BY Muyiwa Adetiba

The Nigerian Super Eagles caged the much rated Pharaoh of Egypt during their opening match at the African Cup of Nations tournament which is scheduled to end tomorrow. They followed it with convincing victories in their two successive matches. These wins raised their profile from ‘an also ran’ to possible champions.

The coach also won the Coach of the Preliminary Round. Meanwhile, Tunisia, our next opponent, barely qualified for the knock-out stages. To make matters worse for them, many of their players subsequently tested positive to Covid19.

Our victory against the Tunisians therefore became a foregone conclusion in our eyes. We began to see ourselves lifting the trophy. Or at worse, in the Finals. Cash incentives started coming in from wealthy Nigerians – the kind of cash incentives that should have come in at least two years earlier. The President got on the act with his own promises – he did not seem to have noticed when our football officials were squabbling and throwing stones at the ‘House of Glass’.

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‘Bring the Cup home’ everybody chanted. The pressure started to mount. The camp became a Mecca as every Government official at the tournament wanted to associate with the camp of the Eagles. After all, success always generates its own godfathers. So called pundits started suggesting possible line-ups. Distraction took the place of focus. And as the team walked to the pitch on match day, entitlement took the place of hard work; complacency took the place of intensity; individualism took the place of team play. The hunger shown against Egypt could hardly be gleaned from the display against Tunisia.

The traffic was light in my part of Lagos shortly before the match and almost non-existent during the match – an indication that many people sat at home to watch the match. As usual, Nigerians pulled as one irrespective of religion and tribe. We wanted to win. The victory of the team would be ours as a collective. The pride would be ours. Friends had gathered together waiting for celebratory drinks. It was not to be.

The shock of defeat was evident in the social media commentaries after the match. In this undeserved anticipation of success, we had forgotten the shambolic preparations we made for the tournament. We forgot the unnecessary quibble over the foreign coach that led to his sack barely weeks to the tournament. We forgot the disrespect shown to the local replacement when we announced the appointment of another foreign coach even before the local coach had left the Glass House. Why not wait until the tournament was over before announcing a new coach?

I see the success of the Green Eagles at the preliminary stages as proof of the potential of the team. I see the success of the team over the highly rated Egyptians as what can happen when a team with potential is underrated. I see the success of a team chosen more for balance and industry than for individual play. In all, I see in the victory, a team that was rated as an underdog but which wanted to prove something to the sporting world – hence the drive, the hunger and the collective play. But unfortunately, everything that counted for success against the Egyptians was reversed against the Tunisians. It showed in my opinion, that what was displayed against the Pharaohs of Egypt had not been ingrained in them. It had not become part of their DNA. Consistency comes with practice, hard work, discipline and sacrifices. These are preceded by motivation and continuity. The foundation of them all is planning. You must envision and plan if you want to be really successful.

Unfortunately, the Super Eagles are a metaphor for Nigeria. After all, the boys are not from Mars. They have Nigerian blood flowing in their veins and Nigerian psyche in their minds. They are products of the system with its warts and all.  Nigeria has the potential to be among the world’s great in any sport that is played in the country – from individual sports like boxing, swimming and the sprints, to team sports like football, basketball and even cricket. The talents are there. The potentials are there. We witness them in the flashes of brilliance of our sportsmen on occasions; especially from those who are beneficiaries of foreign training and culture. And not just in sports. We see Nigerians soaring and lighting the skies like a meteor from time to time. But to make winning a habit; to have a culture of excellence, we must imbibe the conditions I listed earlier and more.

     We honestly need a leader like Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew who can believe that it is possible for Nigeria to move from being a 3rd world country to a 1st world country. A man with a vision and the discipline to carry out the vision. A person who can pick the nation’s best eleven from anywhere in the country using criteria that are clear and unambiguous. A leader who can achieve a balance without sacrificing quality. A leader who can lead by example by denying himself of the accoutrements of office. There is no point decrying medical tourism if you are going to be the first to hop on a plane at the first sign of discomfort. There is no point asking the people to buy Nigeria if you are going to be riding one of the best cars Germany has produced. There is no point pushing self- reliance when you not willing to invest in education. That is not the way Singapore did it; it is not the way China did it; or India; or any of the countries that are transiting from developing to developed. Yew led by example and was not shy of using the iron fist whenever necessary. For him the nation came first. Not individuals no matter how highly placed.

Nigerians love success. We see the way they identify with Nigerians in the diaspora who are doing great things. But nobody is emphasising what it takes for them to be at the top. We love beautiful things but we think nothing of dumping our refuse in the drains. I often see people in fancy cars throw litter on the streets. Yet they would be the first to complain about the dirt on the streets. Even a so called sophisticated man thinks nothing of parking his gleaming car on a well mowed lawn because he doesn’t want to take the trouble of looking for a parking space. He doesn’t hesitate to drop trash in the elevator. Yet he loves the ambience of a beautiful estate. We love life at the top but find the necessary climb up the hill of success too arduous and tedious. We’d rather look for short cuts.

From land, to resources, to people, Nigeria has everything it needs to succeed. Everything that is, but the vision. The discipline. And of course the leadership. Let’s choose wisely in 2023.



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