opinionBy Issa Aremu
Mni — Before the deadline given to me to conclude my article Nigeria was in the lead with one goal. The patriotism in me says Nigeria would lift the trophy as it did twice in the past. Nelson Mandela once observed that "Soccer is one of the sporting disciplines in which Africa is rising to demonstrate her excellence". The 2013 edition of the Africa Cup also known as the Orange Africa Cup of Nations for commercial sponsorship has undoubtedly further confirmed the validity of Madiba's observation. With almost 70 goals before the finals, Mandela could now add to his apt insight that African soccer was manifestly delivered from the womb and is growing at an impressive rate. Encouraging was the level of competition. Whatever the outcome of the great tournament, observers agreed that in the final analysis, it has been proudly a Western African tournament. A region that has unfortunately assumed notoriety for senseless serial wars, from Liberia to Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast to Mali, has suddenly assumed glory, many thanks to the game of soccer. The game that paraded West African neighbours, namely Nigeria, Mali, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso at semi final and final is truly African as much as Western African. The region that politicians are suffocating must thank footballers for bringing some hope.
At a time when politics and politicians on the continent are increasingly becoming boring and unimpressive, AFCON 2013 commendably offered some excitement for the citizens.
For as long as the tournament lasted, smart politicians were on jolly soccer ride to seek relevance as if running around the leather ball is synonymous with good governance. President Jacob Zuma's backing of the tournament and the Bafana Bafana national team in particular was well acknowledged. But soccer was no respecter of power and hospitality nonetheless. Though Zuma featured prominently at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, it did not stop the Malians from humbling South Africans at the quarter finals. Observers wondered aloud that Zuma (with all his efforts) is certainly no Nelson Mandela, who recorded the historic fit of winning the cup at first shot in 1995 (no thanks to the Abacha dictatorship which denied Nigeria's participation).
Here at home, football speak has become the grammar of politicians. According to Senate President David Mark "victorious Super Eagles against Ivoirians has restored the pride and dignity of Nigerians in global affairs." Well said. The critical question however is, but that is better attributed to us the less empowered spectators. If footballers restored our pride in a globalised world in a periodic competition, pray what then is the job of those paid to ensure good governance, the real bedrock of pride and dignity of nation state? Between senators and footballers, who do we choose?
I agree in a sense that the concluded tournament was a game of the underdogs. Nobody would have given a benefit of raising a team to Cape Verde not to talk of a team that could hold South Africa's national team host Bafana Bafana to a 0-0 draw at the opening match. And witness Burkina Faso which dared to kick out Ghana out of the race and audaciously dared Nigeria at final.
The dramatic rise of Nigeria at this competition shows that there has always been (and indeed) there is still a country. Regardless of our ever poor take off, Nigeria's potentials and actual as a foot balling nation, cannot be doubted with this victory. De Elephants once again came into the AFCON competition as favourites but lost out in the quarter finals to Nigeria. Many thanks to Super Eagles for uplifting the spirit of the nation. Damnation to Kano gun men who dared to kill female health workers during this great competition that has brought the best of Nigerian soccer.
After this trophy, we need trophy for electrification and industrialization. We need trophy for development.