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Between the films shot in Nollywood – the Nigerian equivalent of Hollywood and the exploits of the Super Eagles—the Nigerian national football team, one would be hard put to know which one has the biggest following in Nigeria and indeed in Africa. The former- the films from Nollywood, I understand have become a must- watch in most homes in Nigeria and across Africa; the latter-the Super Eagles, once a dominant soccer team on the continent are currently on the ascendancy after a long spell of dwindling fortunes.
It is a mark of the height Nigeria soccer attained that at one time every budding footballer in Africa dreamt of playing like Austin Okocha or Nwankwo Kanu, his illustrious compatriot.
About Nollywood films, I have tried to watch a few on the African Magic channels and come to the conclusion that they should begin to move away from reaching always to the dark practices of yore to explain events and relationships that are portrayed. But that is a topic for another time. It must be noted however that the two combined –Nigeria films and its soccer– gives Nigeria the sort of wholesome image at home and abroad that goes against the dominant belief that ‘’nothing good comes from Nigeria’’. The two garner for the country goodwill, endearment and general upliftment of spirit that its politics and the seedy aggravations of its politicians would ever achieve.
In other words when people are glued to their TVs watching Nigeria Super Eagles play or if you are one of those sold on the Nollywood fare, you forget all the slurs and crude remarks about corruption in high places in Nigeria or its seeming intractable descent into anarchy which the insurgency has foisted on it. In the world of soccer and the films, Nigeria is another country of exquisite football artistry displayed through intricate dribbles and spectacular goals. And in the Nollywood celluloid, Nigeria becomes the celebration of African culture not only in the portrayal of bosomy femininity, given expression through sartorial elegance but also in the norms and mores of society woven together in such a way as to achieve Africa wide acceptance.
It is therefore the reason why nothing must be left to chance when it comes to these two endeavours and others that contribute in salvaging the real essence of Nigeria as hardworking and creative people. Currently, the Super Eagles are in Brazil representing Africa in the competition for the Confederation Cup. The team earned the slot because it won the Africa Cup of Nations early this year. In the matches played so far, the Super Eagles walloped Tahiti 6-1, but slumped to Uruguay two days ago by 2-1. Unless it is able to find that elusive quality which we all know is there but has not surfaced yet, to beat Spain- the leader of the group, the Super Eagles may be homebound sooner than anticipated. Before this tournament, the Super Eagles have been engaged in the round robbing competition for World Cup qualification. They have played Kenya away and snatched a win thereby securing the first position in the group. In Namibia, the team snatched a draw from the teeth of defeat when its equalising goal came at the 11th hour of the game.
It is expected that having grabbed the top spot the Super Eagles would not be so negligent as to relinquish the advantage because all they need is a draw with Malawi to qualify and the fact that the match would be played at home in Calabar makes the victory a certainty. A number of issues have cropped up though in the team’s campaign to qualify for the 2014 World Cup and the major one is the tendency of the football authorities to constitute a stumbling block in the management of Nigeria football. Soon after the Super Eagles drew with Namibia in Windhoek they refused to proceed to South Africa en-route to Brazil as Africa representatives in the Confederation Cup on account of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) reneging on an earlier agreement to pay $10000 for every win and $5000 for a draw for every match played. The NFF offered to pay half of the agreed amount for the victory in Kenya. This did not go down well with the players and so they showed it in Namibia by refusing to proceed to South Africa en-route to Brazil. The situation had to be rescued by the federal government which promised to pay the difference. Expectedly, it resulted in the delay in arrival in Brazil, indeed for more than a day later than other teams which had enough time to acclimatise and loosen up to be in the best frame of mind for the tournament.
Of course, the obvious question to ask is why should anyone seek to change a matter on which an agreement has been made? The obvious answer is the penchant of the NFF members to satiate their greed, even when doing so could derail the obvious good work Coach Stephen Keshi has been doing in rebuilding the team from its tattered state it was when he took it over and endanger the prospect of Nigeria being represented in the final in Brazil 2014. This attitude of NFF authorities allowing the penchant for money grubbing to get the better of them would continue to be the Achilles Heels of Nigeria’s soccer. This time around it threatened Nigeria’s participation in the Confederation Cup. A number of calibre players have continued to keep away from joining their mates in the squad because they cannot stomach the condescension and patronising with which the authorities treat them, particularly on the issue of match bonuses. No one who watched the match between the Super Eagles and the Uruguayans would fail to recognise that it was as yeoman job they did, playing against a much experienced and older players of the calibre of Diego Forlon who, at 34 still lends his experience to the services of his country which for me, made the difference between which team won and which one lost. If Diego Forlon had been treated the way we treat our players, by reneging on agreed terms, he would have long walked away from the Uruquayan team.
Stephen Keshi is gradually building a formidable team while relying largely on home based boys. An injection of foreign based ones who he managed to cajole and convince to play for the team gave the Super Eagles the edge at the last edition of the African Cup. It is certainly not the time to allow odious attitude of greed and self indulgence at the expense of the sweat of those who heeded the call of service to derail the on- going smooth ride to building a formidable Super Eagles and the other age group teams.