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AFCON 2021: The tottem in Buhari’s phone call and cheap excuses for the Eagles

Eze Jude Ogechukwu

Eze Jude Ogechukwu

Ordinarily, this shouldn’t form a topic in formal conversations like this, but since social media have found a way of launching its plebeian feet into the traditional media parlance; it would amount to dereliction not to appraise some of its controversial headlines to correct erroneous impressions.

The sky was frownedly gloomy for Nigerians after the Super Eagles, against all odds crashed out of the ongoing African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon, in the hands of Eagles of Tunisia. Home fans were melancholic through out the weekend. To them Saturday, January 23, 2022 should be deleted off the Gregorian calendar.

Their frustration was not out of place. Times are hard, every single news around town is odourified by tragedies secondary to insecurity. National statistics exudes the pheromones of high inflation and unemployment rates. People sleep and wake up to heart-aching news. Involuntarily and desperately, the masses are in search of some sort of comic relief. They rally around any glimpse of orchard in this desert of emotionally-charged milieu.

Everyone saw the colourful performance of the national team at the group stage as a leeway to recreate the mind. The euphoria couldn’t afford them luxury of time to critically appraise their performance and ascertain whether it was by sheer coincidence of luck that they were winning their group matches or not. Nobody cared to see the lackluster outing they had against Egypt which they managed to win, by a lone goal, courtesy of Mohammed Sallah’s flat-footedness in the pitch.

The squad were elevated to the altar of canonization, and each player brought to the sanctuary was proclaimed a saint in accordance with the ordinances of the ‘church’ of public opinion. These utopic admirers gave their imprimatur to the interim manager, Austin Eguaveon for permanent job as the head coach. The praises knew no bounds.

But then Tunisia happened and the weak links were punctured and laid bare. And they lost. We lost. All hell were let loose. Fans back home became so furious, that they resulted to insults and name-calling. Suddenly, Eguaveon became a clueless manager, the players became tactless and the officials, irrational.

Those where usual cynicisms. But the one that turns the brain is a handful of Nigerians who blamed the loss on the phone call made by President Buhari to the team a day before the match. He was sarcastically mouthed across the social media platforms.

To them, Mr. President identifying with any of our successful athletes foretold doom, ridiculously sighting the example of World boxing champion — Anthony Joshua who lost his title to Oleksandr Usyk, months after prostrating to Buhari in London. The defamatory remarks got so heated, the elites joined (or should I say lead) the jeer.

The likes of former presidential aid, Reno Omokri vilified the person of the President, made his name synonymous with failure and served his honour a national nemesis in Herodias’ platter (Matt. 14:8).

We have as a people failed once again to do an unbiased root-cause analysis of our national sports team’s undoing. It was blue cloud impregnated with livid anger from the people who found the defeat handy enough to vent their disavowal of President’s many ‘distasteful’ outings. That’s the beauty of democracy and that’s why Igbo translation of democratic government seems the best definition. “Ochichi Onye kwuo uche ya” (government of freedom of expression). One has exclusive right to air one’s views.

But it is plebeian to allow one’s hatred for the President blind one from seeing the hollowness of the team and see in it the prevailing decline in the traditional passion that once propelled players and heralded the round leather game. You can a time to revisit my article published on November 07, 2020 in Inspiration magazine titled: “FOOTBALL: Is the golden era waning?” https://inspirations.com.ng/blog/2020/11/super-eagles-is-the-golden-era-waning where I observed thus:

“Have you noticed the progressive decline in enthusiasm and committed passion that is becoming common among professional football players lately?

From the National team to club levels, something vital is conspicuously missing in the way and manner current crop of international football stars approach games. That spirit of ownership, that mindset of legendary pride, that sort of entitlement mentality and personal commitment aura over the games is sorely lacking.

What do I mean?

You remember the 1994 great Super Eagle’s team that won the African Cup of Nations in Tunisia? Did you notice the patriotic spirit exhibited by Okocha, Uche Okechukwu, Olise, Oliha, Finidi, Rufai etc in that squad?

They took each match extremely serious and personal. They had unflinching regard for the jersey they wore and the national colour they represent. On that night of grand finale, when they filed out against Zambia, they didn’t see it as a tournamental game between two African countries. They saw it as a game that will make Nigeria loose her sovereignty and sede her pride to another country, if they don’t win.

Emmanuel Amunike saw it as his own personal match. Peter Rufai would fly 8 feet above shoulders to punch ball away from danger. He saw his 18 yard box as his ancestral inheritance and used Uche Okechukwu and Eguavoen to write a “caveat emptor” against the opponents.

In the flanks, Finidi George and Amokachi (De Bull) were governing. They made it a no-go-area for the opponents. Rashidi Yekini was bulldozing his way through opponent’s roughest defense set-up. He would raise his hands, begging his midfield machines to just send the ball in and watch how he would wrestle his way into the goal with the ball. And Jay Jay Okocha was mesmerizing the opponents midfield network with ease. Absolutely clinical!

Don’t forget the uncommon tenacity the Zambians also displayed in that tournament. They were the country’s reserve team having lost their first team players in plane crash in the build-up to that tournament. Yet, they resolutely beat the rest of Africa to come second. A great feat!

In Atlanta ’96, Kanu Nwankwo, Wilson Oruma, Joseph Dosu etc would play 120 minutes maintaing the initial zealous tempo with which they started the game.

Even when 3-1 down against the almighty Brazil, they still owned the game. They ruled the midfield, and were still pivotal upfront, until they emerged victorious. Their killer instincts in attack were incomparable.

That was when men played like heroes of their nation. It was not that they were more talented. It was not that they had a better coach, it was not that they were better paid, it was not that they were better treated. It was not that their opponents were mediocres.

No!

The difference was sense of commitment, sense of patriotism, sense own of ownership, calcified minds and ossified spirit of team work that engendered collective glory.

Today, what we have is a disjointed team, cascaded by amateurish disposition where you will see one Alex Iwobi play second fiddle to his marker in a match against teams as low as Eagles of Tunisia.”

But Nigerians choose to malign the president instead of addressing these loose ends. Is it not superstition to believe that the president’s call was an omen that caused us the game?

The tottem attached to that call and the social stigma metted to Mr. President’s persona in the aftermath of the defeat showed that the French philosopher François-Marie Arouet.(more commonly known as Voltaire) was right when he posited that “superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy, the mad daughter of a wise mother. These daughters have too long dominated the earth.”

Have we forgotten that it was a tradition in every culture to do so? Even Gen. Abacha did it to the Dream Team 1 of 1996 Olympics. President Jonathan followed suite in 2013. It was a token of national solidarity and encouragement to the team. Muhammad Buhari didn’t convey his personal message. He made the call on behalf of all Nigerians as the father-figure of the nation. He conveyed the collective good will messages of all Nigerians for the team, wishing them success in the tournament.

Those in opposition who saw this as opportunity to revile APC government should fashion more honourable ways of playing opposition.

May daylight spare us!

 

✍Jude Eze.

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