By Tony Eluemunor
I know many Nigerians have forgotten the reason why we ended up disappointing the entire Black world in the US 1994 Football World Cup tournament.
In fact, many Nigerians have not fully internalised the reason why we failed to advance beyond the last sixteen stage; indiscipline, a criminal lack of focus and that terrible streak in us that makes us to begin to celebrate even before a tournament has started, or once we win minor victories.
Mr. Onochie Anibeze, yes, the Editor of Vanguard on Saturday, has written a few times about that US’94 World Cup. Without spelling it out that we thoroughly messed up and disappointed ourselves and Mother Africa by losing to Italy, though we were minutes away from a definitive victory, any discerning mind would get the message in his understated renditions, especially as he, a gentle heart, has always shied away from passing judgment.
To effectively prepare for the match against the Italians, the Coach, Clemens Westerhof, asked the Eagles to leave their hotel in the heart of Boston for another in the outskirts of the 50-miles radius Greater Boston Area, and its 100 Universities and Colleges – Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Boston College, Brandies, Simmons University, Tufts University, Wellesley College, Babson College, Northern University, Bentley University, Emerson College, North-Eastern University, U-Mass, Lowell, Wheaton College, Stonehill College, Berkeley College of Music, Gordon College, Suffolk University, Emmanuel College, and the rest.
Boston hosts over 350,000 university students yearly. Hey, did you catch my drift? Boston is a city of youths, university students mainly, and Nigerians form a large percentage of them. If I have learnt well from Mr. Anibeze, the Eagles were quartered in Holiday Inn… smack in the middle of the “Brainpower Triangle” formed by Cambridge (Harvard and MIT) and Somerville (Tufts University)…so Coach Westerhof saw the stream of visitors pouring into the Inn just to see the Eagles, and decided to move his team to the outskirts.
But the team Captain, the late Stephen Keshi, refused and some of the footballers backed him. The team was divided. So, Coach Westerhof left the hotel but his team remained behind. Thus, the team had no training for days until the eve of the that match when they only did light, loosening up training.
The footballers thought they had already conquered the world. In the end, they lost to Italy. Coach Westerhof did not return with his footballers; he simply left from the US to the Netherlands. Nigeria has since then been celebrating a big failure simply because we reached the round of 16 stage. But Bulgaria which we trashed 3-0 in a group match got to the semi-finals, and Italy, which we led in our match till three minutes to the end, narrowly lost in the final match of that tournament.
Brazil won 3–2 in a penalty shoot-out at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, near Los Angeles, after the game had ended 0–0 after extra time. It was the first World Cup final to be decided on penalties. So, we have been celebrating a disaster. A poste-mortem would have shown that we should have been on that centre stage finals match. But only serious countries conduct poste-mortems.
How does that relate to the present? Well, excellence is a tradition! On 31 December 2019, the Health Commission of Wuhan, Hubei, China, informed the World Health Organisation about a cluster of acute pneumonia cases with unknown origin in its province.
On 9 January 2020, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) identified a novel coronavirus, the SARS-CoV-2 as the cause. China used its experience from the two other coronaviruses that caused the SARS outbreak in 2002 and the MERS outbreak in 2012 to contain this one. It introduced aggressive measures, imposing lockdowns.
There is another example that should have shocked our authorities into action: Italy’s. The country’s first confirmed cases were two Chinese tourists who flew into Rome on 31 January 2020 and tested positive for the virus. A week later an Italian who returned from Wuhan, China, tested positive.
A cluster of cases was later detected, starting with 16 confirmed cases in Lombardy on 21 February, and 60 additional cases and the first deaths on 22 February. By the beginning of March, the virus had spread to all regions of Italy. It took Covid-!9 virus less than a month to hobble the country. By the second month Italy is almost helpless. The same thing happened to the US and Britain too.
Exhibiting a total lack of strategic thinking, our leader’s only useless assurances. The first case was confirmed in Nigeria on 27 February 2020, when an Italian in Lagos tested positive for the virus. So, we had a head start of two months in this race against Covid-19. On 9 March 2020 a second case, a Nigerian citizen who had contact with the Italian citizen was confirmed.
Yet, on 28 January 2020, the government had assured citizens of its readiness to strengthen surveillance at in the country’s international Airports to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (CCDC) also announced it would check the spread of the disease but it could not isolate the Nigerian who had contact with the Italian until he fell ill.
Now, how effective was that surveillance? By January, it was already known that an infected person may not have symptoms for two weeks … but we mounted sentry at the airports with nothing but thermometers. Writing this on April 1st, it is now clear that CCDC has lost control; 174 cases exist in the country.
In fact, President Muhammadu Buhari must be blamed for waiting till 9th March, to establish a Covid-19 Presidential Task Force. Waiting even further, a travel ban was placed on (United States, United Kingdom, South Korea, Switzerland, Germany, France, Italy, China, Spain, Netherlands, Norway, Japan and Iran) 13 countries with widespread cases, only on the 18th of March.
In January and early February, we were already celebrating that we had defeated Coronavirus. Ill-produced videos were circulating in the social media that Nigeria had “killed” Covid-19 as it did to Ebola disease. All the while, we knew we had no testing kits, no ventilators, lacked hospital space and health care personnel, because our doctors and nurses troop to South Africa if lucky and to the West, if blessed.
So, it was clear our best option was to close the Airports once the disease arrived with the Italian and to start aggressive search and isolating of those who met him and who met with those who met him. Tuesday’s papers reported that Nigeria was still searching for 6,000 contacts of the confirmed cases. If the 6,000 were infected, how many would they have infected by now?
Now, many states are experiencing a lockdown. If only the lockdown, a terrible option in a country whacked by hellish poverty, would be obeyed. The choice was open for long, to close the Airports early or to leave them open, allow in the disease in vast numbers and then close them and the country later. Characteristically, we chose the last and the worse one. If the lock down fails, Coronavirus will overwhelm Nigeria. That is why this April is consequenctial.