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The Narrow Path to South Africa

09 Feb 2013

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By Dele Momodu


Fellow Nigerians, all roads lead to South Africa tomorrow. As I write this, reports indicate that the former apartheid nation is set to receive the biggest inflow of Nigerian visitors since that beautiful country regained its full freedom and became a Republic in 1994. It has always been a playground of choice for rich and famous as well as regular Nigerians who are always on the go to escape the unending hard life at home.

The attraction had always been plenty in both directions. South African ladies would swap places to live in Nigeria while Nigerian men would replicate in kind by shifting base permanently to South Africa. It is impossible for eagle-eyed Nigerians not to turn into giraffes on the streets of South Africa. The alluring beauty and voluptuous endowments of South Africans are legendary and cannot be ignored the world over. The people are gentle, friendly and welcoming. Despite occasional skirmishes between us, the marriage of Nigerians and South Africans was consummated in heaven by God and His angels. We only quarrel like all husbands and wives do periodically.

Our interests go beyond amusement. South Africa operates a lot of business ventures in Nigeria and vice versa. South Africa has some of its most profitable investments on the streets of Nigeria. In fact, it has become an octopus of sorts with its fingers in many pies. MTN is its most visible ambassador. The company’s subscriber base is humongous. Its banks, food and beverage industry, wines and manpower spread across Nigeria. South Africa is our biggest trading partner in Africa andI’m surprised that both countries have not deemed if fit to establish visa waivers for visits of not more than three months.  Perhaps this is because the South sees its territory as virgin territory for business opportunities and we see their territory as a treasure trove for affairs of the heart and merriment. Most of our artistes shoot their music videos in South Africa.

Therefore, paradoxically, while Nigerians troop to South Africa in search of entertainment and pleasure, South Africans invade Nigeria in search of business, spiritual succour and fortification. They love and adore Prophet Temitope Joshua and Pastor Chris Oyakhilome of The Synagogue of All Nations and Christ’s Embassy, respectively. If these men of God contest elections in South Africa, they are likely to win. It is interesting that sports and the game of football in particular would be the vehicle to even drive us closer.

Barely three weeks ago, it would have been unthinkable that Nigeria would perform any spectacular miracle during the African Cup of Nations. We had the might of Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana and even South Africa, the host nation to worry about.  We agonised about being pitted against any of these nations before the finals. Imagine therefore our worst nightmare being confirmed when we were pitted against the rampaging elephants of Ivory Coast.  Indeed, the fear of Cote d’Ivoire alone was the beginning of wisdom during the build-up to the epic quarter final encounter. Nigerians of little faith had written the obituary of our Super Eagles in advance. Not many gave them the chance or likelihood to progress beyond the quarter finals in the tournament.

But strange are the ways of God. Even the boastful Ivoirians ate the humble pie at the end of their game. They crumbled like cookies and confessed to taking Nigerians for granted. They did not realise how much Nigerians hated being humiliated and taunted. The Super Eagles were ready to fight for supremacy and integrity. I believe they were propelled to become rocket launchers by the insults heaped on them from every corner.

After they conquered Cote d’Ivoire, their next albatross was going to be Mali, another Francophone country in West Africa. Again, many had written Nigeria off. The most charitable commentators hoped for a draw and an eventual penalty shootout which they prayed we would somehow miraculously win. However, the Super Eagles proved cynics wrong when they walloped Mali 4-1 in a largely one-sided game. Indeed, the Malian goalkeeper, Mamadou Samassa, summed up the Super Eagles’ performance by comparing them with the all-conquering fluent and talent-laden Brazilian team of yore.  To crown it all he said that the Nigerian team was like a team of 15 players pouring forth in front of him and not 10.  That is how tall the Super Eagles stood.  That was certainly our moment of glory.

From that moment, all hell broke loose confirming the adage that nothing succeeds like success and nothing fails like failure. The social media had been agog with all manner of posts. The airlines have become chocker-blocked and prices of tickets and hotels have gone out of the roof in Johannesburg. Even we were told our President who’s on a current visit to England was ready to make a marathon and breath-taking flight to South Africa but for the seriousness of the issues that he has to grapple with on this umpteenth foreign trip.   It is fair to say that many of our Governors are also not ready to miss the best photo opportunity of the year and you can expect that the proprietors of private jet charter companies will be rubbing their hands with glee at yet another payday.

I really envy South Africa because this weekend is not going to be easy. Nigerians are big spenders. We work hard and party hard. Our folks will announce their presence when they hit your city. It is not in our nature to enter a place quietly and leave silently. We are the Americans of Africa. Hate us or love us, our arrival and departure must be heralded with a bang.  You cannot but notice the Nigerian swagger!

On a serious note though, we must do nothing to distract our boys. We must keep our gra-gra away from their camp. Even those who want to donate dollars and display their new-found affluence should wait until after the final whistle has been blown and the score-line shows Nigeria has won to display the extent to which they have shaved Nigeria. Otherwise, we’ll all return home with our heads buried in shame. We should leave Stephen Keshi entirely to finish his good work. He and his technical crew should be the only ones with exclusive access to the boys. We know everyone would love to gain political capital out of this game but it would be fool-hardy to assume we’ve already won ahead of time.  Ivory Coast made that mistake against us and Ghana probably and tragically underestimated the power and stamina of the same Burkinabe team we are about to do battle with in the final.

The Burkina Faso I watched against Ghana is not going to go down like chicken before a knife. They are rugged and dogged. They have grit and determination. We must not belittle them by failing to recognise that they also have the requisite prowess to hurt us and that fundamentally they are a cohesive unit, playing as a team for themselves and their country.  Having come this far, they know they are very close to clinching the coveted trophy. They will fight all the way. The Super Eagles must be fully ready for a soccer war like never before. Those guys will disgrace us mercilessly if we ever under-rate them. We are in the mood for monumental success and nothing should derail us. Nigeria deserves joy for once after the spate of tragedies we’ve suffered in recent times. Let’s have cause to pretend that all is well even if we know we are far from it. Let’s transform our football even if we can’t transform our environment and nation at large.

The Super Eagles’ victory is an indication that great things can still happen to us in Nigeria. It has taken a few boys merging their talents to make Nigeria proud. We have Victor Moses who has done his worth tremendous good by the superlative man of the match performances he has put up so far.  There is his Chelsea teammate, Mikel Obi, who seems to have been released from the strictures of the holding role he plays for his club and naturally graduated to resuming the role of elegant libero and field marshall which made him the outstanding talent alongside Lionel Messi in that Junior world Cup championship so many years ago. 

There is the lion-hearted Vincent Enyeama with his string of eye-popping daring saves.  Emenike is on his way to becoming the golden boot of Africa.  Indeed there are stellar performances all around the park and the fact that I have singled out a few of the guys does not mean that I underrate the yeoman qualities of our defence, or the outstanding talent of our midfield or the potency of our previously much maligned attack. Furthermore, have you noticed how the boys are playing together as a unit and nobody seems to be trying to tower like a super star? Have you noticed the genuine feeling of love and respect that they show to each other whether things are going well or not?  Have you not seen the great work ethic demonstrated by our Super Eagles and their coaching staff? I refer again to our friend Samassa, the Mali goalkeeper, who said that the Eagles ‘were winning all the balls, pursuing us mercilessly each time we had the ball.’

We can replicate this in all facets of our lives. It would take a few leaders merging their ideas and collective vision to change Nigeria for the better. In the middle of all the Nigerian maladies a few of our citizens still manage to shine. Let me confess that two of such people caught my attention and drew my admiration last year.

The first was Professor Barth Nnaji who demonstrated clearly that it was possible to break the jinx of perpetual power failure in Nigeria which promise was unceremoniously cut short by his sudden departure. Our President’s meek effort to trumpet Nnaji’s achievements was shown for what it was recently by his weak performance on this issue during the Christine Amanpour CNN interview.

Interestingly, the second was the former soccer star and now the national coach to the Super Eagles of Nigeria, Mr Stephen Keshi. I had followed the career of this particular gentleman with keen interest. I always knew he played good football as a young man and that he dazzled his fans to no end. It was also obvious that good luck followed him most times and that he was a disciplined and determined player and coach. I also noted his humility despite a very successful career.

At Ovation International, we wasted no time in recognising him last December when we named him The Sportsman of the year 2012 during The Ovation Carol & Awards night. Many had queried our decision but we saw the hope of a brighter future for Nigerian football through him and wanted to encourage him ahead of the crowd. I had called him in Abuja to invite him to Lagos to receive his award and was touched by his simplicity as usual. He was very happy and was willing to come but we tried but could not get him a flight. The Super Eagles were in training that morning and it would have been unpatriotic of us to disturb their coach. I’m happy he has justified our confidence in him. In the next 24 hours, he has the chance of making history in South Africa. May God help him.

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