"A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader, a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves" â€“ Eleanor Roosevelt
The performance of the national team, Super Eagles, in the ongoing World Cup being held for the first time on African soil no doubt is leaving Nigerians at once sullen, pissed and all together broken. The Super Eagles are experts at disappointing their fans, who always expect great things from their team. But as a team once so proud with spring in their steps, have failed to find the confidence once associated with their kind. There is no doubt that right before our very eyes; the confidence of a team (and perhaps the nation) has unraveled.
Everything we've thrown at this World Cup seems not to work. We barely qualified from a group of weakened nations: nations with their combined Gross National Product not even adding up to a third of Nigeria's. We bought with "our money" a foreign coach, hoping for miracle and manner from heaven, and all that too seem to be coming to naught. Indeed, the ultimate act of the floundering self confidence (of our football administrators) was substituting our own country man coach for the convenience of a "foreign coach", the ultimate cop out by our incompetent FA, if you ask me. What has "Lagerbeer" achieved thus, that Coach Amodu couldn't or wouldn't?
In our ultimate DÃ©jÃ vu moment, we manage to mismanage the preparations and organization for a small team of twenty something and few officials. The world press laughed at our collective stupidity. We were involved in eight dollars motel (or is it Brothel) sagas, and could not even choose a team when it was demanded of us. What is wrong with Nigeria?
I know, I know. You blame Kaita. That poor young man; some have even summed up his performance to the fact that he was a product of that evil policy at home called "federal character". Generalizing in their absolute confidence that people from Kaita's part of Nigeria cannot simply make the national team (yes, they forget one Tijani Babangida, another Abacha of time past who brought us football glory). Yes, these racists in our midst reduced the problem of individual temperament to where people come from.
Too bad, we cannot see beyond our tribes and tongue. Too bad, Mr. Kaita is now the unlikely whipping child for a country crippled by lack of planning, erratic decision making, resultant regret (and excuses) due to failure and ultimately a collapsing self confidence. Kaita it turns out is the embodiment of the average Nigerian: erratic, unplanned and the regretful with excuses.
Our power supply is erratic, our national development is unplanned, our house of football is in disarray and then we as a people regret and complain instead of doing something about it. Fact is, we are a nation suffering from a deficit of self confidence. We lack power supply, we lack good roads, we lack great leaders, we are boggled down by corruption, we cannot even count ourselves nor count our own votes, yet our greatest problem is not all these problems: our greatest problem is self-confidence.
Years of bad leadership and national underperformance have finally started to eat away at the national psyche. A nation once so proud is now literarily limping on the international stage. Years of bad press internationally (on scamming charges, drug dealing, international corruption), exacerbated more recently by the chaos attendant to mere succession to the Presidency, which turned us to an international laughing stock is now firmly taken hold in our minds and heart. It was an old teacher who said, "You generally fail first in your mind before you really fail". Nigeria failed many times mentally before we got to this world cup.
Indeed, watching this world cup has reinforced this fact. One can perceive the rising national self-confidence in the winners, and a sense of timidity in many winners. When Greece and Nigeria played, that was to be the game between two nations with their national self-confidence at the lowest. In the end, I guess even the Greeks beat us to it! Our first game against Argentina was an exhibition in lack of self-confidence, timidity and overall an inability to rise to the occasion.
Hence, it is important as Nigerians to realize at this juncture (regardless of how the Super Eagles perform) that our greatest national problem is not power, is not healthcare, is not roads, is not corruption, is not even electoral or structural problems, but a fast eroding national confidence.
Nations that lack self confidence lack national cohesion and focus to tackle big problems. Societies that lack self-confidence open themselves up to be feasted upon by external power. They outsource solutions, instead of confronting problems. They focus on the little things, instead of looking at the big picture. A lack of self-confidence as immaterial and intangible as it sounds, is the ultimate killer of national development and progress.
In confronting the psychological damage of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt built great dams; started mega-projects like the TVA and completed great national infrastructures to rebuild the confidence of Americans. These achievements steeled the country to confront Hitler and Imperial Japan when WW2 came calling and allowed her take her place as a superpower when the opportunity was handed to the United States in the Second Great War.
In China, the Great Mao Tse-tung realized very quickly post-World War 2 that absent a great national stride towards achieving nuclear power status the future of China was unstable in the face of aggression in the past century from world super powers (to whom by reasons of its size and potential, she posed natural threat). In response to Mao's leadership call, China against all odds built a nuclear bomb in two years (the fastest yet, on record). It was this that set the grounds for Nixon's visit to China and America's rapprochement to its most important trading partner today. Simply put, the seed of China's rising influence today was planted in the 1950s.
Hence, as Nigeria approach the next election (assuming their votes still count, and it should), the only sensible barometer for leadership is one that has the quality of rebuilding our confidence. Those of us who know better, should not line up behind any politician, simply because it is their turn too or because of big sounding academic degrees. Only leaders that see, and speak to our eroding national self confidence deserve to occupy our state houses this next time around.
Words have consequences; charisma will go a long way and even a leader that can rebuild the self-confidence of one hundred and fifty million people must at once be charismatic, a great speaker to the hearts and conscience of the people, and a doer. Such leader must have a track record of delivering, but also one of motivating people to achieve beyond their dreams. Such leader must be a uniter, not a divider. He or she must be a statesman or woman; they cannot just be mere politicians. Where is MKO Abiola when we need him? Heck, the man even knew how to bankroll and motivate championship winning football teams!