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All Said, All Heard, What Next?

By Ikeddy Isiguzo
IT was exciting listening to the challenges of sports (football) at the public hearing that the Sports Committee of the House of Representatives had on the faltering fortunes of Nigerian football.

So many perspectives, many ideas and in some cases outright jocularity ruled the day when I made an appearance on Thursday.

The issues were many too. I got 10 minutes to tell the world what I thought of Nigerian football, though I had earlier submitted a paper which I think that the Committee would use as my contribution.

August 12 was memorable, not just because of the hearing which ran for three days. It was on 12 August 21 years ago that Sam Okwaraji died at the National Stadium playing for Nigeria . We have forgotten, he was no longer important or relevant to Nigerian football.

We live a lot in the past because of its unresolved burdens. There has been hardly any present and not much of a future in terms of where our sports (football) is heading. This tends to affect the way we reason.

Most of the time was spent on apportioning blames (someone calls it blame sharing or blame shifting). At other times people talked about being victims of the maladministration of the game.

I spoke about the poor treatment of our players, the list stretches. In the audience was Nduka Ugbade, possibly the most iconic Nigerian personality in global football. He spoke before me. Nigeria always treated him like thrash.

On 11 August 1985, Ugbade and his team-mates became the (only) winners of the FIFA U-16 World Cup. By the next edition it had become the FIFA U-17 World Cup. The memory of that event faded fast.

Nduka went on to play for the U-20 team that won silver in Saudi Arabia in 1989. He broke his leg in the dramatic duel in Dammam where Nigeria from a 4-0 deficit pulled even and defeated the then Soviet Union on penalty shoot outs. Nduka’s long range shot produced the equaliser.

He aggravated the injury by remaining in the game because Nigeria had exhausted her substitutes.

The Saudis treated him well, a wheelchair awaited him when he wobbled down the aircraft that brought the team to Mecca where it brushed aside the USA in the semi-final – taking down two super powers in succession. He was logging a huge file that had everything about the injury.

Back home the treatment stopped. Nobody took responsibility for the fate of the young man. Providence helped him to recover. Then we did ourselves in again when we did not include him in the 1994 World Cup: he would have become the only player to have featured in the FIFA U-16, U-20 (twice) and the Confederation Cup (1995) where Nigeria finished fourth. Nduka was in the winning 1994 Africa Cup of Nations team.

Another injury at the Confederation Cup, again in Saudi Arabia , was the end of his career. He was abandoned this time totally. It was a miracle his leg was not chopped off. There he was in the hall, merely a forgotten piece of our unrepentant reluctance to make progress in proper directions.

Last week was the 25th anniversary of the victory in China . The Nigeria Football Association did not celebrate the beginning of Nigeria global importance in football. It has never been celebrated it.

The children of 1985 have become men, sprouting gray hairs in most cases. They have watched their achievements wasted.

I do not see the greatness that we preach about Nigerian football. We are barely an acceptable force in African football. Our best ratings globally are in junior competitions where our tattered imagine should be a bigger source of concern.

The pomposity of those who promote our football is clothed in unbecoming ignorance. The greed, the impunity, the crass opportunism are some of the things that stand out. A sober reflection and acceptance of our place in the global game may be helpful in making us see the work that lies ahead.

Now all that matters are elections into the Nigeria Football Association, NFA. Those who see their chance to be elected would hear nothing about the elections being postponed. They believe they would miss their chance if things were done legally.

In more than 20 years, our football prospered on the wings of the poor economic policies that wiped away millions of great business ideas and made foreign currencies king over an under producing domestic economy.

In a depressing setting, where hunger pangs remind people about the need to survive, the first needs are food, shelter, clothing, maybe security. People are motivated by anything that could help them out of these needs.

Football was handy. It placed food on the table and did a lot more. It lifted people practically out of poverty. When people escape this level of needs, they have to be motivated in other ways.

We are stuck with motivating our players at the first level of needs, which many of them left there more than 10 years ago. Once our players have escaped the basic needs, what can we give them? Why are we stuck on the basic needs while they have left it?

Our footballers play to escape poverty not to win the World Cup.

Nduka spoke about modern football, coaching administration and challenged Nigeria to adopt modern ways. In 2010 the same characters who stymied our football are back, they pledge FIFA, they call on CAF, they tell us there is nothing we can do.

There is a lot that can be done. The election can be stopped; government can stop wasting public resources on football since it lacks the courage to recognise that NFA leaning on FIFA to place itself above Nigeria is actually a parallel government.


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