By Patrick Omorodion
Government, they say is a continuum. Meaning that whatever policy statement made by one government is supposed to be binding on any other government that comes after the one that made the statement or signed any agreement for a particular project.
However, the case is different in Nigeria surprisingly, even when an in-coming government is of the same political party with the out-going one which made the commitment.
An example here is what happened to Nigeria’s U-16 squad of 1985 led by Nduka Ugbade which made history by winning the maiden edition of the FIFA/Kodak U-16 Tournament that year. After that historic victory of 1985, then Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari hosted the team where he promised to reward them. But before he could keep his promise, he was overthrown in a military coup.
Thirty years after Ugbade and his colleagues wrote Nigeria’s name on the world map of football, the pledge was not redeemed until Buhari returned as president after the electoral victory of 2015. He surprised Nigerians when he redeemed his pledge of 30 years by rewarding the lads who made Nigeria proud then, with N600,000 each after a presidential reception in Abuja..
Nigerians commended President Buhari for keeping to his promise of 30 years, saying that it would help to motivate other upcoming athletes to put in their best for the country.
After Buhari’s promise of 1985, another military Head of State, General Sani Abacha was in power when the Super Eagles won the Africa Nations Cup in Tunisia in 1994. It was unique because it was the first on away soil.
The nation celebrated the team and in the euphoria of that celebration when General Abacha hosted them in the nascent Federal Capital City of Abuja then, he pledged a three-bedroom apartment to each member of the team and their officials. Over the years, that promise has not been redeemed or fully redeemed as some of the players are reported to have received theirs. That the pledge has not been fully redeemed is the fault of both the Sports ministry and the Nigeria Football Federation, both of which are supposed to bring it to the notice of the Federal Government on which behalf the pledge was made 25 years ago.
After General Abacha, several other leaders have led the government. Not much could have been done by General Abdulsalami Abubakar whose tenure was rather too short as he was more or less in a hurry to return the country to a democracy, to quell the agitation by angry Nigerians for the restoration of the mandate freely given Basorun MKO Abiola on June 12, 1993.
However, after Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was intalled as the new civilian president on the return of democracy in 1999, those who were supposed to push for the pledge of houses to be redeemed did nothing about it even when some of the players were constantly ‘crying’ in the Media that the houses promised them by the government were yet to be given.
Foremost among the agitators was Thompson Oliha who was based in Ilorin working with Clemens Westerhof as one of the technical hands at the Kwara Football Academy at the time. Oliha never lived to enjoy the reward of his sweat for Nigeria as he died some years later.
Aside Oliha, other members of the squad who may not have been given their houses and who have equally passed on are the captain of the team, Stephen Keshi, Rashidi Yekini, Uche Okafor and Wilfred Agbonavbare, one of the goalkeepers.
Surprisingly the APC government of Buhari remembered that the government was yet to redeem the houses promised the Eagles in 1994 shortly before the 2018 World Cup in Russia and decided to redeem it. Instead of giving to all those who were yet to get theirs, the only person called to Abuja to get keys to his own house was Bonfrere Jo, a Dutch who was an assistant to Westerhof at that time. No mention was made about others and Nigerians wondered why it was so. So when the Nigeria Football Federation held its Award last Monday in Lagos and gave special recongition to the Super Eagles of 1994 for their feat of winning the Nations Cup and qualifying for their first World Cup that same year, the issue of the unfulfilled house pledge re-echoed.
And the task of reminding the country of this pledge fell on Austin Eguavoen, who indeed was the stand-in captain at the competition as Keshi was virtually a non playing captain owing to an injury. Eguavoen had to step down during the Cup presentation for Keshi to lift it on behalf of the team.
Speaking at the Awards ceremony, Eguavoen asked the NFF to help push for the fulfillment of that pledge so that they could enjoy the fruit of their labour, stressing that the children or relations of their late colleagues could benefit also.
“I want to make a passionate appeal to the NFF to help facilitate the release of houses promised us in 1994. Some of us got theirs, some did not, while five amongst us have passed on, and their children should be the beneficiaries of such benefits.
A line in our national anthem reads ‘the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain. I urge the government to fulfil the promise made,”Eguavoen said. At this stage tears welled up in the eyes of most of them who lined out on the podium.
He commended the NFF for the recognition saying,”This is the first time we are so honoured and this will help to bridge the distance between ex-internationals and the NFF.”
The minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, himself a football lover who was visible and played a role in making Bonfrere get his house after 24 years, could as well be approached by the NFF to help these heroes get their reward so that like Eguavoen said, “the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain.”