Many characteristics of Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal's leadership traits are well-known to Nigerians. For instance, his candour, courage, honesty, down-to-earth approach to issues, and importantly, his maturity in handling sensitive national assignments are legendary among his country men and women.
What many don't know, however, is that the Speaker is a passionate sports fan who, like many Nigerians, dedicates enough time to assess the progress of his favourite sports teams and clubs. When it comes to soccer, Nigeria's number one sport, Tambuwal is not left out in his desire to see the national teams perform to their full potentials.
So, it was on Sunday, February 10, when the nation's beloved team, the Super Eagles, took on the Stallions of Burkina Faso in the final match of this year's African Cup of Nations.
Before Sunday's encounter, the Super Eagles had mesmerized the entire African continent with their knit formation and short-passes brand of the game. They had taught Africa a big lesson which is tactical discipline and team unity. When they squared up against the mighty Ivorians and their star-studded team in the quarter-finals, they showed to the whole world that having big-name players does not necessarily win matches.
In the semi-final against the Eagles of Mali, the Stephen Keshi-led boys also showed everyone what it takes to neutralize sleek opponents who have made it a habit of beating host nations in major soccer tournaments. By the end of the encounter, the better (Super) Eagles ran out 4-1 against their hapless West African neighbours.
When the stage was set for the final match, members of the House of Representatives, led by Tambuwal, converged on the Speaker's office for a get-together viewing of the match. All clad in the national team's colour of Green and White, the lawmakers, their aides, friends and family members, sat on four rows of chairs. The first row, occupied by the Speaker and some Principal Officers of the House in attendance, turned out to be the Director's Box. The other three rows, populated by other members of the House and Speaker's aides, automatically became the 'Popular Side.'
From the onset, all those in attendance at the 'pitch-side' inside the Speaker's office came with a single mindset: Nigeria would emerge victorious. As such, all discussions were tailored on waiting for the 90 minutes to be over for the Eagles to pick up the trophy that rightly belonged to them.
With the game on, and with the Eagles dominating possession but missing numerous clear-cut on-target shots, tension enveloped the new 'stadium'. Though the patriotic fervour was as strong as when the game started; the frequency with which discussions were held reduced, except for occasional gasps of exasperation by one or two persons around.
However, the mood in the House changed dramatically on the 40th minute when Sunday Mba worked out what turned out to be the only goal of the match. The shouting that followed the goal reverberated all through the building. All those gathered hugged and congratulated each other.
The true expression of joy however came when the Algerian referee blew the final whistle. With every Nigerian inside the Soccer City stadium in Port Elizabeth cheering and waving the national flag, those gathered at the Speaker's office jumped, jogged and shouted. Some had tears of joy dripped down their eyes. It was a huge relief because after 19 years of waiting, the Eagles have shown their true worth.
Speaking with reporters after match, Tambuwal announced that the House of Representatives would host the Eagles in plenary to show their appreciation for a job well-done.
"I want to congratulate Nigeria and Nigerians over the victory of the Super Eagles in the African Cup of Nations which just ended in South Africa. My special felicitation goes to the national team players and the technical crew led by their coach, Stephen Keshi. They have exhibited high sense of patriotism and team work all through their stay during the two-week soccer extravaganza.
"The victory is all the more sweet because it reaffirmed Nigeria's superiority over sister African countries not only in football, but in other areas of human endeavour. Now that we are getting set for the start of the qualifying matches for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, I want to urge the team not to rest on their oars until they make it to Brazil 2014. I also look forward to the team showing their quality at the world stage.
Next time any of the national teams goes out for an assignment, it won't be far from their minds that in the Number Four citizen of the country, they have a loyal supporter who is ready to make his office just another pitch-side.
*Imam is the Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs to Speaker Tambuwal