And so Nigeria returned from the London Olympics empty handed? And so we came back not even with a wooden medal? And as is traditional with our dawdy and bankrupt system, we are keeping a straight face about it? We are behaving as if nothing is amiss; in line with our tradition of shamelessness and impunity? Yes, there have been one or two incoherent statements from those that preside over our decrepit sports sector. For all they were worth, they were deft efforts to offload the burden of blames from themselves, as is traditional with officialdom in Nigeria. These statements were replete with the elusive search for who to transfer the load to; whom to blame for our shameful outing and whom to hold responsible for the grand and comprehensive failure Nigeria recorded in London where the joke is abuzz that Team Nigeria went to see the Queen.
Nigerian officialdom is riddled with the blame-others-but-me syndrome for the manifest failures it has come to personify especially in recent years and in virtually every sector of our public life. The choice tactics is to scavenge the polity for who will take from their shoulders their failures and shortcomings in the business of running (or is it ruining) Nigeria. The buzz word is to blame others but themselves and at the end of the day, nobody shifts position and the sordid defenestration of Nigeria continues unabated. The Nigerian sports officials were therefore playing true to type when they were beating about to find enough words to canonize themselves and blame every other thing and every other person for the loud thud with which Nigeria failed at the Olympics. So they were home and in sync with the government they serve, which has demonstrated competence only in finding scapegoats for its failures. This is the reason why those who ordinarily would have thrown in their resignation letters from London as the Olympic drew to a close and the picture of bareness stare Nigeria in the face or would have been offloaded before they landed in Nigeria, are insulting us with annoying reasons for that disgraceful outing.
Before the Olympic disaster, we watched with awe as Nigeria was eliminated from participating in the 2010 World Cup, 2011 African Cup of Nations and from virtually all the age group football competitions. We watched as we couldn’t qualify for both the male and female Olympic soccer competitions, which completed a total rout of Nigeria in all global and regional soccer competitions. Meanwhile, as this tragedy continued, Nigeria, which, at a time was ranked the 5th best team in the world, continued a free fall in the monthly FIFA rankings, which sees Nigeria struggling for position with soccer backwater nations in Africa. For a country that has made so much fuss of soccer’s role as the only uniting factor in a hugely fractured nationhood, this should be a worrisome development and a bad omen that would have signaled a serious effort at soul searching.
But do we blame the operatives of the Nigerian soccerdom when every sector in Nigeria is hit by an irreversible atrophy? Do we blame the aficionados of the Sports Ministry for still maintaining their straight faces even as Nigeria failed to record a presence in an over ninety country medal count? Are we surprised that it is Nigerians that were humbled by that outing and not the officials that led us to that sorry pass? We run a system where results are either forged or cooked to suit the exploitative whims of those that run our sectors. We are running a system where practical outcomes do not matter but what the operatives of any sector scribble as miracles they wrought from their expensive enterprises that end up enriching them more than the state. We are running a bizarre scam where operatives dupe and shortchange the system and remain adamant to shift grounds and that explains why nobody quits public office in Nigeria for serious infractions. A system where some people can connive with government officials to steal N3trillion in one fell swoop can tolerate anything, least of all a deliberate wastage of a mere N3 billion for a barren Olympic jamboree, which ours turned out to be.
Before we condemn those that are running our sports ministry, we need to ask which sector is spared the kind of terrible results that are being recorded in sports. Is it infrastructure? Is it the Energy sector? Is it the educational sector? Is it the power sector? Is it National security? Is it the Health sector? Is it the Agricultural sector? Is it the Transport and Aviation sector? Is it the Finance sector? Pray which ministry has a more excellent report than the humbling output than we had from the sports ministry? Which sector in Nigeria is spared the blistering ruination that is being freely vended on the country and which has firmly landed it on the firm grips of failed nationhood? With a confused, grossly incompetent, horribly corrupt and mindless leadership, what is assured is that what we are experiencing at present would be bested in the years to come as we continue a sure footed descent to perdition and national ruination.
Coming to our profound failure in sports, it is all too easy to see what is happening to us from the momentary issue of not winning any medal in the London Olympics but this is not the case. Granted, what is happening at present predates the present regime and its operatives but they have been grossly exacerbated by the lack of direction and unaccountable template of the present. For us to arrest the drift, we must back track to the past to know where we started drifting. Do we have a trusted system for discovering and grooming our sportsmen for sporting glory? Do we have a durable process that will ensure we discover the abundant talents in Nigeria and drive them to success? Do we have an immutable policy that allows talented Nigerian sportsmen and talents to tap in and maximize their talents? Do we have a meritorious policy that ensures that only the best represents Nigeria in any sporting competition? If we prod further, we would find ourselves going back to the same profligate government system that has failed us thus far so we should veer off and see the limitless possibilities that exist in a system driven by individuals, with the patriotic fire and zeal to excel.
Have we wondered what happened to our school system that has been vandalized and sold off as scraps to private profiteers to exploit for their maximum pleasure? The school, especially at the primary and secondary levels, is the nursery where human life is groomed and this not limited to any sphere. Sports development starts at the school level and could be taken to professional heights later in life. When Nigerian schools were handled by the early missionaries, it was the discovery and training ground for the country’s human resources in all spheres, sports inclusive. It was the place where young talents are spotted and equipped with rudimentary skills for future excellence. Here, school proprietors took deliberate efforts to achieve these necessary human resource needs and provided the moral grounding that endured till the recent where everything has collapsed. No one is asking what happened to the legendary school sports completions where most of the people that took our nation to sporting glory were spotted and groomed. As we brace up to the present where our school system has been annihilated and replaced with a system that allows us to deceive ourselves by working to the question from the answer, it is not surprising that what passes as schools are private poultries that are meant to churn out mind bogging profits to the proprietors and nothing more. In an era where schools now exist in lock up shops and verandahs, it is not difficult for any responsible system to trace where we started flunking in virtually every field of human endeavor-sports inclusive.
Let us ponder if it was through a sheer accident that St. Finbars College, Akoka produced such soccer greats like Stephen Keshi, Henry Nwosu, Samson Siasia, Chris Anigala among many other legendary sportsmen that represented our country well in global sports for instance. It was not through accident but through the conscious efforts of an Irish priest, Fr. Dennis Slattery and this picture is replicated in such other schools like Igbobi College, St Gregory’s College, CMS Grammar School, Ansar Ud Deen College, among many others in Lagos. Such similar cases exist in all parts of Nigeria where the educational system drove our quest for excellent human potentials, not only in the sports sector but every human endeavor.
I am counseling a return of those good old days when competitive sports was deliberately promoted in the nation’s schools. Any school without comprehensive sports facilities, among other basic requirements, should not have any business being recognized as a school in Nigeria and there must be a compulsory sports competition among Nigerian schools. I think the key word to Nigeria’s enhanced participation in future sporting contests is early discovery. Every other thing follows from there. For us to make any worthwhile impression in global sports, we must embark on a deliberate discovery of our unsoiled and unspoiled talents, equip them with the basic skills that will assist them to grow into complete sportsmen that will compete for honours in all spheres of global sports. Just like in every sector, the schools will lead this quest of rediscovery but the fear of all of us that have watched the steady decline of Nigeria at present is that no one is heeding and no one will act and we will live to witness more dismal results not only in sports but in every sector of the wobbling country in the coming years.
Peter Claver Oparah.