12th November, 2013
By Ayo Oyoze Baje
“We seem in this country to underrate the youth. The vigour of the youth is wasted in Nigeria, (Yet) it is a national asset of great importance.” —-Chief H.O.Davies(Pilot Newspaper, 22nd July, 1947)
Beyond the thrills and frills, the passion and the pains as well as the mass hysteria that characterized the recent tremendous success recorded by our Golden Eaglets, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, UAE, is the indomitable Nigerian spirit. Uniquely resilient and resolute it exhibits an uncommon courage under fire. That can-do-it spirit was what the new Under 17 World Cup Champions showcased on the global stage from 17th October to 8th November, 2013. And in the process they scored the bull’s eye by achieving several feats.
First, the national youth soccer team won the competition for a record four times, dusting Brazil’s record, in addition to garnering the highest number of titles. Interestingly, the country won the titles in China 1985, Japan 1993 and South Korea 2007 and the latest feat, all on Asian soil. Nigeria also holds the record for most goals scored by a team in a single tournament with 26 goals this year. What more, our own Kelechi Iheanacho won the golden ball as the Most Valuable Player (MVP) as well as the silver boot for netting six great goals, while the phenomenal goal keeper, Dele Alampasu came back home with Adidas Golden Glove. We were not only the most entertaining team but got the Fair Play award. These are no mean achievements.
The other intriguing aspects of this historic competition include the fact that the distinguished coach, Manu Garba had assisted late Liad Tella another award-winning coach while Nduka Ugbade the assistant coach captained the China ’85 team to glory. It was inspiring that Nwankwo Kanu who won the 1993 edition with the Golden Eaglets was in Dubai to motivate the boys to give their best. Surprisingly, none of the soccer stars plays with any local league.
There are several lessons to learn from this glorious outing. As long as the competition lasted, our man-made problems such as the Boko Haram mayhem up North, pervasive corruption in high places, the spate of kidnapping, political intolerance that has gripped the country, the debate over National Conference and who gets what come 2015 took the back burner.
The sheer fantasy and sublime exhibition of soccer artistry woven by our golden boys wiped off the divisive lines of religion, ethnicity and political differences at several football viewing centres across the length and breadth of the country. We all became one. Even when some Yoruba kinsmen rooted for Awoniyi, the Hausa for Yahaya and the Ibo for Iheanacho, it was obvious that what mattered most was the common goal of bringing back the cup. And this was fuelled by both their team spirit and avid display of rare patriotism while the competition lasted.
President Goodluck Jonathan captured the essence of this in his congratulatory speech. He commended the young heroes for “the exemplary commitment, dedication, resilience, determination, patriotism and unity of purpose displayed during the tournament.” The million naira question therefore, is how to replicate and extrapolate these into the political landscape by harnessing these great attributes for the unity and greatness of the country.
To do this, our political leaders, as well as the followers should sacrifice their selfish inclinations, greed for immediate gains, or fleeting fame and transient earthly glory for the good of the country. We all must see the larger picture, which is to strive for the common good. Perhaps, this is the moment to learn lessons from our youth, some of who are yet untainted by the elders’ self-serving mantra using divisive forces of ethnicity and religion.Especially those who angle for political power for the sole aim to pilfer, to pillage and plunder the national till.
For now, not a few Nigerian youths have become leading lights in the field of entertainment. Mention P-Square, 2-Face,Wizkid, Davido or Cobhams Asuquo in the music sub-sector of the economy, or Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Genevieve Nnaji and Ramsey Nouah in Nollywood anywhere in the world and these worthy ambassadors make us proud. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about our greed-driven politicians with their cut-throat antics or do-or-die gambits. Yet, ordinarily they should be role models to the youths.
But sad to note that youth unemployment in Nigeria has hit an all-time high of 29.3 per cent. With the criminal neglect of the education sector, the decrepit infrastructure across the country, pot hole-riddled roads, epileptic power supply all compounding the high cost of doing business in Nigeria it is not surprising that many of our youth are now slaves to Lebanese, Chinese and Indians as they slave for peanuts in their own country. The clarion call therefore goes to those whose primary responsibility it is to cater for the need of the youths to make a change now before things get out of hand.
For our Under 17 Golden Eaglets it has become expedient to keep the boys together under the same coach so that they could graduate to form the core of the Under-20 team. There should be no sentiments and no politics. The football house should get its act together as it is a crying shame that the head coach of the Super Eagles, Stephen Keshi is being owed months of salary. That is inexplicable for someone who has been doing a good job, winning laurels all the way. Could a foreign coach have suffered a similar fate? The answer is obvious.
Since the future belongs to the youth, everything humanly possible should be done by the political class to provide the enabling environment for identifying their talents and encouraging them to be the best they could be. For communities and the country, the Golden Eaglets have taught us to be hard working, focused and go the extra mile or kilometre to make history. Big kudos to all of them.
This piece is dedicated to Manu Garba, the Golden Eaglets’ coach.
•Baje writes from Lagos.