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An #ENDSARS Super Eagles

Today in Abidjan, the Super Eagles will commence the task of trying to win the 2023 Cup of Nations for Nigeria. A decade ago, when…

Today in Abidjan, the Super Eagles will commence the task of trying to win the 2023 Cup of Nations for Nigeria.

A decade ago, when Nigeria last won the title, most of today’s players were probably young kids struggling to watch the matches through people’s windows.  A few days ago, they flew out of Lagos hoping to return with the biggest prize in African sport.

Hopefully, they will not find out until the end of the competition that the Nigerian passport that makes them eligible is now one of the world’s most worthless, close to the bottom of the Henley Passport Index annual list with such nations as Somalia, Sudan and Afghanistan.

Add that to the collapsing naira, which as they boarded their flight was trading on the streets at over 1,200 to the US dollar, with Bloomberg News saying it was “poised for its worst year since the return to democracy in 1999,” after a year in which it “plunged 55%” to 1,043 per dollar officially.

These are a couple of measures of the nation on behalf of which our players will confront the rest of Africa’s best.  We want them to do very well, and if there is ever unity in Nigeria, it is when the Super Eagles play.

Trying to fire up the squad, former Senate President David Mark reappeared in the headlines, citing “the indomitable human spirit and the unyielding pursuit of greatness Nigeria is known for,” and her “resilience and sportsmanship.”  He even deployed the concept of “utmost integrity.”

Hosting the team to dinner in Lagos on their way out, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu stressed that their triumph would deeply comfort their compatriots in their suffering.

“You are our country’s unifier, as much as we will be putting pressure on you during the matches, Nigerians expect you to (unify) us. We believe we have the men who can do it for us.”

He urged them to ignore every obstacle and demonstrate their undying spirit as Nigerians, reminding them of the massive support of 220 million people.  “This is how you can write your names in gold forever.”

Both men are right: Winning the Nations Cup marks an indelible moment in the name of each victorious player.  But while men such as Mr. Mark and Mr. Sanwo-Olu can wax lyrical at a time such as this, we rarely commit to preparing our sportsmen—indeed our citizens—for excellence.

Consider, for instance, that the Super Eagles were merely traveling through Lagos, where they do not have a training base.  A place such as Badagry would be wonderful for such a project, and it would speak far more for Sanwo-Olu than his “just-go-win-for-us” speech last week.

The Super Eagles—and our sports in general—do not have one in Abuja, either.  Nor do we have a serious sports structure by which our best can emerge and be nurtured.

Despite the presence in Abuja of the federal government, the Ministry of Sports, and the Federal Capital Territory administration, even the National Stadium is rarely ready when our national soccer teams schedule a match to be played there.

Consider that the Super Eagles prepared for Cote d’Ivoire in Dubai, where such facilities are available, and where—although we have limited national respect there—our wealthy and well-connected, including their wives and girlfriends, go to express themselves.

Why are we like this?  Why can’t Nigeria produce at least Africa’s best sprinters, for example, while the Jamaicans produce the world’s best?

It is because we invest in speeches rather than honest policy.  As the Super Eagles left Lagos for Abidjan, for instance, did you see the one-size-fits-all caps that someone inflicted on them?

Why is excellence so difficult to achieve?  It is the culture of hypocrisy, my friends!  Think about it: two days from now, Nigeria’s men of power will gather in that same Abuja to launch a book in praise of Muhammadu Buhari, as written by a former spokesman.

The former president was thought to be a game-changer in Nigerian politics in 2015 when Nigerians massively voted him into Aso Rock.  Before the entire world, Buhari’s eight years in charge then became Nigeria’s most corrupt, by far, and the most under-achieving.

Assessing the Buhari period in January 2023, The Economist declared he had “floundered on almost every measure,” and that “his failure to bring peace or prosperity offers lessons for his successor.”

“In a country that has taken much punishment from bad rulers and continues to do so, he was one of the worst, critics say,” wrote the New York Times in a long editorial of Buhari’s first time as leader, three days before he regained control in 2015.

“The Mr. Buhari of today shows little to no contrition for his younger self,” the newspaper said.  “He simply says that he has changed with the times and that he is now a thoroughgoing democrat. As proof, he cites the fact that he has submitted himself, as he likes to put it, to the democratic process four times, losing three presidential votes before finally winning in a historic transfer of power from the governing party to the opposition this year.

“This Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation that Mr. Buhari implicitly insists he has undergone can be hard to reconcile.”

In a powerful story on the eve of last February’s elections, the newspaper called Buhari’s the “8 lost years,” underlining how the hopes of Nigerians had been repeatedly dashed since 1960. “They have endured a bitter civil war, decades of military dictatorship and, in the past eight years, rising violence and economic failures under President Muhammadu Buhari. A record 89 percent of Nigerians think the country is going in the wrong direction.”

That is a score of 11 per cent!

Buhari was aloof, incompetent, arrogant, and a nepotist.  He also lacked accountability and was selfish, Africa’s “corruption champion” who had no compunction squandering Nigeria’s riches on extensive medical care on himself abroad without ever disclosing what he was treating.

That is the same person that will be repackaged and represented to Nigerians this week as a hero.  For years, I challenged members of the administration every week, to rebut my reporting, in which I routinely used hyperlinks to demonstrate Buhari’s shortcomings in real time.

Not once did they take advantage of the opportunity.  Sadly, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the former Vice-President, has endorsed this revisionism of eight years of subversion of the national narrative.   “It is the right thing to do so that [the author] defines the narrative ahead and anyone else who wants to write would have to use this as their soft material,” he said.

This collapse of values is why Mr. Mark takes the microphone in 2024 to advise Nigerian youth, a demographic he never acknowledged.  Here is a man who as Senate President “purchased” his official residence; a man who believed that only former soldiers should lead Nigeria;a man who symbolized the worst of the Nigerian politician when that worst was defined by his PDP.

This is how some Nigerians have held Nigeria back for over 60 years.  Luckily for us, our youth often fly above and beyond these philosophical and institutional limitations and constraints, especially by people who do not know what leadership is.

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