IT is a case of “sadness and joy” for members of the 1994 Super Eagles squad which won the Africa Cup of Nations trophy, the second time Nigeria achieved the feat. President Muhammadu Buhari decided to fulfill the reward of a three-bedroom house for the players and officials promised by the then military ruler, General Sani Abacha.
It is sad because Nigeria has continued to post the image of a country that cannot be trusted to keep its word or respect pacts. This ugly trait was one of the triggers of the Civil War when the Federal Government backed away from the Aburi Accord it signed with the Eastern Region Government. It is also the reason for the frequent industrial actions in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, many members of that squad referred to as The Golden Generation of the Eagles – Captain Stephen Keshi, Uche Okafor, Thompson Oliha, Rashidi Yekini and Wilfred Agbonavbare – died without receiving their rewards.
But for those who are still alive, particularly the 79-year-old Dutch-born Coach Clemens Westerhof, it is joy, and he expressed it this way while receiving the keys to his apartment from the Minister of Housing, Babatunde Fashola: “It’s taken a long go-slow but I feel happy that my second country has fulfilled its promise to me. I always say Nigeria gave me everything as a man and in football. You can see that I wasn’t wrong”.
It is also gratifying to know that the Federal Government is ready to give every member of the squad his own house, whether they are dead or alive, once they are identified and their particulars processed.
Nigeria still owes Westerhof a tonne of gratitude for the uncommon commitment he brought to bear on his job. He not only raised arguably the best Super Eagles crop ever, he also led Nigeria to qualify for the World Cup for the first time, with the Eagles rising to fifth in FIFA ranking, the highest so far by any African squad.
Westerhof lived like a Nigerian, ate our type of food, married a Nigerian and called himself a “Dutch-gerian”. He deserves bestowal of the citizenship of Nigeria.
We thank those responsible for reminding President Buhari of this unfulfilled promise. We thank the President for choosing to remove the shame from the face of Nigeria. Buhari has demonstrated this gesture in many sectors, particularly the payment of the bulk of pensions to retired staff of the liquidated Nigeria Airways.
A country that fails to live up to its word lacks honour and credibility in the comity of nations. Without honour, few foreign countries would want to forge strategic partnership with such a country except by equally crooked bedfellows.
It came very late, but it is better late than never.