Footballers as Patriots
As we struggle to untie the knots of discord and disunity in Nigeria, one group of Nigerians that we ought to look upon as models are the footballers from Nigeria plying their trade in different European leagues.
Nigeria being one of the best rated soccer playing nations in the estimation of the global football governing body (FIFA), the nation has successfully produced some of the finest players who have made their names in the English, Spanish, Italian and German leagues respectively over the past three decades.
Some of these footballing legends include the late Coach Stephen Keshi, Daniel Omokachi, Kanu Nwankwo, Austine Okocha and Emmanuel Amuneke amongst a plethora of other glittering stars.
Those great players who still make impacts till date are Mikel john Obi, Ahmed Musa, Ogenyi Onazi, Victor Moses and Victor Chinedu Anachebe, who recently moved over to the lucrative Chinese league.
Kelechi Iheanacho of Manchester city football club is also another upwardly mobile football star with a heart of gold but who truly needs encouragement from within Nigeria to be able to invest some of his God given wealth back to his immediate environment in Owerri Imo state from whence he grew up into the big league.
Some of those great soccer talents who gave their very best to the service of fatherland such as Kanu Nwankwo, Austine Okocha, and Sampson Siasia amongst a few others have in one way or the other established charitable institutions that specifically targets the advancements of human enterprise and protection of human rights in Nigeria. Most of them have substantial financial investments in the setting up and running of successful football academies.
Nigerian footballers are doing as much as other African players such as Didier Drogba a legend of Chelsea fc of England who reportedly built and donated over N2 billion Naira worth of health facilities in his homeland of Cote de voir for the services of indigent patients.
Take for instance the case of Nwankwo Kanu who in his playing days was diagnosed and treated of a hole in his heart.
This man made his marks in major European leagues with a triumphant exit from the top most teams in England and has since showed the ever flowing milk of human kindness in him by his establishment of the Kanu Nwankwo Hearts Foundation which successfully assisted hundreds of children of indigent families with holes in their hearts.
The Kanu Nwankwo Hearts’ Foundation for nearly two decades took care of the health condition of hundreds -of -thousands of children most of whom underwent surgical procedures in India.
On his own, Nigeria’s best known midfield Maestro Mr. Austine Okocha known with his popular sobriquet as Jay Jay Okocha has since retiring from active football dedicated ,and devoted his times and resources towards the mentorship of Nigerian African Youth.
In his voluntary capacity as FIFA goodwill Ambassador Mr. Jay Jay Okocha has provided inspirations to hundreds -of -thousands of Nigerians/African Youths who have eventually discovered their innate talents in the game of football.
Some of these youngsters have gone ahead to make their individual impacts in their own right.
Sampson Siasia, Stephen Keshi, and Daniel Omokachi have all provided one national sacrifice or the other towards the advancement of soccer.
John Obi Mikel single handedly funded the accommodations of his yeam mates when they represented Nigeria at the last Olympics in Brazil when the sports officials brought global opprobrium to Nigeria through sheer crass incompetence.
In the most recent history, contemporary footballers in the mold of Ahmed Musa,John Obi Mikel,Victor Anachebe have individually invested substantially to the discovery of young Nigerian talents irrespective of their ethno-religious affiliations.
The news broke last week that Leicester City and Super Eagles star Ahmed Musa has opened his multi-million Naira sports and fitness center in Kano and was also bestowed with a special title at the occasion. The center is conservatively valued at several millions of Naira.
The Sports centre has been commissioned with pomp and pageantry. The list of who is who in football administration graced the glamourous event.
Super Eagles chief coach Salisu Yusuf, Eagles defender Shehu Abdullahi, representative of the Emir of Kano as well as several Kano Pillars stars past and present were at the colorful event.
The former Eagles captain was later conferred with the title of Jagaban Matasan Arewa (which in Hausa means leader of the northern youths) by the Association of Northern Nigerian Students.
The center, which is at Hotoro GRA Kwanar Sabo by CBN Quarters, is said to provide jobs for as many as 50 people.
Significantly, of all the recent stories around the issue of magnanimous and humanitarian activities of footballers, that of Ahmed Musa seems to be attracting good publicity for Nigerians.
Before the actual commissioning ceremony the story was aired by global media networks especially the new media.
A reputable website w ww.Goal.com reports as follows: ��� Leicester city’s Ahmed Musa has announced that he will open a sports fitness center in Kano on June 5th.The Nigerian international disclosed that the multipurpose sports building that is located in his home state, Kano will be named after him as Ahmed Musa sports and fitness center”.
Another popular online sports newspaper brila.net rated the Ahmed Musa sports center to have cost the player a princely sum of N500 million.
I had spoken about the legendary Kanu Nwankwo Heart Foundation which was established to help underprivileged African children and young adults, living with different heart ailments in Nigeria and other African countries respectively, to obtain the Cardiac surgery operation needed.
This effort would have cost Kanu Nwakwo over N1 Billion conservatively over the many years of its existence.
On the individual levels, footballers see themselves as members of one family and hardly attach any importance to differences in the religious or ethnic affiliations of each other.
A footballer from Kano like Ahmed Musa is so urbane to an extent that he recently married his ‘love bird’ from Calabar in Cross River State.
Players also help each other in times of transitions from being local player to international stardom.
The story of John Ogu and Ogenyi Onazi is particularly worth emulating.
Super Eagles forward John Ogu has revealed how stand-in-captain of the senior national team Ogenyi Onazi was instrumental to his fledgling career.
He made the revelation on the occasion of the latter’s first wedding anniversary. Daily Trust carried this story today.
Ogu who plies his trade as a Central Midfielder for Israeli Premier League side Hapoel Be’er Sheva, said Onazi helped him purchase a flight ticket to stay with him in Rome years ago when he was with Lazio as he searched for a club in Europe.
“Many never knew Ogenyi Onazi bought me a ticket to Rome to stay with him until I get a club. I Appreciate you bro always .God bless you.” The player who got his 9th invite to Gernot Rohr’s team against South Africa last month wrote on twitter.
The player went on to add that the plan was to be able to get a trial with Onazi’s club at the time SS Lazio but remains happy with the way things turned out as he is now very happy to be in Israel which he calls his ‘second home’ in a series of tweets.
Ogu according to the news report was first called up to the Nigerian national side for a 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier under late Stephen Keshi.
He reportedly debuted against Kenya in a 1-1 draw, where he was used as a substitute to replace an injured Victor Moses.
And on 31 May 2013, he scored his first international goal against Mexico in a friendly game which took place at the Reliant Stadium in Houston.
From all these good examples, it then shocks every discerning observer that the Nigerian government has so far failed to galvanize the abundance of harmony that exists amongst footballers to motivate the restive youth of Nigeria from across board on the need for national unity.
The Federal ministry of youth and sports must be recognized and a patriotic Nigerian appointed to run this strategic sector so the person can work out strategies for utilizing these beautiful attributes of footballers and sports men and women to promote national unity.
Let the Acting President task the National Orientation Agency to partner actively with the Nigerian Football Federation and a data base of our active and retired players be built so they can be relied upon to embark on media sensitization of Nigerians on the essence of national harmony and peace. Media moguls such as the owners of the successful African Independent Television; John Momoh of Channels tv; Publishers of such nationally respected newdpapers like The Guardian; Thisday; Punch; Vanguard and Tribune, not forgetting the Daily Trust and Daily Sun should be invited to donate useful and prime time/space in their media outlets so players can be interviewed on weekly basis on how to promote national peace, unity progress in Nigeria. These media owners have done many constructive and patriotic tasks many times over and so they are readily available for consultation by the Nigerian government.
This task has become imperative given that those actors threatening the unity of Nigeria from all political zones are young persons.
For instance, all the agitations threatening to tear apart Nigeria are orchestrated by young persons.
So let the government find pragmatic ways of deploying the talents and resources of our young sports players towards achieving national peace. This is a task that must be done.
We recall that Sports are not just about winning. Sports can be a driver of social change. The late Nelson Mandela once said that “sport has the power to change the world.” He witnessed this when his support of the mostly white South African national team in the 1995 Rugby World Cup had a striking effect on the country recovering from apartheid. “It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does,” Mandela said. “Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”(Apologies to www.ConcordiaUniversity.edu ).
This unique University also noted on their websites that global events like the Olympics display the power of sports and how they can bridge language and cultural barriers.
Across the world, they stated, sports leagues, teams and their superstars have recognized that sports and social good go hand in hand. Together, they’re doing their best to make the world a better place. The University listed out some social good of sports sich as; Promoting Health and Wellness and stressed clearly, that participating in sports promotes health and wellness. Athletes can grow in several ways.
Socially, Athletes develop key social skills that can help them throughout life. They can learn teamwork and understand the importance of personal responsibility. Time management and organizational skills are also related to participation in sports.
Emotionally, Sports can boost self-confidence and decrease stress. Those who participate in sports are less likely to drop out of school or get into legal trouble.
Physically, Of course, athletes improve their physical fitness, strength and coordination. Encouraging long-term healthy living habits is one of the most important benefits of playing sports. Participants can understand just how critical it is to maintain well-being through physical activity.
Importantly, on making an Impact sports organizations have an obligation to their communities. Professional sports make much of their profit via community support. This means it’s in the best interest of teams and players to support those who have supported them. Combining sports and social good can be a way to make a profound impact.
From online.concordia.edu we learnt specifically thus: "There are countless sports-related charities tackling larger problems. This is especially prominent among professional sports leagues and teams".
Nigeria must make hay whilst the sun shines.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko & Queen Onwughalu wrote in from HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and can be reached on www.emmanuelonwubiko.com ; [email protected] .