30 October 2003

Nigeria: Haunted Houses


Lagos — Number 10, or is it now 11, Downing Street is haunted. Yes, that is the official residence of the British Prime Minister. Haunted by the ghosts of the British soldiers who died in the needless Iraq war. Haunted by the ghosts of thousands of Iraqi civilians, many of whom never would understand why their motherland was besieged by the coalition forces that claimed their erstwhile leader was a tyrant and a major threat to the peace of the world. Haunted by the spectre of truth; the case for war in Iraq was based on shaky intelligence which appears to have been cooked up and embellished with the view to promoting a sinister agenda and getting legitimate backing from parliament. Now the Prime Minister's heart has started beating irregularly necessitating a quick trip to the hospital for a clean bill of health.

In more recent news, details are emerging that Iraq may never have had any weapons of mass destruction (but they did have weapons of mass destruction programmes, whatever that means) it is becoming glaring that the world was deceived into supporting an unjust war. But the war is far from over. And truth was the very first casualty. In both Britain and America, questions are being asked about the propriety of the war. The so called 'hawks' for whom the war was a matter of life and death, have been scurrying from pillar to post making vain attempts at justifying the war. We still await the report of the Hutton Enquiry in England, which probed the death of the former British Inspections expert, Dr. Kelly. And in America, they are looking for the person who leaked the name of an undercover CIA operative whose husband is the former ambassador who debunked the claims that Iraq obtained uranium from Niger Republic. Wherever you look, there seems to be a great deal of skepticism. Very few people now believe that the invasion of Iraq was justified. President Bush still maintains that at least they succeeded in removing an evil leader who had tormented his people for so long. Still there had been several more evil leaders in the past who had done worse and who ruled with impunity. The North Korean leader doesn't rate high on human rights league table but the Americans have not invaded Pyong Yang. In Africa we have had Idi Amin in Uganda, Sani Abacha in Nigeria and Mobutu in the former Zaire. Sadly, they all died without atoning for their misdeeds, which caused untold hardship for the people they governed. The policy then was probably to let sleeping dogs lie. There is a long list of dictators in the world today with horrendous human rights records. If the Americans want to be the police of the world, they should try to liberate the Burmese from the strangle hold of the military. But they wont because Burma has no oil to sell.

There are many who feel that the preemptive invasion of Iraq was premature and that all avenues of diplomacy and dialogue had not been exhausted. Recently, attention focused on Iran and their weapons of mass destruction programmes. The Iranians first denied having these programmes but through diplomacy, the Foreign Ministers of Britain, France, and Germany have been able to convince the Iranians to submit their programmes to the strict scrutiny of the International Agency for Atomic Energy. The Iranians have agreed to comply and it makes me wonder why all these avenues were not exploited with Iraq and why there seemed to be so much of urgency. That the British were involved is particularly significant for me because it reaffirms my belief that they now admit they went wrong with Iraq. The ghosts of the more than 50 British troops that have died in Iraq will never rest until the truth is known.

Before the invasion Saddam asserted that the reason for the imminent invasion of his country was because the US wanted to control oil sales in the Middle East. This was immediately refuted by the Americans who kept on harping on weapons of mass destruction. Today, no weapons have been found but an American company, Halliburton, holds the monopoly of mining, distributing and selling Iraqi oil. And the former CEO of that company just happens to be the Vice President. Something does not look too good here. We have been fooled by the reasons given for going to war. Are we to be fooled again for the reasons given for selling Iraqi oil? You can fool some of the people some of the time but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. More ghosts.

I congratulate Nigeria on successfully hosting the recently concluded All Africa Games, which held in the country for the second time. A great achievement indeed! I, for one, never feared any disruptions by the proposed strike action by the NLC. Just could not happen. Nigeria cannot grind to a halt because of fuel price increase. More serious issues such as funding tertiary education did not succeed in doing that and University lecturers who had gone on strike for close to a year were forced to recapitulate. The games would have been held successfully with or without any spectres looming in the background. Of course, the strike was called off and peace reigned. But not without exposing all the haunted rooms. Cameroon beat us once again in the final of the football competition for men. That is one ghost that has haunted us for almost forever. I cannot remember the last time we beat Cameroon in any major competition. They seem to have our number. I am hoping the jinx is not a permanent one. And then Bryan Robson, an English man was appointed chief coach of the Super Eagles. Great choice. But England is presently being coached by a Swede. I don't think English football is going anywhere and the English FA realized this before they appointed Sven Goran Eriksson. I am thinking this is another experiment. I have been trained as a scientist to keenly observe and that is precisely what I will sit back to do.

The issue of whether or not to engage a foreign coach is one that has raged for quite some time now. There is this school of thought that simply does not believe we need a foreigner to teach us to play the beautiful game. I don't belong to that school. Football has now become a highly technical game and the way it is played today, one needs a foreign input or run the risk of doing well only on the continent and failing woefully against the western world. We don't have to look too far to see how this works. Our darling Falcons, the female football team, does so very well against African opposition, (even that is academic as the gap between them and other African countries has narrowed considerably). But when it comes to the world cup, they just fall down. And they will continue to do so until they are exposed to foreign influence. Their technical ineptitude was glaring in the just concluded women's world cup. Against the more technically superior Swedes, Americans and Koreans, they were left to chase ghosts all over the pitch. The drubbing they received was embarrassing. So, why would the FA not also engage a foreign coach for the falcons?

Football coaches, like the players themselves, have become superstars in their own rights commanding a great deal of respect and followership. And influence too. There are some coaches that people listen to whenever they open their mouth to talk. Such coaches have been known to sway arguments in their favour sometimes and have a large influence on the game. I don't see how a local coach can catch the attention of the foreign media, particularly when his credentials don't glitter. We may need a foreign coach to keep us at par with the western world. My gripe is with the choice of an English man. Perhaps we should take a hard look at his coaching achievements.

Another haunted room was in athletics. I should first congratulate Mary Onyali-Omagbemi for her achievements. She did well and was rightly rewarded. But did we present our best athletes for the games? There is this story making rounds that some athletes were banned from the games for all the reasons in the world. I would have thought that for a competition of this magnitude, that we present our very best, particularly when the prospect of history making was there. Records were there to be broken. Athletes with faster times were left out in favour of aging ones but we still made history of another kind. Is it any wonder why athletes seriously consider defecting and running under the flag of another country? If a sportsperson is good, he or she is good and all he or she requires is encouragement. Give them something else and you court with disaster. Sometimes our sports administrators contribute in no small measure to frustrating our patriotic athletes. They wield so much power and go about flaunting it like demon-possessed demi-gods. Some Nigerian athletes who won laurels under the green-white-green have since moved on when they could no longer stomach the stress they have to endure to don the national colours. Patriotism does come with a heavy price sometimes. Now one does not know who is more patriotic, the whip wielding official or the poor hapless athlete? There seem to be so many ghosts haunting the sports ministry these days.

Dr. Mosuro writes from Botswana.

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