22 December 2012

Nigeria: Sad Exit of a Football Supporter


I was in Abuja on Saturday, last weekend, just leaving the wedding ceremony of the daughter of Director General of the National Sports Commission, Chief (Dr.) Patrick Ekeji, when the news filtered in like a thunderbolt.

Governor Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State and a number of high-ranking persons, including former National Security Adviser, Gen. Andrew Azazi (rtd) had been killed in a Navy helicopter crash in Bayelsa State!

I was numb for several minutes. The news was devastating. Surely, from Him we call come and to Him we will all return, at His own appointed time, not ours. But some departures are like blows to the hearts of loved ones, family and friends and even associates. The late Governor of Kaduna State, Sir Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa, CON was a true supporter and lover of Nigeria football. We met several times after I saw clearly his genuine desire to support the game and help its development in all ramifications. He was not only a lover of peace and advocate of that, he was a bridge builder and an interesting, though humble personality.

I recall how easily Governor Yakowa accepted to host the international friendly match between the Super Eagles and the Chipolopolo of Zambia in November 2011. It was a difficult period for Nigeria football. Our administration has this vision of taking matches of the National Teams round the country, so that our people in several places can truly feel the teams at close quarters. But poor results by some of the National Teams in year 2011 made football a hard sell.

Yet, Governor Yakowa accepted to host the match between senior teams of Nigeria and Zambia, right at the beginning of the rebuilding process of Stephen Keshi. We had just appointed Stephen Keshi that month and he knew precious little about the players, from what he read about them in the media. So, not much was expected of him or his group. Days before the match, the Super Eagles were only able to draw 0-0 with Botswana in another friendly in Benin City. That made the game against a stronger Zambia less attractive. There were also those who sold images of an unsafe Kaduna City bedevilled by attacks by a religious sect.

However, Governor Yakowa told us not to worry, that Kaduna was safe and that no harm would come to the teams. We played the match and the Super Eagles won 2-0, and no harm came to any of the teams or those who organized the match. A month later, Governor Yakowa was an enthusiastic host of the 67th Annual General Assembly of the Nigeria Football Federation. He was personally present and gave the Congress so many kind words.

The departed Governor was also very enthusiastic to host matches of the Super Eagles in the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying matches. But by then, the attackers had upped their game, making Kaduna much more unattractive. We apologized to him profusely.

Now that he is gone, we pray that Almighty God will give him rest, and also give his immediate family and the good people of Kaduna State the fortitude to bear the loss. We equally pray for God's guidance for the new governor, Alhaji Mukhtar Yero and offer to maintain the same cordial relationship with him and his Government.

CAF 'B' License Coaching Course...

On Thursday, the further CAF 'B' License Coaching Course organized by the NFF ended in Abuja. Over 80 coaches took part in the exercise, made up mainly of those who had taken part in the first exercise in March 2012. I congratulate the participants for their dedication to improving their knowledge of the beautiful game, which evolves with new tactics, methods and techniques on daily basis, but more than that, I appreciate very much the valuable contributions of CAF instructor Ben Koufie from Ghana, our own illustrious Chief Adegboye Onigbinde, James Peters, Kashimawo Laloko, Amodu Shaibu and Linus Mba.

Glo-CAF Awards in Accra...

It was interesting, once more, to be at the Glo-CAf African Football Awards ceremony, which took place in Accra, Ghana on Thursday, but it would have been much more interesting if a Nigerian player were on the shortlist of THREE for the Player of the Year Award. As it were, the battle was among holder Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba and Alex Song. How come Mike Obi did not make there? We all wondered in the hall. But that is gone and there's no point crying over spilt milk.

The challenge is for our players to really up their game and give their all for their National Team and Clubs this year. With the Africa Cup of Nations coming up in South Africa and telling games in the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification race, it is hoped that our players will shone like very bright stars and make incontestable claims for the African Player of the Year marble come next year end.

U-13 National Championship...

I was really excited with the staging of the U-13 National Football Competition in Abuja during the week. It meant that the vision of the present administration at the Nigeria Football Federation is intact.

Of course, a good number of products of the U-13 competition have forced their way into the U-17 National Team, Golden Eaglets that is currently making waves around Africa, with heavy pounding of their opponents in the qualifying series for 2013 African U-17 Championship.

It is only by continuing with this project (in which the best 25 players are selected for grooming and integrated development process) that we can sustain the channel and keep the hope in line.

Here is wishing all Nigerian football lovers a Merry Xmas in advance.

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