I remember precisely that when Nigeria qualified for the World Cup last year, the Governor of Lagos State, His Excellency Babatunde Raji Fashola took time off in our Monthly Physical Planning Meeting to say that he feared that things might go wrong because there were no preparations. The Governor, himself a football player, and an ardent lover of the world number one sporting event feared that Nigeria may go to South Africa to concede goals that will bring shame to the football loving nation and Africa. Governor Fashola understands that going to the World Cup is no tea party.
He could not understand why a nation will be keen to go to World without taking the necessary steps to avoid embarrassment. He spoke at length at the Meeting and came short of cursing anybody that goes for a big event like the World Cup without adequate preparations. He predicted that Nigeria is going nowhere because nobody has put anything in place to suggest that we are a serious people. He rebuked all of us at the Meeting to find a place in our hearts to hide the word, preparations and even wear it as necklace if need be.
This writer watched the Opening match in South Africa at the Soccer City Stadium and also had the privilege of witnessing the Nigeria-Argentina match, at Ellis Park, Johannesburg. My heart dropped when the Argentine team scored a goal ten minutes into the match. As the match progressed, I felt like opening up the ground to simply disappear. Ball handling, cohesion, symmetry, networking, teamwork were not in the lexicon of the Team Nigeria. The speed, quick action, strength, physical process, drive, power, will, zeal, determination, organization, agreement, interface, skill, force which are hallmarks of the world number one sporting event were not in our team. Throughout the match, my prayer was that we should concede fewer goals. Shame gripped me. Our goalkeeper was left to bear the brunt of our inept leadership, resulting in lack of preparations. At once I concluded that we came to the World Cup to see the beauty of South Africa and share the estacode. I am yet to recover from the shock of watching Team Nigeria in South Africa. And I have since realized that World Cup is not an all-comers affair. It is for the serious-minded, the prepared, the committed, and the strong-willed nations who know that you have to break eggs to make an omelet.
Compared with other African teams, Nigeria’s Super Eagles is the worst team. In actions and deeds, there was nothing that suggested that we know what is at stake in a World Cup.
It was our worst outing in the history of football and football analysts believe that heads must roll in Nigeria’s house of football. Others say the team is a total reflection of how far we have gone down in matters of leadership. They say that a chick that will graduate into a big cock is known right from day one. Yet others insisted that it is only a fool that goes to the airport to travel outside the country without a Visa and Passport.
Yesterday, President Goodluck Jonathan did the unusual after hearing the report of shame that was our outing in South Africa. The President took a decisive, drastic, and painful decision of withdrawing Nigeria from international soccer for two years to enable us to put our house in order. He did not only disband the Super Eagles, he also ordered a probe into the affairs of the Nigerian Football Association, NFA.
In his own contribution to the debate on what to do with the Super Eagles and their handlers, the Chairman Presidential Task Force on 2010 World Cup, Governor Rotimi Amechi of River State had this to say: “our recommendations were based on what we saw and what we met on ground. You will observe that the history of our qualification was not as smooth as it used to be before. We struggled to qualify. We got to the World Cup, we got a new coach. PTF was paying the coach. We agreed to pay the coach N1.3 million, which we paid. We got to the World Cup and we had all sorts of mal-administration. We also had all sorts of problem and we found out that the problem of Nigerian Football now is structural and there is need for us to look inward, sit back and re-organize the structure to ensure that we don’t continue to have what we currently have now”
I am told by a school of thought that there is no genius as such in any field of human endeavour and that a genius is just an average person who prepares and prepares until you hit excellence. Nigerians resort to prayers at the drop of a hat as if that is we need. I do not think so. Prayers go with work in anything we do. Time has come for us to get serious. The world knows that it takes more four years for any serious country to prepare for World Cup. Nigeria waits till it is time and we begin the fire brigade approach and prayers.
Now things must change. I align myself to the decision of Mr. President to withdraw from International Soccer for two years. I support this because I want us to return to the drawing board to do the right thing. We need to look at ourselves and tell ourselves the truth. If you do not prepare for examinations, you fail. This nation must get serious.
Great jobs must get to great minds and committed people. NFA and NFF must seize to be goldmine for fools and nincompoops that are only interested in money without work. It will serve as a lesson that you not fail in an examination and hope to be promoted. Let us get serious and the word preparations in anything we do is the first step to success.
I repeat that good jobs anywhere did not just come by mere accident of history. It came about because somebody was imbued with vision, drive, careful planning, good intentions, strategic intelligence and intelligent execution. And unless serious-minded people take over the leadership of this country, our woeful performance in South Africa will continue to be a recurring decimal in our long history of inept, myopic and corrupt leadership.