By Emmnauel Onwubiko & Queen Onwughalu
As we struggle to untie the knots of discord and disunity in Nigeria, one group of Nigerians that we ought to look upon as models are the footballers from Nigeria plying their trade in different European leagues. Nigeria, being one of the best rated soccer playing nations in the estimation of the global football governing body (FIFA), has successfully produced some of the finest players who have made their names in the English, Spanish, Italian and German leagues respectively, over the past three decades.
Some of these footballing legends include the late Coach Stephen Keshi, Daniel Omokachi, Kanu Nwankwo, Austine Okocha and Emmanuel Amuneke amongst a plethora of other glittering stars. Those great players, who still make impacts, till date, are Mikel John Obi, Ahmed Musa, Ogenyi Onazi, Victor Moses and Victor Chinedu Anachebe, who recently moved over to the lucrative Chinese league. Kelechi Iheanacho of Manchester City football club is also another upwardly mobile football star with a heart of gold but who truly needs encouragement from within Nigeria to be able to invest some of his God-given wealth in his immediate environment in Owerri, Imo State, from whence he grew up into the big league.
Some of those great soccer talents who gave their very best to the service of fatherland such as Kanu Nwankwo, Austine Okocha, and Sampson Siasia amongst a few others have in one way or the other established charitable institutions that specifically target the advancement of human enterprise and protection of human rights in Nigeria. Most of them have substantial financial investments in the setting up and running of successful football academies. Nigerian footballers are doing as much as other African players such as Didier Drogba, a legend of Chelsea FC of England who reportedly built and donated over N2 billion worth of health facilities in his homeland of Cote de voire for the services of indigent patients.
Take for instance the case of Nwankwo Kanu who in his playing days was diagnosed and treated for a hole in his heart.
This man made his mark in major European leagues with a triumphant exit from the topmost teams in England and has since showed the ever-flowing milk of human kindness in him by his establishment of the Kanu Nwankwo Heart Foundation, which successfully assisted hundreds of children of indigent families with holes in their hearts. The Kanu Nwankwo Heart Foundation for nearly two decades took care of the health condition of hundreds of thousands of children most of whom underwent surgical procedures in India.
On his own, Nigeria’s best known midfield Maestro, Mr. Austine Okocha, known with his popular sobriquet as Jay Jay Okocha has since retiring from active football dedicated, and devoted his time and resources towards the mentorship of Nigerian African Youth. In his voluntary capacity as FIFA goodwill Ambassador, Mr. Jay Jay Okocha has provided inspiration to hundreds of thousands of Nigerians/African Youths, who have eventually discovered their innate talents in the game of football. Some of these youngsters have gone ahead to make their individual impact in their own right. Sampson Siasia, Stephen Keshi, and Daniel Omokachi have all provided one national sacrifice or the other towards the advancement of soccer.
John Obi Mikel single-handedly funded the accommodation of his team mates when they represented Nigeria at the last Olympics in Brazil when the sports officials brought global opprobrium to Nigeria through sheer incompetence. In the most recent history, contemporary footballers in the mould of Ahmed Musa, John Obi Mikel, Victor Anachebe have individually invested substantially in the discovery of young Nigerian talents irrespective of their ethno-religious affiliations.
The news broke last week that Leicester City and Super Eagles star, Ahmed Musa, has opened his multi-million Naira sports and fitness centre in Kano and was also bestowed with a special title at the occasion. The centre is conservatively valued at several millions of Naira. The Sports centre has been commissioned with pomp and pageantry. The list of who-is-who in football administration graced the glamourous event. Super Eagles Chief Coach, Salisu Yusuf, Eagles defender, Shehu Abdullahi, representative of the Emir of Kano as well as several Kano Pillars stars, past and present, were at the colorful event.
The former Eagles captain was later conferred with the title of Jagaban Matasan Arewa (which in Hausa means leader of the northern youths) by the Association of Northern Nigerian Students. The centre, which is at Hotoro GRA Kwanar Sabo by CBN Quarters, is said to provide jobs for as many as 50 people. On the individual level, footballers see themselves as members of one family and hardly attach any importance to differences in the religious or ethnic affiliations of each other.
A footballer from Kano like Ahmed Musa is so urbane to an extent that he recently married his ‘love bird’ from Calabar in Cross River State. Players also help each other in times of transition from being local players to international stardom. The story of John Ogu and Ogenyi Onazi is particularly worth emulating.
Super Eagles forward, John Ogu, has revealed how stand-in-captain of the senior national team Ogenyi Onazi was instrumental to his fledgling career. And on 31 May 2013, he scored his first international goal against Mexico in a friendly game which took place at the Reliant Stadium in Houston. From all these good examples, it then shocks every discerning observer that the Nigerian government has so far failed to galvanize the abundance of harmony that exists amongst footballers to motivate the restive youths of Nigeria on the need for national unity. The Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports must be recognised and a patriotic Nigerian appointed to run this strategic sector so the person can work out strategies for utilizing these beautiful attributes of footballers and sportsmen and women to promote national unity.
Let the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, task the National Orientation Agency to partner actively with the Nigerian Football Federation and a database of our active and retired players built so they can be relied upon to embark on media sensitization of Nigerians on the essence of national harmony and peace.
Onwubiko & Onwughalu write from HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA)