The Roman Empire in the days of yore saw sports as a tool of psychological manipulation of both the masses and the slaves they obtained from foreign lands. No cost was spared to entertain them. Large arenas from which the English word: Coliseum has its roots were built to divert the attention of the hoi polloi from their day to day challenges. The entertainments got wilder as man fought against man, beast fought against beast and man fought against beast to the bizarre delight of the crowd. While the Empire tottered, the minds of the people were divorced from the root cause of their numerous woes.
History sadly repeats itself because man learns the stories but never its lessons. The déjà vu has thrown itself up in Nigeria. The state has failed her people as everyone is his/her own local government – You take responsibility for your electricity, water, quality education of your offspring, healthcare et al despite paying for these services.
Football has emerged as the elixir that binds all classes together irrespective of tribe, religious belief or ideological orientation. It is the balm that soothes the wounds of the ever toiling masses that get the short end of the stick from their heartless leaders. Nigeria’s victory is seen as a personal one for all and sundry. The conquerors and conquered alike become bound in ecstasy with their differences temporarily forgotten until the effects wear off and reality stares back in the face.
Stephen Keshi dedicated 19 years of his life to playing the round leather game. He played in the local league before going abroad and was always available for national assignments despite foreign club commitments. As the captain of the Super Eagles in 1994, he led the team to victory and took it to its first ever world cup in the United States of America that same year.
Upon retirement he went into coaching and coached the junior eagles at the African Youth Championship in 2001. His clout extended beyond our shores as he coached Togo between 2004 and 2006 taking them to their first world cup in Germany. He was rehired in 2007 after the Sports Authorities recognised their error in abandoning a man that led them to play at the highest level of football for a foreign coach that proved that he was nothing more than a mere lightweight. He managed the Malian National Team between 2008 and 2010. He is the second African to win the Nations Cup both as a player and coach after the legendary Egyptian Mahmoud El-Gahary.
In an interview he granted to the sports desk of the British Broadcasting Service, he complained bitterly about his salary arrears of over seven months. This is a monumental scandal! Why should he be owed in the first place? His activities have more impact in the lives of Nigerians – bourgeoisie and proletariat than the legislators who not only officially earn the second highest salaries in the globe but are idle for half the year. The Sports Minister, Bolaji Abdullahi set up a committee to look into the matter and queried the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF). We are tired of committees that only end up as one more drain pipe. What is required is decisive action to give him his due of a paltry $217,000. The spokesman of the NFF, Ademola Olajire said the body was broke which explained the reason for the delay. He should tell that to the birds.
His family is abroad and it costs an arm and a leg to maintain them there. How on earth would he do so if he is not paid his legitimate entitlements? Do they expect him to beg from the players he is coaching? Do not forget that what he earned in his playing days was a piddling compared to what these boys are earning now! How would he earn their respect if he goes cap in hand to them? How would the Nation’s success be sustained if the morale of the man at the helm is at its lowest ebb?
He told the world those smaller countries he coached didn’t owe him his salaries. If they could pay a foreigner, why are we treating our national in such a shabby manner? It seems the veracity of a Prophet has Honour except in his own home is staring hard at us right in the face. We do not have an antecedent of owing foreign coaches, so why owe a hero who won us the laurel early in the year that has eluded us for 19 years? The Afrobeat Maestro with his vision sang about ‘colo mentality.’ His message is timeless!
The same fate of salary arrears befell former Super Eagles players like Dan ‘The Bull’ Amokachi, Austin Eguavoen, Samson Siasia, Ike Shorounmu, Christian Chukwu and coaches like John Obuh, Amodu Shuaibu, Eucharia Uche. What is the rationale in renaming the Asaba Township Stadium after him and unjustly withholding his salaries? This reminds us of the barbaric says of former President Olusegun Obasanjo when he said athletes should be contented with a presidential handshake. Before his eye, Daniel Igali, a wrestler took up Canadian citizenship; Francis Obikwelu is now a Portuguese citizen and many others swapped nationalities with European ones. Why does Nigeria take sadistic delight in killing her best and brightest?
For the sake of justice and in the interest of the hapless masses whose only source of ephemeral joy is in watching the Super Eagles soar to victory, please pay Stephen Keshi his salaries and spare us the claptrap!