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Mr President sir, shall we meet in Russia?

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President Muhammadu Buhari shakes hands with the members of the Super Eagles team that participated at the recently concluded Championship of African Nations held in Morocco. CHAN Eagles won silver at the tourney.

Once again, we have an incredible opportunity to create a good story. We have a chance to bring all Nigerians together in an unforgettable experience.

Our Super Eagles will line up along with footballers from 47 other countries around the world in a fantastic festival of football.

The world will come together as one, in a way only football can make happen. The nation will also unite under one umbrella. There will be no tribe or religion. There will be no division or differences.

Well, maybe there will be differences in tactical analyses, knowing that most football watching Nigerians are coaches, pundits and experts. But everybody will be solidly behind The Super Eagles.

Let’s remind ourselves that only five African countries are featuring in the World Cup.

Apart from Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal will be at the finals in Russia. Since we made our debut in 1994, we have only failed to qualify for the World Cup once.

Yet, despite the incredible perception management opportunity offered by the World Cup, we have always failed to derive maximum mileage from the tournament.

Why is this so? What are the guys in Aso Rock thinking? This is the only thing that makes Nigerians forget about every problem we complain about.

For the duration of the tournament, we are lost in an ecstatic delirium, revelling in the highs and lows that only the round leather game can bring. We should be leveraging the compelling platform provided by football to give this country a better image.

It’s an opportunity to show the world we are not only about Dapchi and Chibok. Our nation represents far more than corruption and Boko Haram.

To do this effectively, we need brand managers in government or we need our government people thinking like brand managers. We need to use available platforms to tell a positive narrative about our great country.

The predominance of negative stories is stifling. And I can’t help but wonder why we are not all tired of all these negativity. I understand that a lot of people feed on this negativity. There are those who are fear mongers. They have lost hope in the Nigerian project and they want the rest of us to agree with them.

So even when you tell them our Super Eagles will do well in Russia, they will say ‘which Eagles?’ They will tell you how unprepared the team is and how corrupt the officials are. They will tell you how over aged the players are and how nothing is going to work.

Of course, they will rely as usual on their selective memory and conveniently forget that almighty America failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Giants of African football, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Ghana also failed to qualify. Star studded South American football powerhouse, Chile also failed to make it to Russia.

Lionel Messi’s Argentina almost crashed out but for a few moments of Messi magic. Success is a journey, not a destination and as Nigerians, we must learn to celebrate every little step we take. Football offers us an incredible opportunity to do this.

Of course, one of the implications of democracy is that you have the opposition party which sees nothing good in the ruling party. They will persistently spread negativity just to smear the image of the government of the day.

Since this is one of the essential elements of democracy, I wonder why the Government doesn’t take perception management as seriously as it should.

Thankfully, when it comes to football, there is no PDP or APC. There is no Labour Party or KOWA. No APGA or Chop I Chop Party! There is only our darling Super Eagles, and us Nigerians supporting them.

We know there are the prophets of doom. They prey on fear and according to them, we are all doomed unless we all become born again. They are constantly predicting tragedy so that more people will troop to their tabernacles for special deliverance.

Since it is practically impossible for everybody to become born again, they must continue to spread this message that hell fire will consume humanity. Since we have more churches than factories in this country this pervasive negativity is hard to overcome.

Every year, these prophets of doom always predict tragedy and death of prominent people. They always foresee hardship and tribulation. But they never predict defeat for the national team.

When they rolled their usual negative prophesies for 2018, I didn’t see anything about the Super Eagles being disgraced at the World Cup. Football isn’t just a sport. It is life.

And when we consider how passionate we are about football, there simply isn’t a better platform for national integration, promotion of patriotism and evocation of national pride. But will Aso Villa write a good script?

I know that within the corridors of power, there are several media units and media teams. If you are frequent around the hallowed chambers of power, you may often see them scurrying about like squirrels, looking extremely busy.

They are indeed very busy, trying to react to and manage the predominance of negative news and features about the leadership.

They know all about being proactive rather than being reactive. But it seems the peculiar demands of Nigeria’s polity weighs too much for them to handle effectively. It’s a tough job.

But when actions are driven by sound strategy, tough tasks are easily accomplished. That strategy must be based upon those things that make us who we are and the positive values on which we can build greatness.

For now everything points to the indication that there is a new dawn for Nigerian football. I beseech our leadership to seize this moment and use this tournament as a platform to launch Nigeria into an era of football dominance.

It is not far-fetched. We are going to Russia with the youngest team in the tournament. But it is also a team that has not let us down in terms of their results.

Expectedly, expectations are high. We must however look at the full picture and see beyond Russia 2018. We must envision a brighter dawn for our football, while using it as a powerful platform to unleash our potential as a nation and mobilize our people behind a common purpose.

We must use this to overwrite the negative narratives that have become suffocating in our national and even international media space.

We must use this opportunity to burnish the image of our nation. This is the task our leadership must take up. The time is now.

•Muyiwa Kayode is CEO at USP Brand Management and author, The Seven Dimensions of Branding. Brand Nation is a platform for promoting national development based on the universal principles of branding.


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