Keshi’s Head for the Block?

They want the head of Stephen Keshi on the block. His sin is that he has been unable to repeat the impossible. He has not transformed to the 12th man on the field to secure victory for Nigeria’s first eleven in the current Africa Cup of Nations campaign.

Why do Nigerians treat wounds instead of preventing accidents? The driving spirit in the Nigeria of my youth was to be the best and not second best. And because of that motivation schools aspired to turn out materials that they could be proud of in any competition, academic, sports and other events. What is happening to soccer reflects the general malaise in this country’s development since the return of constitutional rule. Nigeria is being led without a compass and so there is no target in view.

Do not roast Keshi for Nigeria’s current losses in football matches. Blame the state governments and the centre for lacking coherent policy on sports development.

Athletes and artistes are not bought on the shelves. They are groomed from the cradle. And the hands of the state must be seen in their progress.

In the days past, the cry used to be ‘catch them young’. And it paid off.

Sports development in Nigeria in colonial days was a collective effort of the governments, missions and institutions. In those days, round pegs were not fitted to square holes.

The late Bishop Dennis Carr, the legendary Benin goalkeeper, often gathered us to teach us how to play in – step, lob and head. Drills and physical exercises were a daily affair at my elementary school in the 1940s. There was no age restriction. When it was time for games, there were no exceptions, including the handicapped.

I discovered early enough then that fitness helped in academic work because most of the senior athletes in my school passed brilliantly to leading secondary schools and continued with sports at that level and eventually became professors and leading professionals in immediate post-independence Nigeria.

There used to be school games’ masters at colleges. My memories are vivid of one Mr. Roberts, a well-built gentleman who took us as early as 6am, in drills after cross-country. His exercises were strenuous and we did not like them. But he was doing his job and in no time we took it on our strides with ease.

We had quite a crop of talented players in my school in my days. My classmate, Michael Esenwa, my seniors Benedict Egbunna, Raimi Bello, Felix Kenine, and Nnezeanya were top contenders for the Nigerian shirt. My juniors like Obinwa, Nweke and others starred for famous football teams and were Nigeria’s possibles. Yours truly, also featured in many theatres of soccer.

We had a games master, Patrick Obi, who became West African lawn tennis champion. He was a mathematician on leaving Government College, Umuahia but changed to law and got his doctorate. He played good football. Sports did not affect his brains.

Must we repeat the obvious cause of the poor performance of Nigeria in sports recently as resulting from lack of attention to the young by governments in Nigeria?

Nigeria has exhausted sportsmen produced by the military and civil rule has been unable to provide replacements because of the rush for the filthy lucre. There is too much individualism.

Samuel Ogbemudia, as military governor of the Midwest, proved how to develop the young generally. He monitored budding athletes from primary schools through secondary schools to the tertiary. He made sure it did not affect their academic pursuits.

He started a special secondary school, New Era College, Benin, for boys and girls whose talents were discovered at primary level. So most of those top Nigerian footballers and athletes who won honours for this country at a time passed through the school.

Besides, the National Sports Commission of those days was staffed with professionals who would tell you about the fitness of any athlete or footballer at any given date. They made sure they ate the right food and regulated their exercises.

Where are the boys’ clubs now, the fertile training grounds? Now they want to roast Keshi for not performing a miracle with lads barely talented enough to play for a village team. The Black Stars did not go beyond the preliminary rounds of the Brazil 2014, but they were not a side to be written off. All things being well, without the bug of the mammon destroying the fabrics of Africa, that team would have gone past the quarter-final.

The players were skilful in ball handling, so they could string passes accurately and beat their opponents cheekily, weaving their way through crowds. They were flexible. See how they almost sent packing the eventual champions of the tournament, Germany. They played attractive football. The last Nigerian team that played pleasant football with players exhibiting skills was the 2002 side that fielded Austin Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Julius Aghahowa and a few others.

And they want Keshi’s head. Nigeria’s problem is not financial, it is a lack of vision and preparation. Good leadership provides for all these in advance.

Britain used to start to nurse a child while 28 days old in the mother’s tummy. A child is watched there until it is 18.

They don’t want weaklings for their work force, nor for the think tanks to direct the affairs of state. The Brits plan to reap rich harvest from their seeds and so water the manpower needs of the nation.

Man is a serious resource for any forward-looking nation. Weaklings cannot make a good fighting force in battle. And the state makes a child to believe in it from the cradle. That child will take any risk for the nation.

Who are really these people who have been running sports recently in Nigeria? The illiterate sporting press played up some of them who became international disgrace because they had a long purse. And you wondered at their antecedents. Which athletic club did they lead before they became the oracle of sports? They were never connected with organisation of sports before they transmogrified to lions of sports. That was the beginning of the decline of sports in Nigeria.

Keshi is not even helping himself. He knew the system that produced him. The system monitored him from cradle. He should have graciously thrown in the towel after Brazil 2014. He should not allow money to stain his reputation of a successful national skipper and coach.

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