An appreciative nation Tuesday honoured its heroes: members of the Super Eagles national football team and their officials who did Nigeria proud by winning the Africa Cup of Nations trophy that had eluded the country for 19 years.
The celebration of the team started right on arrival at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, where they were besieged by an ecstatic crowd that had been waiting for them.
The players and officials arrived in Abuja at about 3.20pm from Johannesburg, venue of the just-concluded continental soccer tournament, during which they defeated the Stallions of Burkina Faso by a lone goal to lift the trophy. They arrived without Victor Moses and Ambrose Efe.
President Goodluck Jonathan rounded off the celebrations a few hours later at the State House where he feted them like kings. The state banquet was not only about eating and dancing alone as the president announced a wide-range of gifts, including national honours, for the players and their handlers in appreciation of their efforts in bringing back Nigeria's soccer glory.
Super Eagles' Coach, Stephen Keshi, was N10 million richer courtesy of the Federal Government. In addition, he was conferred with the nation's fourth ranking national honour - Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON).
Each of the players got N5 million and were conferred with the national honour of Member of the Order of the Niger (MON).
The team captain, Joseph Yobo, who also got a cash gift of N5 million like other players, was, however, conferred with the national honour of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON).
All the assistant coaches also got N5 million each and were also conferred with the national honour of OON while the technical officials got N2 million each.
In addition to the cash gifts and the national honours, Jonathan also announced that each member of the team will get a plot of land in Abuja, the nation's capital. The allocation papers were presented to them at the ceremony.
The president also announced donations from individuals such as Chairman, Globacom, Dr. Mike Adenuga ($1m); former Managing Director, United Bank for Africa Plc, Mr. Tony Elumelu- ($500,000) and Sir Emeka Offor ($500,000).
The nation's leading entrepreneur, Alhaji Aliko Dangote gave a cash gift of N5 million to each of the players.
At the event, which started two-and-a half hour behind schedule, saw Jonathan acknowledging the superlative accomplishment of the Super Eagles noting that it was an "awesome achievement for which you deserve a praise from a grateful nation."
He also noted that the victory of the team is the most precious gift that the Super Eagles had presented to the nation so close to its centenary celebrations next year.
According to him, the success of the team will put a spritely "spring in our steps,' emphasising that the victory is a reminder that "Nigeria is a land of possibilities where dreams can come true" and it is also an indication the citizens' 'inspiration' and 'resilience.'
The president who recalled with bitterness the lack-lustre performance of the country in previous tournaments, describing such outings as 'very humiliating', said owing to this antecedent, many Nigerians gave the Super Eagles no chance of winning the trophy as "the general perception was that our football has been dissipated of its energy.
Many didn't believe Super Eagles could deliver."
Contrary to the expectations, the president who described Keshi as a legend, observed that the team refused to be held back as it focused on its goal "with inflexible will' by refusing to surrender.
"Your victory is a good indication that there is a victory for us as we work to transform Nigeria," he said, declaring that his administration's process of rebuilding sports has just begun.
He added that his government will continue to support sports just as he expressed appreciation to the technical crew, state governments, corporate bodies and individuals that contributed to the success of the team.
He urged the team to work seriously towards qualifying for the next World Cup in Brazil.
In his speech, Minister of Sports, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, who said the victory of the Super Eagles was a milestone and not a destination, appealed to all stakeholders to put the years of acrimony behind them and stop creating crisis where none exists.
Among the dignitaries who graced the state banquet to honour the Super Eagles were Vice-President Mohammed Namadi Sambo; Senate President David Mark, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, governors, ministers and chieftains of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led by its National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur.