11 February 2013

Nigeria: The Eagles Show They Are Super


And it has come to pass; Nigeria last night won the 2013 edition of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), thanks to the national team, the Super Eagles.

It has happened only on two previous occasions in the history of Nigeria's participation at AFCON. The first was in 1980, at the 12th edition if the tournament hosted by Nigeria in which Nigeria walloped Algeria 3-0 to lift the cup for the first time. At the 19th edition hosted by Tunisia, who replaced the original hosts Zaire, Nigeria lifted the Cup second time after beating Zambia 2-1 in the finals. Last night, in the final of the 29th edition of Afcon played in Johannesburg, South Africa, the Super Eagles edged out the Stallions of Burkina Faso by a lone goal to lift the Cup and the prize money of $1.5 million dollars.

Arguably, 1994 could be regarded as the golden year of Nigerian football. Apart from winning the AFCON cup that year, the Super Eagles were in April that year ranked 5th in the FIFA World Rankings - the highest ranking ever achieved by any African team. In the World Cup tournament that year in the United States, the players gave a good account of themselves, topping its group which included Argentina, Bulgaria, and Greece. In its first game Nigeria defeated Bulgaria 3-0, lost to Argentina 1-2, and qualified for the second round after a 2-0 victory over Greece. Though presently ranked a lowly 52nd position in the current FIFA rankings, the Eagles current form, especially in its matches against Ivory Coast and Mali, has led to comparisons with the 1994 squad.

South Africa once proved to be a good host in organising the tournament. Though it crashed out in the quarterfinals after losing to Mali, the country, with this tournament and the 2010 FIFA World Cup before it, has cemented its reputation as the African country with the best facilities and organisational skills to host world-class sporting events.

Apart from the hurrah effects that come from victories such as the one the Super Eagles secured over Burkina Faso on Sunday, there are a number of lessons from that feat, which also apply in the political arena.

One is that criticisms could sometimes be a spur to greater heights. In the opening games of the tournament, the Super Eagles' performances were less than stellar and Nigerians showed their frustration and anger, with some even calling for the sack of Coach Stephen Keshi.

Second is that the tournament and Nigerians' solid support for the Super Eagles shows that constructing a Nigeria-nation is possible. With each game, Nigerians willingly sank their differences to think as one. A lesson here for the country is that delivering results under a leader seen as competent and fair minded, who knows how to tap into the different skills and diversities of the country to achieve a common goal is a key requirement in the arduous task of nation-building.

Thirdly, political officer holders need not waste valuable time plotting for re-election or tenure elongation, once they are elected to an office. If Keshi returns home and the Nigerian Football Federation decides not to renew his contract, most Nigerians will rise up against such a decision in anger. In essence a public office holder, who performs to the expectations of the electorate, need not waste valuable time and resources on intrigues that will guarantee him a second term in office or even tenure elongation as the voting public will gladly want such an official to continue. The fact is that Nigerians are very appreciative and generous people once their expectations are being met. The Super Eagles will most likely see a lot of the generous side of Nigerians on their return. Already Aliko Dangote has splashed N130m on the team.

It is in very much appropriate that Nigerians are celebrating the well-deserved victory of the Super Eagles. Rather than make the team complacent, the jubilant faces of Nigerians should be the necessary tonic the country's football needs. Now that the team has conquered Africa for the third time, the goal should now be bring home to Nigeria the highly elusive World Cup, which holds next year in Brazil.

Congratulations Nigeria.

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