What is the best way to introduce Courtney Dike?
You could say she is the younger sister to Super Eagles star, Bright Dike. Many non-soccer people do not know Bright, but close followers of the game do.
In November 2012, in Miami, I saw him for the first time in Nigeria’s colours in a friendly against Venezuela. He plays the same robust, take-no-prisoners offence straight out of the 1994 book of the Super Eagles, and has two brilliant goals in three games for Nigeria. Injuries have stymied his progress somewhat, but he has the same irresistibility and intensity in front of goal of that famous frontline, bustling hard until that ball crosses the goalkeeper’s line.
Still, it is perhaps more correct to identify him as Courtney’s older brother: after all, she has played in a world cup while he has yet to. Last August in Canada, she was part of Nigeria’s sparkling U-20 Women World Cup team, scoring the fastest-ever goal in the competition’s history.
But it is what she has accomplished off the field for which she may be most remembered: declining a $7000 bonus given to members of that team by the government.
“When we called her mother to confirm the delivery of the allowances, she declined it and insisted the opportunity to serve Nigeria was all the reward the family needed,” a stunned football federation official said.
Some people are going to miss the significance of the gesture of the Dikes. I re-introduce to them Patience Jonathan, Nigeria’s First Lady, who recently “resigned” her position as a Permanent Secretary in the Bayelsa State Ministry of Education. She was “appointed” to the position in July 2012 by Governor Seriake Dickson.
Trying to preempt criticism at that time, Mrs. Jonathan said she would earn no money for the job, which followed service in the state civil service 13 years earlier.
“It will be illegal for her to draw salary from the office,” her spokesperson, Ayo Osinlu, said.
In a Ministry in which the political alignments meant she would be more powerful than the commissioner, the plan clearly meant she was denying someone else the job. That someone would do the work but earn neither recognition nor professional fees for it.
As is usual in Nigeria’s political life, might was right: widespread public outrage was ignored and Mrs. Jonathan somehow “took up” the job as casually as if it were a chieftaincy title.
It is unclear if she actually never picked up a pay cheque, but Nigerians know that when you are Nigeria’s First Lady, nobody really expects you to suffer the ignominy of signing for your wages, rather than contracts.
An official of the Ministry of Education told the press: “I think the First Lady felt that her continued stay as Permanent Secretary will be depriving others. Now that she has resigned, it will afford others the opportunity to take over her position.”
That sounds as though her seizing the position for nearly two and a half years did not deprive anyone.
But the official said more: “Already, in accordance with the civil service rules, we have prepared all her entitlements. Whatever is due her will be given to her. She will also be receiving her pension.”
There is no denial anywhere that the First Lady will not be taking from the children of Bayelsa these “entitlements,” and a pension, for work she never did.
I advise her not to touch a penny, because that would be looting. It is known the world over that her appointment was a farce, made only because Governor Dickson is a presidential lackey who sought favours.
What is happening now is that Dickson is falling out of favour with the Jonathans, just like his predecessor, Governor Timpreye Sylva, who was kicked out in his favour. Mrs. Jonathan now favours another candidate for governor of the State.
The world knows Mrs. Jonathan did not work an hour in the service of education in Bayelsa in the past two and a half years. Hopefully, she can find the heart to leave the funds to educate Bayelsa’s children.
Mrs. Jonathan may have forgotten, but it was only in January last year that she told Nigeria she had a new heart.
“I will [from now on] be doing things that will touch the lives of the less privileged,” she told a thanksgiving congregation upon her return from hospitalization in Germany.
She disclosed she had come very close to death, enduring eight or nine surgeries within one month, and spent seven days in a coma. Her condition was so grave at a point that her doctors gave up on her.
“It was God himself in His infinite mercy that said I will return to Nigeria,” she said. “God woke me up after seven days.
“God gave me a second chance because I reached there [gates of heaven]. He knew I had not completed the assignments He gave me that was why I was sent back.”
Mrs. Jonathan took ill only weeks after she became Permanent Secretary. She recovered to make this vow of service. There are many people who would love to hear her confirm she is living up to it.
That includes Rivers State, where she has also become part of the chaotic political landscape. It includes Chibok, where she will be perpetually remembered for denying and making a mockery of Boko Haram’s abduction of teenage students, and has since failed to reach out to the grieving mothers.
It includes every home and hamlet throughout Nigeria where young women would love to learn of the loving examples of the First Lady.
It includes one home in America where a family gave up a $7000 cheque, rather than use it to pay college tuition, in order to teach their daughter that service to one’s country is reward in itself.
Imagine what a thank-you phone call from Mrs. Jonathan to Courtney would do for young Nigerian girls everywhere! Imagine what responding to Courtney’s gesture by renouncing the “entitlements” from her fictitious gig as Permanent Secretary would do! Imagine what telling Courtney she is going to Chibok to hug and strengthen the weeping mothers there would do for Nigerian women everywhere!
If Mrs. Jonathan had a firmer appreciation of her potential, she could accomplish so much, in many directions. This year, Blessing Okagbare became Commonwealth sprints champion, a feat that threw Nigeria into great joy.
So happy were we that the leadership did not hear Okagbare’s loud doubts about Nigeria reaching the top of the athletics world.
“[Nigerian officials] are doing a lot of recruiting versus building on what they have – it doesn’t make any sense to me…They will keeping making the same mistakes and the government will keep changing and new people come…Athletes that you are supposed to pay training grants in November, you give them in April when it’s no longer relevant…”
Mrs. Jonathan could be an inspiration to the new generation of Nigerian female athletes by ensuring training grants in November, not December.
There are many Nigerians, like Courtney, who desire simply to serve; it is the challenge of greed, corruption and narrow-mindedness at the highest levels which keeps Nigeria in the quicksands.