Sometimes when I think of the amount patriotism and diligence common Nigerians put in to make the country great, and then compare it to what our leaders give them in return, I get close to tears. Events at the 2016 Rio Olympics have re-enforced this.
Nigeria has gone past the point where nothing shocks or embarrasses us anymore. We have developed a thick skin. Whatever happens, we make a joke out of it and move one.
The treatment meted out to our Olympic team by the nation at Rio 2016 has been disgraceful, to put it mildly. Other countries would be wondering what type of country this is. How can a nation be so rich and yet so poor? How can a nation produce the most intelligent Black people on earth and yet cannot manage the simplest of national tasks?
At many global and continental competitions, including past World Cups and Olympics, the Nigerian contingent had lacked basic items like kits; they had had to protest before getting paid their allowances; their coaches had been owed salaries of up to six months or more. It was reported that members of the Golden Eaglets that won the 2015 Under 17 football World Cup cut the grass at their camp because the practice field was overgrown with weeds; they were virtually forgotten by the government; they had only one set of kits at the global competition. They still won the trophy and the government and the football administrators took the glory.
It has always been the trend from time immemorial. The team would be given little support during camping. They would lack basic items like kits and owed allowances and salaries. At the global stage, once they get to the semi-final, all politicians, sports administrators and companies will want to felicitate with them and be at the stadium to “support” them to win the trophy.
The pre-event training of the Nigerian Olympic football team in Atlanta, United States as well as their participation at the Olympics in Rio, Brazil have been mired with embarrassing controversies. The team could not fly out of Atlanta to Rio on schedule because of tacky flight arrangement by the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports. They eventually left Atlanta and arrived Manaus, Brazil, venue of the first match, just six hours before the kick-off. In spite of jet lag and this embarrassment, the team still beat Japan 5 goals to 4.
They beat Sweden with one goal in the second match, qualifying for the quarter final. That made their last group match against Colombia a mere formality.
Just before the quarter-final match, they boycotted training on Thursday and threatened not to play against Denmark last Saturday, if they were not paid their outstanding allowances, as well as the five months salaries and allowances owed the coaches.
“All of a sudden”, the money appeared and they were paid their allowances before the Saturday game. They beat Denmark and qualified for the semi-final against Germany.
Also, last week, news broke that the captain of the team, John Mikel Obi, had to pay some hotel bills on behalf of the team to save the team some embarrassment. The Sports ministry denied that report, but few people believed it.
In addition, apart from the football team, the entire Olympic team arrived Brazil without their kits and other important materials for the competition. The athletes had to resort to buying the needed items themselves.
Because of this poor treatment of her nationals, many Nigerians have chosen to compete for other countries. One gets emotional seeing some Nigerians overlook all this shabbiness from the nation and choose to represent Nigeria rather than other nations that offer much better incentives and opportunities. Ironically, while the common people are making all these sacrifices, our rulers ensure that they get as much as possible from the nation.
The date of the 2016 Olympics was known a long time ago. Nigeria knew that it would participate in the Games. Nigeria knew what the athletes would need. But Nigeria was still not ready even after the Olympics started. It is not just about the Olympics. It is an issue that cuts across all sections. And it did not start today, and there is no sign that it will stop tomorrow.
That is why anytime I hear someone place the messianic role of transforming Nigeria on the shoulders of President Muhammadu Buhari, I feel pity for the person. In spite of the good intentions and efforts of Buhari, whether he spends four years or eight years in office, the same problems we faced under Alhaji Shehu Shagari or Gen. Ibrahim Babangida or Chief Olusegun Obasanjo or Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua or Dr Goodluck Jonathan will punctuate his Presidency. At continental and global tournaments, members of our team will still protest unpaid allowances; the food meant for Internally Displaced Persons will still disappear in transit; the drugs meant for immunisation of children against polio and other diseases will still grow wings; the mosquito nets meant to be given freely to families to combat malaria will still find their way to the markets; those who earn N100,000 monthly in ministries and parastatals will still own chains of cars and property and millions of dollars in foreign accounts; politicians who go into governance with moderate wealth will still flaunt wealth in office and come out stupendously rich; our hospitals and schools will still lack basic facilities in spite of the huge budgetary allocations.
It is not a prophecy of doom, but simple reality. It is not because Buhari will want things to be like that. But there is little he can do to change the situation. It is like walking out in the rain without any covering and hoping that you will not be wet like others before you because of your level of positivism and good intentions.
Nigeria is not structured to succeed. It is structured to perpetually continue to wobble and fumble (apologies to Mr Fanny Amun, the football coach). Hope cannot help it. Good intentions cannot help it.
Many Nigerians have refused to come to this realisation and reality. No man – no matter how powerful and good-intentioned – has the capacity to get things working properly in all sections of Nigeria. It is like the biggest lion in the jungle trying to stop a cackle of hyenas from seizing its kill. As it charges at one hyena, other hyenas will swoop on the kill from another side. When the lion turns to that side to stop the hyenas, other hyenas will sneak in from another side and tear off some part of the kill. After exerting itself for a while, the lion will accept the fruitlessness in its action and abandon its kill for the hyenas and run away, to avoid getting hurt and becoming unable to hunt again. But it will be a different story if there are up to 10 lions feeding on the kill. The hyenas will only hang around, drooling and praying for some leftovers.
We either restructure this nation and move forward, or refuse to do so and remain with the age-long mediocrity and regression, comforting ourselves with the hope of a better tomorrow that a “good leader” will give us. It is our choice.
Azuka onwuka can be reached via Twitter @BrandAzuka
Culled from Punch
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