By Lolade Adewuyi | Chief Editor
Not since 1996 when we won football gold at the Olympic Games in Atlanta has Nigeria been so praised worldwide. Last month’s 1-0 defeat of Burkina Faso at the National Stadium (Soccer City) in Johannesburg, South Africa brought back memories of great times for Nigerian football.
With the victory of Stephen Keshi’s boys, Nigeria’s stock rose in the eyes of the world. All of a sudden, the country where nothing but bad news, bombings, corruption and sectarian killings emanated from became champion of Africa.
All the bad press disappeared for a while and we had pleasant news to share with the world. After years of near misses, the world was able to see the immense potential that is in our football. All major media agencies worldwide wrote good things for at least a week about our beautiful country and its people.
If there is any lesson to be learnt from our Africa Cup of Nations victory, it is that our nation possesses enormous human potential, which if properly directed could turn us into the envy of the whole world.
Just imagine, Keshi took charge of this winning team for less than two years. He hammered, chiselled and chipped at it through the qualifying stages and had less than a month of full camping to ensure they were ready for an intense tournament such as the Afcon.
Out of 23 players that made the team to the tournament, 17 were debutants. Six of them were players who had been selected from the Nigeria Premier League. The same league that hardly has spectators every weekend.
That same league has not had sponsors for a couple of seasons. That league has trouble paying referees indemnities every weekend due to the poor management that has bedevilled it. That league has referees who get bribed to ensure home teams never lose matches.
That league has a bunch of thugs sponsored by club management who never get punished for harassing visiting teams.
It was out of that tardy, unheralded league that Sunday Mba, who scored two crucial goals for Nigeria including the tournament winning strike, emerged from.
It is the same league that produced the strong, visionary Godfrey Oboabona, a no nonsense defender, who ensured that no team scored more than a goal each against us throughout the tournament.
What this proved is that, as much as we have young Nigerian players making waves in Europe, we have an equal number of players at home who can match and or surpass their compatriots who are lucky to find their way to Europe.
However, this article is not just about football, it is about the immense potential that is deposited in Nigeria’s young people.
In a country of 160 million people where the bulk of the population is below 30 years according to UN figures, Nigeria has the potential to turn its troubles into a green fertile land if only we create opportunities for young people to find and reach their life goals.
During my three week sojourn in South Africa covering the Super Eagles, I got to see the opportunities and conducive environment that the Rainbow Nation provides for its young people to excel.
In Durban, that warm city that lies by the Indian Ocean, I saw lots of sports facilities that were provided by the community and the government for its young people to use. They were readily available for anyone who showed interest in physical activities. People could make use of these facilities as long as they were kept them in good shape.
Then I cast my mind back home. Where are the available facilities for doing sports in our communities? Local government authorities and state governments readily sell out lands that are meant for building recreational parks. Young people are never put in mind before decisions are made.
|NIGERIA AFCON WIN HISTORY|
Tunisia 1994 (14 years after first)
South Africa 2013 (19 years)
Next title (Who knows?)
So young people go to dusty open patches of land and use makeshift goal posts in order to play football. In other cases, they wait for days of monthly environmental sanitation when they roads are free to play football on the tarred roads.
We have to realise that our young people are our future. It is what we give them today that they will sow and reap tomorrow. If we give them balls, good playing surfaces, tartan tracks and basketball courts, we will reap more Mikel Obis, Emmanuel Emenikes, Vincent Enyeamas and Joseph Yobos.
On the contrary, if we fail to create avenues for young people to spend their creative energies, we will reap more armed robbers, terror plotters and online conmen.
Many of our legislators, governors and politicians trooped to Johannesburg to see the Super Eagles play in the final game last month. My question is, what are they doing to ensure that we continue to win more trophies and medals in sports? It is not enough to collect estacode and travel allowance to go cheer our teams to victory abroad.
Charity must begin at home. We must begin to build standard sport facilities in every local council, towns and villages.
Many of us were amazed at the standard stadiums provided by the South Africans, even our government officials opened their eyes in awe upon entering the beautiful Soccer City. They forgot that they left behind decaying National Stadiums in Lagos and Abuja. Yet they go around bragging about being giants of Africa.
In 2012, minister of sport Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi gave a rousing speech after the shame of the London Olympics about the need to develop our country’s sporting potentials. With the Afcon title win, I’m sure the minister and other football administrators must be patting themselves on the back for a job well done.
As we commemorate the first month after our triumph, I would like to say, Mr Minister and other administrators, party time is over. One can only be termed successful when they have mastered the art of winning regularly.
May it not take us 19 years before we win another major trophy. The time to plan is now. Our young people are hungry for success. Provide the wherewithal for them to reach their potentials because that is the only way our country will enjoy continuous glory.