Two weeks ago, the federal government announced the appointment of a new Football Ambassador for Nigeria. It did not come as a complete surprise because, somehow, I knew it was coming.
Daniel ‘the Bull’ Amokachi, becomes only the third football player in Nigeria’s history, since Independence in 1960, to be made a Football Ambassador.
The first to be so decorated was late Mudashiru Babatunde Lawal. He was made an Ambassador in the early 1990s.
Muda Lawal had retired from active football for a few years when this newly minted ceremonial appointment fell on his lap. Initially he did not know what to make of it because there was no precedent to fall back on for learning, so he went back and forth the sports ministry at the time, trying to work out some kind of structure and schedule for the largely ceremonial position.
I remember sharing some thoughts with him on what he could do as a football ambassador. The first thing we both agreed on was the need to have an official space within the sports ministry for him to use as an office.
Without an office and knowing the high turnover of officials in charge of sports in the ministry, he could very easily be forgotten in the maze of sports politics, and the position would lose its intended purpose. Unfortunately, he never got one and for many years after his untimely death the position was actually forgotten and dormant.
Muda Lawal merited his appointment without question. He was the first and only African football player at the time to have played in 5 consecutive AFCONs, from 1976 to 1984. CAF recognized that feat, and the Nigerian government merely followed up by creating for him that position that would have kept him relevant within Nigerian football ‘administration without the hassle of all the politics of getting into positions of authority. It was a position that was immune from any politics and partisan influences.
Muda’s choice as Nigeria’s first football ambassador, therefore, set the bar high for anyone that should be subsequently appointed into that position. For many decades after his death, no footballer could fit into the shoes he left behind.
A few years ago, Kanu Nwankwo came along with an array of trophies and medals that made Muda’s chest look like a child’s play. As the most decorated football player in Nigeria’s history – several AFCONs and World Cup appearances, an Olympic Gold medal, a European Club Championship medal, League and FA trophies in the EPL, Captainship of the National team, two-time winner of the African Player of the Year award, and a national honour of Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) to cap it, he was appointed Football Ambassador by the Amaju Pinnick-led Nigeria Football Federation, not by Sports Ministry.
Although that appointment was also ceremonial Kanu’s role included a close liaison with the national teams, particularly the Super Eagles, during international matches and championships. He served as a source of useful motivation for the players. He is still playing that role to date.
Late last year, when the new Minister of Sports, Mr. Sunday Dare, wanted to pay a visit to FIFA and needed to be accompanied to Zurich, he was reminded of the NFF Football Ambassador. That’s how the great ‘Papillo’ went with him, and what a huge impact his presence made during the visit.
The Minister’s attention and interest were, thereafter, drawn to the value of such a position in Nigerian sports and he made enquiries. That’s how the seed of appointing a new official Football Ambassador by the Federal Government was planted.
It would not have taken him long to search for a player that deserved to occupy that position in Nigerian sports. The player must have the right credentials to fit the main reason for the appointment. He must have served the present government in power beyond the football field.
The Federal Government’s choice of Daniel Amokachi was, therefore, well informed and well earned by the gifted gentleman. Strategically, Daniel had played his cards right. He knew that at the end of majorly contributing to the success of the APC government during the re-election campaign of President Muhammadu Buhari, a reward would follow.
So, there is little surprise that the least the government could do for him is use him in the field of his passion, football, and let him continue to add value, substance and colour to the football firmament.
Amokachi was a member of the great era of the 1990s in Nigerian football, and was an integral part of the achievements of that generation along with Kanu, Jay Jay Okocha, Victor Ikpeba, Sunday Oliseh and so on. He was nick-named ‘the Bull’ by Earnest Okonkwo for his robust playing style, using his strength, speed and exquisite dribbling skills to power his way through defenses.
After his football career, his venture into the world of television revealed a creative side of the man that brought fresh respect for his person. Although he became a coach he also worked with television as an analyst and an events compere, revealing his uncommon eloquence and intelligence.
As Nigeria’s Football Ambassador Amokachi must make that position to gain respect and importance with some creative thinking. He is a smart and very intelligent person. He was a thinking player.
He was not called the Bull for anything, using his skills and clever play to do maximum damage to opposing teams throughout his career. He can represent Nigeria very well at international and national fora.
With his closeness to the corridors of power, with the innovative thinking that the new Minister has brought by making him Ambassador, that role will leave the backrooms and come to the front row of Nigerian football.
I wish Daniel ‘the Bull’ Amokachi, a wonderful reign as Nigeria’s second official Football Ambassador.
Nigeria’s forgotten and wasting Sports Ambassadors
There is a group of Nigerians that was appointed official Sports (not football) Ambassadors by the federal government of Nigeria when late Air Commodore Emeka Omeruah was Minister of Sports, at an elaborate ceremony in Abuja in 1998.
It was at that same period that a centre for a Hall of Fame was established and opened in the Central District area of Abuja for Nigerian sports heroes. On the occasion, some selected sports heroes were inducted into Nigeria’s Hall of Fame, whilst 10 of them, drawn from various sports and related sectors were decorated as official Sports Ambassadors of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Beyond that evening in Abuja, however, the Ambassadors have simply vanished into the wasteland of Nigerian sports, never called up again and never used for any purpose. They have become as relevant to Nigerian sport as a lit lamp is in broad daylight! Some of them have even passed on.
Specially selected for their achievements and contributions to the development of sports in the country, although I am not certain of all the names, I think the list includes: Fanny Amun, Chioma Ajunwa, Christian Chukwu, John Fashanu, late Alhaji Dan Kabo, late Ayo Ositelu, Mary Onyali, Rafiu Ladipo, yours truly and one other that I cannot recall.
It may interest the new Minister to dust up the relevant file (if it can be found) in the ministry on Nigeria’s Sports Ambassadors and do something to engage these forgotten jewels