A defamation of heroism
No word can be too strong to condemn the maltreatment of the Super Falcons, the women national team, by the combination of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports. Until President Muhammadu Buhari personally intervened three days ago, the leaders of these two bodies had brought odium upon themselves by defaming heroism.
It is received wisdom that a labourer surely deserves his or her wage. These young ladies answered the call to national duty, executed it not merely successfully but excellently well and brought uncommon glory to their fatherland by winning the African Women Nations’ Cup for the eight time. They are, arguably, the most successful football team in the whole world right now. And they deserve honours from a grateful nation. Alas, until they publicly protested, even their entitlements could not be paid. This is a disgrace to those in charge of Nigeria’s sports.
It is, however, more than embarrassing that the relevant authorities that assembled and sent them out to play for country failed to deliver on their parts. It is disgraceful as it is unconscionable, it is irresponsible as it is heinous, and some persons have obviously been derelict in their duties. The poorly-dressed and ungainly comported minister of youths and sports, Solomon Dalung, debased himself, his ministry, and the government to a record uncouthness with his utterance on the matter. He was quoted to say that ‘nobody even knew the team will (sic) emerge victorious. If we were confident they will emerge victorious, all the federation would have done is to plan for the process of participation and entitlement.’ In effect, everyone who knows the consistent winning streak of this seven time champion team wished, even trusted, they would emerge victorious again except the very sports officials who were directly responsible for ensuring the Super Falcons bring back the cup. This is ill-will and it must be said that, on moral grounds alone, Nigeria cannot afford malevolent persons in high public office. Dalung and his ilk should have no place managing the affairs of this country. The girls won in spite of the system and its functionaries.
There are indeed so many reasons to be outraged by the shabby and utterly disrespectful treatment of the Super Falcons. It is reported that even as the NFF claimed to have no money to pay their just wages, it found the money to charter an aircraft to take its officials to watch the girls play and win, and promptly they flew back in relative comfort. Surely, no one in the NFF has ever heard of servant-leadership.
The tragedy of Nigeria’s youths is that they are victims of the delinquency of the adults. Young people are drafted from their local and foreign clubs to play for their country. Of course, it is an honour to be called out of 180 million citizens for national duty. Dalung admits that ‘these girls have given confidence to women who want to embrace sports and [treating them so shabbily will kill their] laudable achievement.’ Well then, why would he and the government he represents not do the right thing on time?
The danger is in the unspoken message to young people that their country may not be worth the trouble. Truth be said, a nation can only benefit from its citizens to the extent that it equips and encourages them. The adults who run the affairs of this country must be held fully responsible firstly, for putting our young football heroines through two weeks of travails, and secondly for making this country so unserious, so directionless, so irresponsible. How can it be said that Nigeria did not hope and therefore did not plan to pay the just entitlements of its contingent to a continental competition? How is the story to be told now and in future that it took two weeks of sit-in and a public protest for an eight-time continental champion to be listened to by the President of this Federal Republic.
Nigeria’s sports is ever infected by a culture of unpardonable negligence; the managers have a poor history of giving due respect to female football teams. Notwithstanding that they have better winning records, they are paid less than the men’s teams. A few years ago, one of the teams had to insist on being paid the monetary dues before leaving South Africa. These are not fair ways to treat anyone not to talk of patriots who bring honour to their country.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s intervention, ordering the Federal Ministry of Finance to pay the girls is a step too little, too late to assuage the feelings of the players and redeem the image of his government and of Nigeria.
By ignoring the simple and honest demands of the Super Falcons, the government allowed, unwittingly, all sorts of negative meanings-disdain for sports, gender insensitivity, and ethnic bias-to be read into its silence. Of course, it may be argued that if persons put in specific charge of this and related matters were alive to their responsibilities, the President would have no cause to be involved. But the bottom-line is that his aides having failed, the mess must nevertheless be cleaned up and fast too.
The president has not been responsive quickly enough. In comparison, the Cameroonian team that was defeated by the Super Falcons was given a presidential reception where President Paul Biya lauded the Lionesses for ‘courageously defending the colours of the nation.’ In these parts, the heroic Falcons that conquered lionesses are reduced to carrying placards begging their president to ‘pity us, we are your children’ that is a defamation of heroism.
Despite the passion with which ordinary citizens respond to matters of sports, Nigerian leaders have never seemed to appreciate and to exploit the immense material and non-tangible benefits that it offers. One glaring reason is that unfit persons are put in charge or muscle their way into sports management. Buhari must do his government and Nigeria the favour to immediately overhaul the ministry of youths and sports, and find a refined and competent minister to run it. Secondly, since the NFF appears perennially incapable of funding itself, but forever runs to government for financial aid, yet it is quick to claim a FIFA – granted autonomy when its affairs are to be scrutinised, that body should be over-hauled and handed over to patriotic Nigerians who know the value of sports.