By Omeiza Ajayi
Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello has called for greater support for Nigeria’s ex-international football stars and their families, saying those who made the nation proud at one time or the other must never be forgotten.
He specifically said Nigerians must never forget the contributions of Rashidi Yekini and Stephen Keshi to their overall happiness while they played for the country.
Describing football as a uniting factor, Bello wondered why it has become difficult to replicate the successes of the Atlanta ’96 Olympic Team decades later.
The governor spoke at the weekend in Abuja when he received a team of ex-Nigerian internationals led by a former Super Eagles player and ex-Coach, Augustine Eguavoen and former midfielder, Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha.
Other ex-internationals who were present were Victor Agali, Taribo West, Ifeanyi Udeze, Victor Ikpeba, Tijani Babangida and Garba Lawal.
Addressing the football legends, Bello said; “When I was told that our heroes, our ex-internationals were available and would want to see me, I was highly elated. I couldn’t wait for the day and I couldn’t just wait for the hour because I know it was going to avail me the opportunity to once again address the nation.
“Our people say if you don’t know where you are going you must know where you are coming from. We must at all times reflect on this.
“All of us are gathered here today to simply pass a message to Nigeria and Nigerians that if we don’t know where we are going to, we should know where we are coming from. The Tunisia ’94, USA ’94, and Atlanta ’96 happened just yesterday and what we hoped was that by now we should have lifted the World Cup. That was our hope but it is still a mirage today. We had hoped that by 2021, we should have had a developed nation competing with the USA, UK, and every other developed country of the world.
“Going by the rate at which these our heroes were dedicated and committed, we should have gone further than this. I think many of you were picked from street football and did not even go to football academies but you made Nigeria proud. Those days, when you saw your arch-enemy, you would hug him because the Super Eagles were winning their matches. Those were the old good days when we didn’t care who was in the team. We didn’t care whether you were an Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa man. What was important was let the Super Eagles win.
“I could remember in Atlanta ’96, then I was a student in ABU and I watched the match in Kaduna, a criminal would stand by a soldier and would be watching football. In the Prisons, now Custodial Centres, inmates were watching Super Eagles excitedly even with officials. That was when the country united together. What went wrong? It has never been like that again. We have been finding it difficult even for the Super Eagles. You created a system and that is still the bond you share till today which is why you are still together. That is the spirit we need in the country today. That is exactly what we require, moving forward.
“You were all prepared and then the opportunity came. You were able to harness that opportunity and give us glory. That opportunity is available now. The opportunity is being presented before us now and I want Nigerians generally, that what happened in 1994, 1996 that brought that unity, togetherness and unity is available now. It is available in the All Progressives Congress APC. It is available under our father, our leader, President Muhammadu Buhari.
“In this country, we want unity. We want peace and security. We want development. We are aspiring that one day we will be able to compete with the developed world but you must participate in the process that will bring about that great leadership. That leadership, we are providing in Kogi state before”, he stated.
Speaking on behalf of the team, Mr Augustine Eguavoen hailed the leadership ingenuity of Gov. Bello, saying the ex-internationals were ready to support him in all his undertakings.
While also extending support for the development of women’s football in the state, Eguavoen proposed a novelty match between the ex-internationals and officials of the Kogi state government led by the governor at the Confluence Stadium in Lokoja.