted to hang, Ken Saro Wiwa, a Nigerian fighting against the degradation of Ogoni land by oil exploring companies and joined in appealing to the bespectacled General to free the Ogoni activist.
Mandela’s appeal fell on deaf ears and Saro Wiwa and eight other Ogoni men were hanged in November 1995. There was international outrage and Mandela joined in condemning the act but Abacha would have none of it. And the casualty was the Super Eagles who were denied the defence of the Nations Cup in South Africa in 1996.
Nigeria boycotted the Nations Cup on South Africa soil and relinquished the title without a fight. Till date, many still believe that the Eagles who were very formidable that year, could have retained the trophy, to make it their third after the victories of 1980 and 1994 in Lagos and Tunis respectively.
That singular action by Abacha also cost Nigeria a ban from CAF and another Nations Cup miss in 1998 in Burkina Faso.
The 1996 boycott deprived Nigeria’s greatest goal poacher ever, Rashidi Yekini from making history also. He was on the verge of equalling and surpassing the 14 Nations Cup goals record of Ivorian Laurent Poku. Yekini had amassed 13 goals as at the 1994 edition in Tunisia. He died with that regret last year.
Whether we like it or not, former Super Eagles captain, Austin Jay Jay Okocha could have lost the 1998 African Footballer of the Year Award to Morocco’s Mustapha Hadji because of that boycott which did not allow Okocha display his football skills.
The killing of Saro Wiwa made Mandela sad but many more actions of our government could have made him cry in private. That a country with abundant human and material resources could be so misgoverned and looted dry to the disadvantage of her citizens.
If Mandela were to be alive today, he would surely have shuddered at the letter written by his friend and former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to incumbent president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan and the revelations therein.
The rot highlighted by Obasanjo in his letter to Jonathan definitely did not start today. From all those past leaders the Ota farmer mentioned in his letter through himself and now Jonathan, they all contributed and are still contributing to the slipping of Nigeria, once the pride of Africa and Africans, into a failed state.
All of these past leaders who are eulogising Mandela in death did not stop to ask themselves whether Mandela built any private university, bought any private jet, built sprawling mansions on mountain tops or in valleys across South Africa like them or amassed billions of Rands through cronies who bought off his country’s edifices.
While our leaders run abroad for the treatment of minor health problems like radiculopathy (whatever that means) or tummy tuck, Mandela stayed in South Africa for treatment and eventually died in his home.
Despite all these, sports remain the only uniting force for our people. That was exhibited in January when the Super Eagles won the Africa Nations Cup in South Africa and again in the UAE when the Golden Eaglets came out top. What Abacha denied the Eagles in 1996, they recovered in 2013 but Mandela was too frail to witness it live. Rest in peace Madiba and it is the prayer of the down-trodden in Nigeria that God will send our country a good man like you to fight for their well-being always.