By Yinka Odumakin
“Yakubu is 25 but a Nigerian 25”—Everton Manager, David Moyes in 2008.
“I don’t see Nigerian football getting out of the quagmire, the problem it is in, today, is because corruption is getting deeper and deeper. From time to time we get flashes where we do well in some competitions with overage players and we celebrate.
That was one of the issues I looked at; we can’t keep using overage players. We used over-age players for junior championships, I know that. Why not say it? It’s the truth. We always cheat. It’s a fact. When you cheat, you deprive the young stars that are supposed to play in these competitions their rights.”— NFA Chairman, Anthony Kojo Williams, in 2000.
JULIUS Agwu is one of my favourite comedians in Nigeria .I love his feminine voice,the crispness of his jokes as well as his delivery. Anytime I am boarding a flight and I call my wife,I usually say “abodu ala o”.I picked that from Julius.He cracked the joke about a flight attendant going around the lounge to announce an aircraft boarding because the public address system was not working during the renovations of the Enugu airport .
The Igbo lady was saying: “A Lagos abodu ala o” There was a passenger billed to fly that plane who did not understand a word in Igbo and therefore sat put while other passengers went to join the queue. About an hour later he went to the A… counter and asked why they had yet to make a boarding call only to be told that the plane had since departed “I went round shouting abodu ala” came from the flight attendant as if every passenger must understand her native tongue.
But his joke that is relevant to what I am discussing today is the one where he talked about some Nigerian team training for an age-grade competition near his house and how he went to one of the players to ask for his age and the response he got was: “Our coach has not given us our age”.
We have just “conquered” the world again in Chile and the drums are rolling in celebration of our lack of character and integrity as a people. Our infinite capacity to conspire in falsehood and pretend that all is well when the reverse is the case is once more being demonstrated even when we don’t blink in reciting our NATIONAL PLEDGE:
“I pledge to Nigeria my country To be faithful,loyal and HONEST”
We say these and all the other lines(read LIES) even when no one believes in them. We have mastered the art of saying something and doing another because the very foundation of our country is a concrete of lies. Every action we take is built on falsehood because we just can’t do it right. Cheating our ways to corner undeserved advantages has become a national culture because we have not been able to construct a national vision.
After 55 years we still cannot count ourselves because an accurate census would minimise our ability to cheat. Our examinations have become a farce as parents even buy questions for their wards and pay for admissions. We beat traffic rules if there is nobody in sight to enforce them.Our politicians forge certificates to contest elections. Our vote counts conflict with actual vote cast. Judges take bribes to pervert Justice. Priests and Imams negate moral values. The “how “ no longer matter to us and yet we pray that our country should succeed .
We can occasionally have some fake success but not good success because we break all the rules of success as natural cheats. We deploy kids to vote in elections where adults should participate when we want to cheat internally and assemble adults to go and compete with kids globally when we want to cheat internationally. This is why we are celebrating 22 men who went to an unequal competition with only whispers about the actual ages of our boys.
Mere physical appearances of our boys should tell any honest person that the suspicion about true ages of some Nigerian footballers which made FIFA to ban the country from all international fixtures for two years after finding that the birth dates of three of our players in the 1988 Olympics were different from ones used by the same players in previous tournaments is still very much with us.
Nigeria has over the years paraded promising “ youngsters” who mysteriously failed to fulfill their potential in the senior teams. Phillip Osondu was the best player at the 1987 Under-17 World Cup, after which he was signed on by Anderlecht, only to drift out of the game and into janitorial work after questions were raised about his real age. Femi Opabunmi shone brilliantly when Nigeria played in the finals of the Under-17 competition in 2001 and was officially the third youngest player in the senior team when he featured in the 0-0 game with England during the 2002 World Cup. But by 2005 he had expired doing only part-time soccer in some unrated team in lower rungs of the French league.
Adokiye Amiesimaka questioned the inclusion of Golden Eaglets captain Fortune Chukwudi during the 2009 Under 17 championship . Amiesimaka in an unusual candor bared his mind after Nigeria’s opening 3-3 draw with Germany at the Abuja National Stadium on October 24. “In the 2002/2003 season, I was chairman of Sharks Football Club of Port Harcourt. I decided to have a feeder team of fresh school leavers not older than 20 years.
One of my key players then is the current captain of our so-called Under-17 Golden Eaglets. By his own admission at that time, that is seven years ago, he was 18 years old…If we are not utterly irresponsible, how can he be eligible for this tournament when he is not less than 25 years old now?” Amiesimaka wrote in the Punch newspaper. Chukwudi played till the Eaglets final match and fizzled out thereafter. But since corruption is official in Nigeria,there was no whimper from our officials .
I read on The Cable in June this year of how Taye Taiwo’s twin sister allegedly celebrated her 39th birthday the day Taiwo was doing his own 27th.There was also the story of Samson Siasia cutting the cake of his 30th wedding anniversary at the age of 47!
About the most hilarious was that of Dele Ajiboye who exposed the lie over his age when he featured in the Under-17 tournament in 2007″.In the chat(with Soccer Star) the Golden Eaglets gold medal-winning goalkeeper in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2007 inadvertently revealed he was older than he claimed eight years earlier. When asked about his role model as a professional goalkeeper, the Kwara United keeper revealed the person without much fuss. “I have many role models.
Anyone I learn from is my role model,” he said. “I could remember when I was still a young boy, I do watch Peter Rufai and I learnt a lot from him.” Ajiboye is 25 now and 17 in 2007, but we doubt he was referring to the Peter Rufai of 1998 World Cup. Nobody learnt anything fruitful and meaningful from Rufai of 1998. Even Ajiboye at age eight couldn’t have learnt anything worthy from the fumbling Dodo Mayana except, of course, how to make cheap goals look spectacular. Then, we are assuming Ajiboye was referring to the Rufai of 1994 Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup. But in 1994, Ajiboye was four!”
James Spencer in an article traced age fraud in the Premier League to African players: “Age fraud came to prominence in the Premier League from the mid-1990s onwards, as clubs began looking more and more at emerging African players. Several former Premier League players from Nigeria alone have been suspected of such misrepresentation.
Nwankwo Kanu is a legend of African football and became a cult hero in England playing for clubs like Arsenal and Portsmouth. The tall forward won the Champions League with Ajax in 1995, but was always suspected to be as much as nine years older than his stated age. Speaking in 2010, Harry Redknapp jokingly exaggerated that Kanu was 49, though given how he described ever increasing ailments and the need for treatment, there seemed to be a shred of authenticity to his words.
Former Newcastle United striker Obafemi Martins was also at the centre of an age row. The player had spectacularly burst onto the scene with Inter Milan as a youngster, but failed to make the most of his talent, suggesting he could already have been much older than stated. In 2005, while Martins was still in Italy, the Nigerian Football Federation claimed he was actually born in 1978, though his player registration stated it was 1984.
Similar stories also exist for both Jay-Jay Okocha and Taribo West who plied their trade in the Premier League for Bolton Wanderers and Derby County, respectively. Throughout his career, Okocha was rumoured to be 10 years older than his official age. Following his departure from Derby in 2001, West allegedly told Partizan Belgrade that he was only 28, though given the state of his body the club had strong suspicions that he was 40.
It may not occur to us that our national failure is the sum total of all these little acts of dishonesty .I recall a Dutch-journalist friend of mine who I was driving along the Airport Road in 1998 and saw a fellow peeing on the road. He looked at the guy and said to me: “If that man cannot see anything wrong urinating on the roadside,he would do other 1000 things that are not right and would not see nothing wrong”.
We shall engage in this hollow rituals of celebrating our “victory” but we know in the inner recesses of our minds that is all a fluke because we didn’t do it right. Scoundrels posing as patriots would even abuse this writer for writing the truth. That majority is wrong should not desist the minority that is right from saying it as it is.
The truth must be told even if heavens fall: It is only righteousness that exalts a nation.