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The Message From Johannesburg

14 Feb 2013

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The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi. Email, olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com 

He had a choice not to step into Nigeria again but he didn’t take that option. That is character.

Having offered him a sanctuary and opportunity to develop his skill, England beckoned on him to play for her age-grade national teams, scoring 11 goals in the process. That is integrity.

When the call to play for his fatherland came, he did not hesitate before embracing Nigeria. That is patriotism!

At the African Cup of Nations tournament, he played with commitment and zeal, bringing joy to every Nigerian, including those who may have inspired his parent’s death. That is Love!

Last Sunday evening in Johannesburg, South Africa, he stood for the National Anthem and pledged allegiance to a country that couldn’t defend his parents. That is faith!

Despite nursing injury, he played with all his heart to help deliver the continental trophy to Nigeria not minding what had happened in the past. That is forgiveness!

He rose through bitterness and despair to the limelight of hope and courage. He never gave up his dream nor gave up on his country. He persevered. That is purpose!

If someone like Victor Moses, despite the tragic past, never gave up on Nigeria, then why should we?

The foregoing is an edited version of the internet message being passed around last week following a publication in the Guardian newspaper of United Kingdom (http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2012/sep/14/victor-moses-interview-chelsea). As most Nigerians now know, Victor Moses left the country at age 11 after his parents, Mr and Mrs Austin Moses (who originally hailed from Benin, Edo State) were killed in Kaduna where they were domiciled during the 2002 Miss World riot.

The story of Moses is remarkable in several respects but we will miss the essence if we don’t put it within the context of the victory he and his colleagues wrought on the football field in Johannesburg last Sunday which has conferred on our country the bragging rights as the “African champion.” Given the gruesome murder of his parents, Victor Moses had every reason not to want to have anything to do with Nigeria. But he is wise to have made the choice he did because those who conspired to terminate the lives of his parents did not represent who we are as a people.

That was the point the uncle who took Moses to the United Kingdom proved and he is vindicated today. Besides, regardless of what might have happened in the past, nurturing hateful thoughts and living in bitterness and resentment are not only self-defeating, they could lead to ruination, as they have led many. The lesson Victor has therefore taught us is that when we forgive, there is no limit to the height we can reach. Of course, he can never forget his parents and the circumstances of their death but the conscious choice he has made is that the tragedy would not define him and his future. And with that, he has become a better person and a Nigerian hero.

While his trajectory might be different from that of Victor Moses, another person who has taught us some significant lesson is Stephen Keshi, the coach of the Super Eagles. A former national team skipper who won the African Cup of Nations tournament in Tunisia in 1994 as a player, Keshi came highly recommended to his new job. He had coached the Togolese national team to qualify for the World Cup after which he was edged out. Then he took Mali to qualify for the African Cup of Nations. But since we are a nation of 160 million coaches, Keshi from Day One, never had it easy since everybody had their own line-up of players for the national team. Keshi’s salaries were never paid as at when due, and he was treated with disrespect by our sports administrators.

But while the tournament lasted, Keshi took his own counsel, believing that his achievement should speak for him and now he is vindicated. In picking players for the tournament, Keshi was mindful of the usual sentiments but he chose only those he believed would fight the cause on the field of play not those who would rather deploy their talent on twitter! I don’t think the timing of his “resignation” was auspicious given that we had just won a major trophy and that became a dampener but it at least ensured that our football administrators could not immediately share in the glory they neither worked for nor anticipated so Keshi in a way got his revenge.

What distinguishes Keshi from other indigenous national managers we have had in the past is that he has for almost three decades had a running battle with football administrators in our country and has always won. It all began in January 1985 when Nigeria was preparing for a crucial World Cup qualifier match against Tunisia and Keshi, as Captain of the New Nigeria Football Club of Benin, was late coming into camp alongside four other team members. In the no-nonsense disposition of the time (the Muhammadu Buhari/Tunde Idiagbon military era), then Nigerian Football Association (NFA) Chairman, Group Captain Anthony Ikhazubor, banned Keshi and others from playing football for six months. Within days, Keshi had escaped the country into Cote D’Voire where he became a professional footballer and from there to Belgium. That was how he turned the table on our football administrators and ended up becoming the pioneer for local footballers who trooped to Europe to play professional football.

The message Keshi is therefore sending with the “resignation” saga, however unfortunate it was, is that we have to learn to accord respect to our own people. What that also means in effect is that after all the drama is over, Keshi deserves a new and proper contract devoid of such silly clauses about which matches he must win or draw. We should also not put him under the kind of unnecessary pressure we don’t subject foreign coaches to. Without any iota of doubt, he has earned his stripes. As a Nigerian I felt very proud with the way Keshi conducted his post-match interviews where he not only spoke in English but French. He was self-assured, composed and when articulate. Keshi represented us very well in South Africa both on the field and outside it and on Tuesday he gave us a memorable quote: “People do not have to believe in you to succeed, just work hard. When you succeed, they will believe”. Very profound!

All said, Nigeria’s success at the African Cup of Nations goes beyond the celebration of the symbolism of Victor Moses and Stephen Keshi. Both men of course represent the value that a nation can get by giving its citizens full scope to actualize their potentials in the service of the society. But in doing so, they were acting in the context of a team. What we are celebrating then is the triumph of a team spirit and the resilience of the Nigeria national brand. Victor Moses and Stephen Keshi represent the value of merit and opportunity, when citizens with the requisite skills get a fair chance to prove their mettle.

Above everything else, this victory opens yet another opportunity for Nigeria to regain its confidence especially in international sporting competitions. When the tournament began, the consensus was that given our long period of less than impressive outings and general tardiness in the conduct of public affairs, our team would not deliver. To that extent, our victory could be waved off as a stroke of luck that fed on the skills of players that are mostly foreign based. Since very little effort has been spent in recent times to build and encourage a respectable national team, that is the challenge of the moment. We therefore need to encourage Keshi to build a team that befits Nigeria’s stature. This will involve constant training, relentless talent hunt, vast resources and tremendous group exposure.

As a nation, our success in AFCON 2013 should teach us to shun ad-hocism in favour of a more serious commitment to both work and play. It has rekindled the pride and courage of our very patriotic populace. Our leaders should seize the moment to step up their own game in the governance of our nation. Let us not lose the import of this moment which has lifted the pall of our unfortunate current sad political outlook and a lack lustre governance record, at practically all levels. It is time for Nigeria to rise again!

Death of the Health Workers

I do not know of any duty that could be nobler than women working towards saving the lives of innocent children as that of the nine nurses who were brutally hacked down in Kano last week. The young women were working on a polio vaccination campaign when they were targeted and killed in a most gruesome manner.

Polio, which can cause irreversible paralysis and has damaged the future of many children, remains endemic in only three countries –Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. But as a preventive measure, the oral polio vaccine needed to be administered repeatedly. Unfortunately, some people have also been playing politics with the measure such that efforts to eradicate the disease has become very dangerous and might accounted for the Kano tragedy. The conspiracy theory is that the vaccination is a ploy by some Western countries to reduce our population, an allegation that has been proved to be a lie yet is being exploited by some fanatics to kill.

Respected Islamic scholar, Sheikh Ahmed Gumi, who is also a medical doctor by profession said during the week that there is nothing suspicious about polio vaccine and that those sending negative messages about it are hurting the society. His words were more or less echoed by UN Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon who, in condemning the killings, including that of three doctors from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a few days earlier, said: “Such attacks severely limit health workers’ access to the populations who need them most and could have devastating effects in the fight to improve the health of people everywhere.”

It is indeed very sad that those who were trying to save lives could be so casually gunned down in broad daylight in our country. May God grant their families the fortitude to bear the loss and may He also help our nation to navigate through this most troubled time.

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