The triumph of the Super Eagles in the African Cup of Nations gladdened the hearts of many after a fitful start. The win was not expected considering that the majority of the team members were debutantes and some of the best players were excluded from the team. There is also a preference for foreign coaches in the country because of their perceived better knowledge of the game, their ability to resist unhealthy influence on the choice of team members and their ability to get all the cooperation that is needed from the sporting authority in Nigeria. But we had a local coach, Stephen Keshi, who had to overcome peculiar challenges to working as a local coach to the Nigerian football team.
The success of the team has encouraged stock taking and some, if half-hearted, reevaluation of the national attitude towards sporting administration. The speaker of the House of Representative, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, has pointed out that a local coach has done as well as we would expected from a foreign coach and insists “never again shall we go cap in hand on a recruitment drive for foreign coaches.” The praise of “local content” in the wake of the Super Eagle’s victory is in stark contrast to the usual call for foreign coaches that occasions the loss of a football tournament. The opinions of the general populace, football enthusiasts and policy makers are very fickle in this regard.
For the readers who have no interests in football or any sporting activity, I do not wish to alienate you with sports jargons. I am just trying to point out the Nigerian attitude to changing conditions and highlight how we learn from it. It is a subject of frequent complaints that Nigerians do not appreciate their own. The victory of the Eagles in the football tournament has changed that. But I fear this is momentary. Politicians have made their sound-bites praising the performance of a local coach, who was roundly criticised for his earlier decisions, and extrapolating from this that local participation, not only in football, but other fields of endeavour – like our oil industry – where foreigners are preferred, should be encouraged. But how serious are the same politicians about this? How do they plan to empower Nigerians so that they are able to perform when given the opportunity? And how do they ensure that cronyism, sentiments, sectionalism, tribalism, etc do not ruin whatever effort is made at encouraging Nigerian participation in important aspects of national life?
It is important to realise that the wariness of Nigerians to having fellow Nigerians superintending over important portfolios in the country is widespread and not without reason. Many Nigerians trust foreigners to handle important tasks not only because they think foreigners have superior skills, or are inherently better, but because the foreigners are held to a different standard. The foreigners have better legal systems that punish corruption. This is the reason that while the Siemens, Halliburton and other bribery scandals have caused several participants in Europe and America to be prosecuted, none of the Nigerian participants have been prosecuted. Where criminals – the kinds that steal in billions – are prosecuted, they get a small fine option that enables them enjoy the remaining. Indeed, Nigeria is a country where big-time criminality gets rewarded and no good deed goes unpunished. So many people trying to be law-abiding citizens get harassed when they voluntarily choose to pay tax; the tax man or official of one agency otr another brings one tax bill or another having found a maga who has money to be paying tax.
Try starting a business and the next person – your employee, local government agent, etc – is trying to squeeze as much money out of you as possible either by stealing from you (employee justifying it as “na where man dey work e dey chop, na why dem call am workshop”) or taking advantage of your ignorance of the tax code to charge you for non-existent tax. But steal from the federal coffers, and you get a fine less than a tenth of the stolen sum. The foreigner is not less crime prone than a Nigerian, they just have less incentive to commit crime.
In all the reflections on the victory of the Super Eagles, something struck me as surprising. An important observation I had on the attitude of Nigerians to the Eagles. Nigerians were concerned mainly about performance! This is key. Nigerians wanted the Eagles to play well and bring back the cup. This is not the case with other aspects of national life. Recently, when there were a number of promotions in the Nigerian army, there were petitions against the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika, by a group alleging what they saw as lopsided promotion favouring people from the South East of Nigeria. It turns out that most of what the petitioners wrote were false and, most amazingly, this was sparked by the promotion of twenty-five Major-Generals out of which four were from the South East and one of the people mentioned as being from the South East, Col. Mustapha Onoyiveta, is not from the South East. But the damage had been done. They got press attention in prominent Newspapers in the country and their assertions were not challenged by the press. This is a cardinal difference between the attitude of Nigerians to the Super Eagles and other aspects of national life. When we talk about political appointments, employment, etc we are concerned about the state of origin of the appointee and in many cases the appointer.
Challenge this way of thinking, and you get the refrain “wherever you get the appointee from, you can look for someone of similar qualification from my part of the country and find them”. You get a faulty defence of an anachronistic way of thinking, but interestingly very few people in Nigeria are concerned or even know the ethnic makeup of the national team. This is the reason why, despite inconsistency and bad management, the Nigerian football team has been able to produce many internationally renowned football players but the Nigerian government and civil service has produced no person of international acclaim. Anybody we have in government that is reckoned with internationally have mostly be produced outside the shores of this country, and the attitude of the Nigerian people have much blame for this.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters