I am a worried man. I love Nigeria and Nigerians with all my heart and might. That’s, why I am very worried about the state of both of them.
At the start of the year I celebrated lavishly because I sincerely believed (and I still do) that the current times are the best times to be alive, to be an active participant and an observer of the greatest ‘comeback’ in the history of the black race.
In sports, a ‘comeback’ is to transition from the brink of defeat to victory in an almost miraculously manner. It is usually the sweetest thing to savour in sports.
Nigerians that were alive in 1989 cannot easily forget ‘the Miracle of Daman’ when the Under-20 national team fought back from being four goals down, 14 minutes to the end of the semi-final match against Soviet Union, to score four great goals, equalised and eventually won the match via penalty kicks! That was one of the greatest comebacks in the history of football.
Comebacks are sweet and we have that example to remind us and reawaken the die-hard spirit of Nigerians as we extend this to our national political life. That’s why I was in celebratory mood at the start of the year even as everything around me painted a truly gloomy picture.
Nigerians are known for our fighting spirit, our ‘arrogance’, our loudness, our ostentatious life and love for the good things of life, our industry, our rich traditions, our deep links to culture, our exploding population, our lavish life style, our globally celebrated intellectuals in virtually all fields, our artistic giants, our abundant immeasurable natural and mineral resources, our contributions to the development of some of the most advanced countries in the world through the sweat, tears and blood of our ancestors sold into slavery, our religiosity and our strangulating inexplicable poverty! How can a country so richly blessed be so miserably poor?
The only plausible explanation that makes some kind of remote sense is that the country is afflicted with a ‘curse’ that foists on the people a leadership that cannot appreciate and harness these blessings, added to a followership that my friend Charlie Boy describes as ‘mumu’ the worst stage of being a fool. That combination would lead any country to its grave!
But, the sport in my genes makes me to believe that a comeback is imminent. That Nigeria will bounce back from the brink of the current darkness and failure into the dawn of a bright future.
That’s why my first prayer in the new year was to thank the Creator of the universe for keeping me alive to witness and to participate actively in that anticipated great new Nigeria.
The evidence and ingredients of ‘success’ are all around me. I can see it in the Nigerian youths and the turnaround I see coming in their attitude and understanding of the power they hold in their hands. Nigeria is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode, a catastrophe begging and waiting to happen.
If not, why would there be such brazen impunity in the land, such utter disregard for law and order, such deep rooted corruption engrained in every act and deed, such senseless and unabated killings, such looting and stealing that have left the entire country prostrate in poverty, with the voluntary and involuntary connivance of the people as a whole in this grand, shameful larceny and rape of the common wealth?
If not, why would a proud and hardworking people choose to associate with, embrace, celebrate and even reward the worst amongst them with leadership?
If not, why would a people that are not afflicted with ‘madness’ mortgage their well-entrenched ethical and moral values, and embrace and feel comfortable with ill-gotten wealth and affluence rooted in smuggling, fake drugs, internet scamming, drugs and human trafficking, oil sabotaging, bunkering, kidnapping, and so on?
We are all witnesses to the failure of the system and systemic failure of leadership.
So, I have hope because I am a sportsman prepared for the worst in order to get the best!
Recently, when I went to pay him a visit in his home in Abeokuta, I asked former President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo what his greatest worry about Nigeria is.
He did not even have to think about it.
It was on his lips even before I had finished asking the question:
The youths of Nigeria. What to do about them. What to do with them. How to engage them. How to stop their slide into a place from where return would be impossible.
The failure to tackle the issue of an exploding population of the youth, poorly educated (or not at all), idle, frustrated, poorly trained, uninformed, directionless, is too dire to even consider, yet the consequences at stare us in the face and may be the greatest threat to the continuous existence of Nigeria as a country within the current geographical space if not tackled now and quickly. The clock is ticking!
Every word he uttered resonated with me and fitted into my spirit of understanding.
Many people, especially our leaders also know this fact. Unfortunately, they seem not to either appreciate the urgency of dealing with it before the situation gets out of hand and out of control, or are helpless because they do not know what to do.
To unleash this negative force of the Nigerian youths is grave danger that must be averted by all means and at all costs. That’s why they must be engaged quickly and positively and massively in a grand scheme to channel their passions and their energies in productive ventures particularly to create a new kind of leadership and new kind of leaders for their future.
That’s the source of my excitement. As a sportsman I am used to the cutting knife-edge of life – that thin line between victory and failure.
Nigeria stands on such a knife-edge now, on one side as the beacon of hope for the black man and the greatest black nation on earth, and on the other side, catastrophe!
Looking through my sports lenses what I see is amazing. A new kind of leadership driven and installed by the energy and spirit of the 60 per cent population of the country, a generation that hitherto was passive in the choice of who leads them, but now willing to take the gauntlet and be a part of installing the leadership that represents the best version of the Nigerian leaders of their dreams, men of letters and great character, of good conduct and exemplary lives of service and humility, men of integrity with unrequited love for country and the people.
They can help to install such men and women that will create a new Nigeria that can ‘conquer’ the world within a very short time.
I visited China in 1977. It was a backward Third World Country. 40 years later it is the second largest economy in the world. So, I know it can be done even here.
Those now making the prescriptions for the future of Nigeria lived in a different world. The world in the 21st century is not the same as the world at the turn of the century.
How this can be done is not a discourse in a column such as this.
For the umpteenth time on this page, let me repeat myself: the power of sport transcends the level of medals and trophies during competition. It abounds in everything else, least of all in medals and trophies.
It lives in the promotion of health and wellbeing for all, in the development of national infrastructure and facilities. In the eradication of illiteracy through enrollment of children into school and their retention in school, in the eradication of hunger, disease and poverty through the huge global industry it drives, in creating massive job opportunities for the youths. In the re-orientation of the people through the examples set by its practitioners that to excel requires hard work, team work, never giving up, love of country, fair play, setting aside divisive tendencies like religion, social status, tribe, ethnic group, and focusing on patience, perseverance, single-mindedness, accepting failure as a tonic for success, and embracing peace, love and friendship across Nigeria.