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My Birthday challenge

By Onochie Anibeze
Tuesday, July 13, 2010.
What an emotional day it was for me. We were at the side of the newsroom we call The Bar. Here Hector holds sway and Tony Ubani entertains with rib cracking jokes. Top management staff, including the Editor and the GM are members of the bar.

Vanguard is such a great place to work. Its family outlook makes it different. I was going through the numerous goodwill messages in the newsroom when Ikeddy Isiguzo, chairman of our Editorial Board, Victor Omoregie, our Corporate Affairs Manager, Ogbonnaya Amadi, our Entertainment Editor and Jacob Ajom started singing  our former National Anthem NIGERIA WE HAIL

THEE, the anthem  that many still appreciate more than the current one. They gathered around me and sang loudly.

The whole newsroom watched. There was excitement as a few others joined. John Egbokhan and a few others did not understand what and why they were singing.

When John was told it was our old National Anthem he was amazed. He was hearing it for the first time. Pity. It was my birthday and I was honoured with that melodious, thought-provoking anthem. I was touched. Some prayers, prayers and I continued reading the goodwill messages on my mail box.

The only odd one was a beautiful one. Odd in the sense that it was not about my birthday but on Nigerian football. Beautiful in the sense that it raised questions on Nigerian sports that I tried to answer on my birthday. Kindly Read it and my comment below.

My Editor,
I have read the concerns you expressed about Nigerian football. I envy you because you saw the disaster coming, warned about the impending danger and by extension prepared your mind. Not so with many of us who had allowed Amodu’s inglorious days to becloud our senses so much so that we could not sense the hurricane just because we just needed a change, fresh idea and a shift from the mundane to the sublime.

I am worried that growth of football will be the only victim. Finally, has President Goodluck entered into a plea bargain with the characters who squandered the goodwill of Nigerians? Has he accepted the apology and inadvertently dragged us as usual to several steps backwards?

I had thought seriously that with that heavy heart, President Jonathan would have extracted useful statements from the men who took us to the back pages of football history.

I sincerely wished that all parents who conspired with their footballer children to mutilate their ages will be put on the front burner too. I saw  Casilas, Xavi  and Alonso in Nigeria 99.

Where are our own Under 20s of 1999? Have we suddenly relapsed to business as usual? Does it mean nobody would go to jail for not only misappropriating our finances but our chances? Are you telling me that this monumental failure called South Africa 2010 would not finally resolve the conflict called Nigerian Football?

What does the future hold for Nigerian football? Even as the ban had been reversed, is it not possible to sustain a perpetual ban on all the characters that made us look ordinary in South Africa? I am worried about the future.

Now Spain are no longer underachievers. Ghana has overtaken us. Egypt is still standing by as a local champion. Benin Republic insists they could still beat us. How do we transform our passion to knowledge of the game?

You did say before the World Cup that we should risk experiments at the mundial, expect low performance and then plan for tomorrow. We did not listen to you. We urge you to chart a fresh way forward for us. We are creative people and would get it right now.

Tell us how to catch up with Ghana and maintain a sustainable tempo in growth of the game. Do not let football die in Nigeria.

Ben Udechukwu, Aba

My dear Ben,
After reading your mail I felt that the best I could offer this week will be to accept your challenge – how do we catch up with Ghana and maintain a sustainable tempo in growth of the game?. I will try.

But that will mean repeating myself for I have done a lot on what I felt were the ways out for our sports especially football. And many people have equally offered valuable recommendations. The thing is that we cannot isolate sports from other sectors of the Nigerian polity.

What is happening in sports is a reflection of generality of the Nigerian nation where infrastructure fail, where energy fails, where educations fails, where agriculture fails, where roads fail, economy, security, public utilities, elections and in fact where government has failed. I’m happy that Ben used Ghana as a yard stick. Today, everybody knows the story of Ghana.

Nigerians know that Ghana is working. An opposition party won the last elections in Ghana and John Kuffour handed over to Atta Mills in a peaceful election.

We know that Ghana is peaceful and now attracts foreign investment especially from Nigeria. Top Nigerians now send their children to schools in Ghana and market women take pride in telling you to buy their Ghana Wax for its quality.

The unfortunate thing about Nigerian sports is that everybody is an expert on sports especially football.

That’s why all the people who have failed in their supposed areas of speciality  will be loud in recommending ways for sports and government which, in itself, is failure personified, will listen and buy their ways. You don’t need a deep look at our sports ministry to know that over 90 per cent of the staff have no business working there.

When we made a case for the return of the National Sports Commission, it was with the hope that technocrats would run it. But nothing has changed. What we have there is confusion. It is still the sports ministry structure in real terms.
Ben, I don’t think that we are ready to run sports professionally in Nigeria.

Everybody will know when we are serious. It begins with good governance just like Ghana has done. It begins with respect for professionalism. It begins with our ability to know that passion for sports does not mean knowledge of it.

The biggest problem is that those who run sports especially football lack knowledge of the modern game. This is where I would like to continue next week. Remain blessed.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.