Nigeria’s unfinished Igbo business

By Ochereome Nnanna

What’s in a name? That which we call rose by any other name would smell just as sweet – William Shakespeare in Romeo And Juliet

SHAKESPEARE obviously thinks that the name a person bears is irrelevant in that person’s life. This is contrary to the African view. Names are very important to us. Parents go out of their ways to give their newborns names that inspire, edify, comfort, direct, define, admonish, remind or glorify. Children are named after people or things to encourage them to emulate them.

Apart from the names our parents give us, most people grow up to earn additional names as a result of their deeds (good or bad) or achievements. That is why Nwankwo Kanu is Papillo, Austin Okocha is Jay Jay, Austin Eguavoen is Cerezo, Peter Rufai is Dodo Mayana, Mutiu Adepoju is Headmaster, and Victor Ikpeba is Prince of Monaco. They are our national heroes and we call them their given and nicknames with great fondness.

When a person earns a name or becomes popular, wisdom dictates that such a person exercises great care in his or her conducts, especially in the public, to avoid sullying the name. Once a name is ruined, it may never be redeemed. The delicate art of ensuring that one maintains his or her good name is called name management. In June 2021, Noah Dallaji, an engineer and philanthropist, sponsored the second edition of his African Children Talent Discovery Foundation, ACTDF, in Bauchi.

A highlight of the four-day event was a novelty match between youth clubs and ex-Super Eagles players. Ex-players like Nwankwo Kanu, Daniel Amokachi, Jay-Jay Okocha and even some foreigners like DR Congolese ex-player, Lomana Tresor Lualua, attended. The people of Bauchi turned out in their numbers just to watch their ageing heroes once again. Nobody cared about what (or if) anything went behind the scene in bringing the ex-Eagles to play in Bauchi because there was no obvious political motive in sponsoring the event.

I was taken aback when almost the entire surviving squad of the Super Eagles who did the nation proud in the 1990s and 2000s suddenly popped up in Lokoja to “endorse” the presidential ambition of Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State. Since Bello announced his ambition about a year ago, a steady stream of opportunists has been paying him calls. It seems a lucrative venture. Even Muhammadu Buhari’s “kinsmen” from Daura have visited to endorse Bello.

When over the weekend, the same group of ex-Eagles surfaced in Bourdillon Road, Ikoyi to endorse the presidential ambition of All Progressives Congress, APC, chieftain, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu on his “70th” birthday, the news madly trended on Twitter and the entire social media. It was not just the endorsement and novelty match that sent tongues wagging, it was Pastor Taribo West’s thunder and lightning prayer threatening to arrest the four walls of Nigeria for Tinubu that really took the cake!

What is happening to our football heroes? With almost the same group of people “endorsing” Bello and Tinubu who have deep pockets and are eyeing the same presidential ticket of the APC, what is their criterion for these endorsements? Money? Has the situation come down to that? If not money, then what? Nwankwo Kanu tried to play smart by explaining in a video message that he appeared in the Tinubu event because the latter as the Governor of Lagos State was the first to provide funding for his Heart Foundation in 2000. Fair enough. Tinubu’s generosity as a governor and politician is legendary, which is one of the reasons he has a large following.

The goat, as they say, always follows the man carrying fodder. What explanation can Kanu and his colleagues give for also endorsing Bello? Tinubu has celebrated his birthday publicly since he started nursing his presidential ambition. Why did Kanu have to wait till now that Tinubu has become desperate about his “lifetime ambition” to remember his two decades-old kind gesture to him?

These ex-Eagles are not doing their names any good. If they do not exercise necessary caution, the cheers they have enjoyed over the years among the people, especially the youth, could turn into jeers. They can’t afford that. But if they continue to “endorse” politicians and play novelty matches for the highest bidder, their names will lose their dividends. When the common people turn their backs on them, the big men will stop inviting them or taking their calls too. A good name is a convertible currency and must be carefully managed.

It is very sad that many of our football heroes, even those who played for prestigious European clubs in the big-money era, have turned beggarly even before their old age. Why is Nigeria always different for the wrong reasons? When former World Player of the Year, George Opong Weah, retired from football, he decided to run for president of his country. Also, former Cote d’Ivoire star, Didier Drogba and his Cameroonian counterpart, Samuel Eto’o Fils, ran for the presidency of their countries’ football federations.

Today, Eto’o is the President of the Federation of Cameroonian Football, FECAFOOT. Also, former Zambia national football captain, Kalasha Bwalya, was the President of his country’s football federation, FAZ, between 2008 and 2016. They aspired upward after retirement. But our own heroes are picking crumbs from the tables of politicians. They are on endorsements spree. Most of our ex-Eagles are still in their late forties and early fifties and they are already fishing around for cheap prebends. What will they do when they turn sixties and seventies? Weaponisation of bad governance has brought decent people to the knees of the same destroyers of our country’s future. What a sad situation!

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