Vanguard (Lagos)

23 February 2013

Nigeria: The Many Fathers of Success

The room tensed up; breathing momentarily seized and not a few hands flew to cover gaping mouths.

This was the semi-finals of the African Nation's Cup (AFCON),and I was watching the match against Mali with some friends.

You would think, given the score-line at the time, the room would be relaxed. Unfortunately, one player called Victor Moses had just been injured ... .

The anxiety was therefore not because of a match we all knew --baring another 'Miracle of Damman' we had won. But we also knew the pivotal role Victor Moses had played in getting us to the finals and were worried that he might not be available on the final day.

The anxiety we felt in the room was, judging from newspaper reports the following day, felt across the whole Nation including Kaduna where he was born and Abuja where our politicians hold sway.

Three short months ago, Victor Moses was just another name, known to some Chelsea and maybe Wigan supporters. That day, he had become a key figure to the collective joy of a nation.

This was the same lad, who, some 11 years ago, was orphaned and made homeless by the very people he grew up with and learnt to trust.

People who burnt his parents and worldly possessions;people who would have burnt him alive if he was not lucky to be out playing football.

Some of these people--because they were not apprehended--were probably applauding his skills on the field that day, and revelling in the joy he was bringing them.

I would never know why Victor Moses did not turn his back on Nigeria. After all, the Nation turned its back on him. And the perpetrators of that heinous crime are still there in numbers, looting, killing and destroying dreams.

That Victor's dream was not destroyed was not down to Nigeria or those sacred cows. It was down to providence. And now, the whole Nation, including Kaduna State, claims him as its illustrious son. Success after all has many fathers.

Many critics wrote the Super Eagles off after the friendly against Cape Verde and the opening match against Burkina Faso. The few optimistic followers that remained, also gave up after the draw against Zambia and the lucky win-- via penalties -- against Ethiopia the 'whipping boy' of the group.

What we at home did not know was that our football officials had also given up on the team. By the end of the group stage, plots were being hatched to dispense with the services of the coach.

The officials were already discussing about a foreign coach. We were also 'to hear' that they had made arrangements to leave South Africa immediately after the match against Ivory Coast.

Were they so anxious to distance themselves from what they thought was a failure that they could not bring themselves to act professionally? Every elite athlete knows that it is never over until it is over in sports; that your mental strength is as important as your talent.

That is why elite athletes learn to take their sport moment by moment until the game -- whatever game -- is over. That is why the supporting crew tries to build up fragile egos and do whatever is necessary to inspire its wards to greater heights.

The time when our officials should have suppressed their doubts and rallied around the coach was when they did everything to distract him. Now, they are laying claim to the victory. Success and its many fathers... .

After the second match which we drew, I heard the coach Stephen Keshi, say at a press conference that he was satisfied with the performance of his boys and it was time to prepare for the next match.

He said he would do everything possible including talking to them one by one, to motivate them for the next match. As a professional, he knew the importance of motivation and focus. He also knew the importance of not showing your doubts.

One of the attributes of a man according to Rudyard Kipling is: 'if you can trust yourself when others are doubting you but make allowance for their doubts'.

Coach Keshi recognised the doubts of others but did not doubt himself. He believed his boys had 'something' and it was his job to bring it out. In any case, he could not afford not to trust himself when every body was doubting because he was fighting for his professional life.

The knives were out to crucify him. Now the same people shout 'Hossanah'. Success, and its many fathers....

The President said the victory was part of his transformation agenda. Was it the denial of salaries, benefits and bonuses to the coaching crew that was transformational?

Or the 'spin' that he would be at finals when he KNEW he would not be there? Now he claims the victory is a reflection of his agenda. Again, success and its many fathers... .

There is no doubt that the nation needed the victory in view of what it has done to our psyche. But onl y one person, Steven Keshi has the right to claim the paternity of the victory.

He it was who insisted on newer faces and fresher legs. He it was who insisted there would be no automatic shirts. He it was who insisted that talent was not enough.

You had to be committed; you had to be a team player. You had to want victory badly and be able to fight for it; sacrifice even for it.

Our President can still learn a thing or two from this victory. Let him stop recycling dead woods and bring in fresh faces. People who are prepared to sacrifice and fight for the real transformation of Nigeria. Then, maybe he can finally, father success.

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