Tuesday Platform

March 5, 2013

The politics of excellence:The superior Eagles

The politics of excellence:The superior Eagles

Nigeria’s national football team players hold the trophy as they celebrate winning the 2013 African Cup of Nations final against Burkina Faso on February 10, 2013 at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg. AFP PHOTO

By John Aomda
SIMON Kolawole’s  “A Lesson Or Two From Super Eagles” in  ThisDay of Sunday February 17, makes the connection between politics and excellence. The Super Eagles, according to Kolawole, exemplified the relevance and wisdom of decision made on the merit of what is the case.

The winning team was selected in   terms of the goal, namely   that of selecting any 11 players from any part of the country that could lift the African Cup of Nations. Stephen Keshi’s team, against formidable odds, produced the superior Eagles.

“As the Super Eagles,” writes Kolawole, “flew their way to glory in South Africa, some thoughts about our politics welled up in my heart. We have said these things several times in the past, but they become more real to me day by day. Each time the players took to the field, they represented every nook and cranny of Nigeria.

There are only 11 players on the pitch, but they were representing the 36 states, and FCT, the 774 local government areas, the 250 ethnic groups and 160 million Nigerians. It did not matter that most of the players were from one part of the country.

Each time we entered the pitch, we saw them first and foremost as Nigerians who were working their socks off to bring glory to the country. Each time they scored, we all celebrated irrespective of the players state of origin or religion.”

Kolawole in this brief paragraph tells and teaches us what nation-building is all about and how it is brought about. Keshi attributed their victory to one fact, that he was able to produce with players of diverse background and career situations, a team. “We played as a team.

We played as one body, with one mind and one understanding-We played as a team”. Burkina Faso, a much smaller country, produced a rival team that played as a team. Each produced a possible champion.

It mattered who was the coach. He knew what it took for him as a player to be part of a winning team. He had his opportunity to take the risk of producing a team with only his eyes on how good players could be fashioned to become a winning team playing on world stage.

The odd makers did not give him much of a chance. The champions had already been picked from their individual records. The key to Keshi’s victory was that he fielded a team of Nigerians, and those at home in their 250 ethnic habitats could see what they potentially are in the Super Eagles.

The Super Eagles were Nation Nigeria. The  Malian goal keeper said it all: “We lost to Brazil”. Keshi could get no higher praise than that which came from the heart of a member of the opposing team.

There are lessons from sports in general and from soccer in particular that we should learn from the Nation’s performance in South Africa.

The teams that qualify for the African Cup of Nations came from nations of different sizes, wealth and power. But big or small they could produce the excellence of play that made them potential champions.

Togo, Burkina Faso, Cote D’Ivoire, and Mali could be accommodated within Metropolitan Lagos- but each were capable of winning. Excellence is a leveler in games impartially umpired. This is the wisdom from the African Cup of Nations.

Whether it be politics of war or politics of diplomacy, a leadership that understands the strategic value of excellence is the leadership that would organise its decision to optimise its adeptness in the politics of excellence.

A Pharaoh warned of an impending famine promoted an alien slave into the second in command in Egypt because Pharaoh prized excellence above pedigree.  Kolawole appreciates the value of excellence and is provoke into asking:

“Can we sincerely say we fielded our best 11 in government?”

The question attempts to reconcile patronage politics with meritocratic politics, through the politics of excellence. Through the sieve of excellence patronage decisions can produce the best acceptable 11.

It is a leadership that understands that excellence is the David that triumphs over Goliath that also understands that the politics of excellence must be promoted at the expense of the politics of ascription or privilege.

Dr. Henry A. Kissinger in his Forward to Lee Kwan Yew’s, From Third World to First, the Singapore Story: 1965-2000 spells out the strategic implications of the politics of excellence. Lee Kwan Yew was a leader who changed the destiny of Singapore. Kissinger explains the value of a leader in the politics of his era.

“Singapore is a case in point. As the main British naval base in the Far East, it had neither prospect nor aspiration for nationhood until the collapse of European power in the aftermath of the Second World War redrew the map of Southeast Asia. In the first wave of decolonization, Singapore was made part of Malaya until its largely Chinese population proved too daunting for a state attempting to define its national identity by a Malay majority.

Malaya extruded Singapore because it was not ready to cope with so large a Chinese population or, less charitably, to teach Singapore the habits of dependence if it was forced back into what later became the Malaysia federation. But history shows that normally prudent, ordinary calculations can be overturned by extraordinary personalities.

In the case of Lee Kuan Yew, the father of Singapore’s emergence as a national state, the ancient argument is whether circumstances could not have been less favourable. Located on a sandbar with nary a natural resource, Singapore had in the 1950s a polyglot population of slightly over a million (today over three million ) of which 75.4 percent was Chinese, 13.6 percent Malay and 8.6 percent India.

It adjoined in the South with Indonesia, with  population of over 100 million (now nearly double that ) and in the North with Malaya (later Malaysia), with then- population of 6.28 million. By far the smallest country in southeast Asia, Singapore seemed destined to become a client state of powerful neighbours, if indeed it could preserve its independence at all. Lee Kuan Yew thought otherwise.

Every great achievement is a dream before it becomes a reality, and his vision was a state that could not simply survive but prevail by excelling. Superior intelligence, discipline, and ingenuity would substitute for resources. Lee Kwan Yew summoned his compatriots to a duty they had never previously perceived.

First to clean up their city, then to dedicate it to overcome the initial hostility of their neighbours and their own ethnic divisions by superior performance. The Singapore of today is his testament”.

Keshi who performed a Singapore in South Africa by transforming Nigeria into Brazil has shown indeed that every great achievement is the actualization of the envisioned- Nigeria can prevail over its present by excelling through superior intelligence, discipline and ingenuity in the management of its internal and international politics.

Only through such a culture of excellence will superior performance in difficult assignments become routine achievements.