12 February 2013

Nigeria: Diplomatic Gains in Nigeria's Afcon 2013 Triumph

That the Super Eagles of Nigeria on Sunday won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations is no longer news in even the remotest parts of Africa, given the current trend in information technology.

What perhaps, might be unknown to many Nigerians is that by emerging victorious in the tournament, Nigeria did not only get the trophy and the $1.5 million prize money, but also got a real deal of image lift within the international community.

Before the recent AFCON tournament, following discouraging fortunes in Nigerian soccer in the past decade and a half, supported by discouraging national calamities such as increased corruption, terrorism (bomb blasts), air crashes, kidnappings, armed robbery, unemployment, poor performance by those placed in positions of authority, discredited elections among others, spurring severe national discontent, many who had waxed in the euphoria of Nigeria's clout within the international community began to wax cold wherever Nigerian issues were discussed with foreigners.

The negative impact of this discontentment was not limited to within the nation's shores, as it reverberated across the globe.

Countries of less significance began to compare themselves with Nigeria, especially when Nigeria failed to qualify for the last edition of AFCON in 2012. Nigeria became an ordinary soccer playing nation, struggling with the likes of Malawi and Niger Republic. The lull did tremendous image damage to Nigeria, as a foreign diplomat remarked in Windhoek, Namibia in November 2011;

"My friend Austine, what is happening to your soccer team? The entire Africa used to look out for quality representation of Africa by Nigeria, your teams brought great pride to the black people of the world and Africa, what is happening? Does it have anything to do with your leadership?"

I could not give any brilliant reply, but mumbled a consolatory, "Well, we are trying to put our house in order, competitions are getting tougher and there are always highs and lows in a nation's history". But my diplomat friend reminded me that the performance of a country's leadership usually reflects in the performance of its armed forces, civil service, sporting delegations or other types of representations, especially at the international level. I couldn't agree more.

Countries invest huge resources to organize or participate in international sporting competitions, sometimes even spending more than what they would gain from it. Economic benefits from sporting victories are sometimes far less than the image boost.

For instance, the prize money for winning the African Cup of Nations is said to be $1.5 million. This perhaps is far less than what Nigeria would have paid for just live telecast of the matches, apart from the other costs in sending the delegation into the tournament.

Though it is difficult to assess the financial value of intangible benefits of attaining sporting victories, it is rather discouraging and an act of administrative incompetence to neglect the intangible benefits, such as making the people happy.

By extension, a mere presidential handshake of a country's victorious representatives at an international event does nothing to enhance future performance, just as it does little to boost the country's international image. Astute encouragement of a country's sporting representation may not only prove to be very important to the citizens of a country, but also add to the competitiveness and development of certain sectors within the country and by extension, raise the country's profile among other countries.

Some experts believe that intangible benefits may in the long run prove to be just as important, or even more important than the tangible ones. By the time a country wins an important tournament, the entire atmosphere smells happiness, which is a basic human requirement, and which is what good leaders should aspire to provide for citizens.

This experience relates to sports, as does provision of social amenities, good service delivery and a reliable, disciplined and competent armed forces. Perhaps, after the victory on Sunday night, new friends were made, enemies reconciled, even terrorists who planned to bomb or attack certain places may have thought otherwise.

On the international scene, the latest victory has rekindled foreign interest in Nigeria, as certain diplomats feel that that assembling a winning team within the space and time as Nigeria did after last year's debacle shows that Nigeria can always get things right whenever they really want to.

Indeed, the latest victory has already made foreigners who had started getting discouraged about Nigerian affairs, to renew interest in the country and her leadership. My Windhoek friend James Shipululo, was quick to call after the match, saying; "Yes, this is good, you guys have sprung back to take your rightful place".

His call was immediately followed by another from Samuel Maina, a Kenyan who postulated that the Super Eagles not only displayed fantastic soccer showmanship but also demonstrated Nigeria's invincibility and inseparability.

Another remark from Tony Mukwita, a Zambian, summed it up on the leadership; "The good luck of your Goodluck has started showing, let him keep it up. I learnt he spoke to the players before the match, let his words spread good luck to other sectors in the country".

As it appears, not only the Super Eagles players will benefit from this victory but also the psychology of the citizenry as well as the reawakening of national consciousness for greater international attainment and recognition.

President Goodluck Jonathan and of course the entire government will not be wasting national resources to reward these guys the way no government has ever done, supporting the president's promise to "surprise" them. We await the surprise, especially as the victory further takes Nigeria before the world as they will in June face world and European champions Spain, Uruguay and Tahiti at the Confederations Cup in Brazil.

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