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Footballers as patriots

By Emmanuel Onwubiko & Queen Onwughalu on 15/07/2017

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As we struggle to untie the knots of discord and disunity, one group of compatriots 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, the nation 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 foot-balling legends include the late Stephen Keshi, Daniel Amokachi, Kanu Nwankwo, Austin Okocha and Emmanuel Amuneke, amongst a plethora of other glittering stars.

The great players who still make impact till date are John Mikel 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 back to 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, JJ Okocha and Sampson Siasia, among a few others, have in one way or the other established charitable institutions that specifically targets the advancements 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 d’Ivoire, for the services of indigent patients. 

Take for instance, the case of Nwankwo Kanu who in his playing days was diagnosed and treated of a hole in his heart. This man made his marks in major European leagues with a triumphant exit from the top most teams in England, and has since showed the ever-flowing milk of human kindness in him by his establishment of the Nwankwo Kanu Heart Foundation, which successfully assisted hundreds of children of indigent families with holes in their hearts.

The Nwankwo Kanu Heart Foundation, for nearly two decades, took care of the health condition of hundreds of thousands of children, most of who underwent surgical procedures in India.

On his own, Nigeria’s best known midfield maestro, Okocha, known with his popular sobriquet Jay Jay, has since retiring from active football dedicated and devoted his times and resources towards the mentorship of Nigerian, African youth. In his voluntary capacity as FIFA Goodwill Ambassador, Jay Jay Okocha has provided inspirations to hundreds of thousands of Nigerian/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 impacts in their own right.

Sampson Siasia, Stephen Keshi, and Daniel Amokachi have all provided one national sacrifice or the other towards the advancement of soccer. 

Mikel single-handedly funded the accommodations of his team-mates when they represented Nigeria at the last Olympics in Brazil, when the sports officials brought global opprobrium to Nigeria through crass incompetence. 

In the most recent history, contemporary footballers in the mould of Ahmed Musa, Mikel, Victor Anichebe have individually invested substantially to 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 glamorous 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 colourful 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.

Significantly, of all the recent stories around the issue of magnanimous and humanitarian activities of footballers, that of Ahmed Musa seems to be attracting good publicity for Nigerians. Before the actual commissioning ceremony, the story was aired by global media networks, especially the new media. 

A reputable website www.goal.com reported: “Leicester City’s Ahmed Musa has announced that he will open a sports fitness centre in Kano on June 5th.The Nigerian international disclosed that the multi-purpose sports building that is located in his home state, Kano, will be named after him as Ahmed Musa Sports and Fitness Centre.”

Another popular online sports newspaper, brilla.net, rated the Ahmed Musa sports centre to have cost the player a princely sum of N500 million.

I had spoken about the legendary Kanu Nwankwo Heart Foundation, which was established to help underprivileged African children and young adults, living with different heart ailments in Nigeria and other African countries respectively, to obtain the cardiac surgery operation needed. This effort would have cost Kanu Nwankwo over N1 billion conservatively over the many years of its existence. 

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, Cross River State. 

Players also help each other in times of transitions from being local player to international stardom.

The story of John Ogu and Ogenyi Onazi is particularly worth emulating. The Super Eagles forward has revealed how stand-in captain of the senior national team, Ogenyi Onazi, was instrumental to his fledgling career. He made the revelation on the occasion of the latter’s first wedding anniversary. Daily Trust reported the story. Ogu who plies his trade as a Central Midfielder for Israeli Premier League side, Hapoel Be’er Sheva, said Onazi helped him purchase a flight ticket to stay with him in Rome years ago, when he was with Lazio, as he searched for a club in Europe.

Many never knew Ogenyi Onazi bought me a ticket to Rome to stay with him until I get a club. I appreciate you bro, always .God bless you.” The player who got his 9th invite to Gernot Rohr’s team against South Africa last month wrote on twitter.

The player went on to add that the plan was to be able to get a trial with Onazi’s club at the time, SS Lazio, but remains happy with the way things turned out as he is now very happy to be in Israel, which he calls his ‘second home’ in a series of tweets.

Ogu, according to the news report, was first called up to the Nigerian national side for a 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier under late Stephen Keshi. He reportedly debuted against Kenya in a 1-1 draw, where he was used as a substitute to replace an injured Victor Moses.

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 galvanise the abundance of harmony that exists among footballers to motivate the restive youth of Nigeria from across board, 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 utilising these beautiful attributes of footballers and sports men and women to promote national unity.

Let the Acting President task the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to partner actively with the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), and a data base of our active and retired players be built so they can be relied upon to embark on media sensitisation of Nigerians on the essence of national harmony and peace. Media moguls, such as the owners of the successful African Independent Television; John Momoh of Channels TV; publishers of such nationally respected newspapers like The Guardian; ThisDay; Punch; Vanguard and Tribune, not forgetting the Daily Trust and Daily Sun should be invited to donate useful and prime time/space in their media outlets. That way, players can be interviewed on weekly basis on how to promote national peace, unity and progress in Nigeria.  These media owners have done many constructive and patriotic tasks many times over. No doubt, they are readily available for consultation by the Nigerian government. 

This task has become imperative given that those actors threatening the unity of Nigeria from all the political zones are young persons. For instance, all the agitations threatening to tear apart Nigeria are orchestrated by youths. Therefore, it will be a win-win engagement for the government to find pragmatic ways of deploying the talents and resources of our young sports players towards achieving national peace. This is a task that is sure to benefit both the government and the youth-beneficiaries.

We recall that sports are not just about winning. Sports can be a driver of social change. The late Nelson Mandela once said that “sport has the power to change the world.” He witnessed this when his support of the mostly White South African national team in the 1995 Rugby World Cup had a striking effect on the country recovering from apartheid. “It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does,” Mandela said. “Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” (Apologies to www.ConcordiaUniversity.edu).

This unique university also noted on their websites that global events like the Olympics display the power of sports, and how they can bridge language and cultural barriers. Across the world, they stated, sports leagues, teams and their superstars have recognised that sports and social good go hand-in-hand. Together, they’re doing their best to make the world a better place. The university listed out some social good of sports such as, promoting health and wellness and stressed clearly, that participating in sports promotes health and wellness. Athletes can grow in several ways.

 Socially, athletes develop key social skills that can help them throughout life. They can learn team-work and understand the importance of personal responsibility. Time management and organisational skills are also related to participation in sports.

Emotionally, sports can boost self-confidence and decrease stress. Those who participate in sports are less likely to drop out of school or get into legal trouble.

 Physically, of course, athletes improve their physical fitness, strength and coordination. Encouraging long-term healthy living habits is one of the most important benefits of playing sports. Participants can understand just how critical it is to maintain well-being through physical activity.

 On making an impact, sports organisations have an obligation to their communities. Professional sports make much of their profit via community support. This means it’s in the best interest of teams and players to support those who have supported them. Combining sports and social good can be a way to make a profound impact.

From online.concordia.edu, we learnt specifically thus: “There are countless sports-related charities tackling larger problems. This is especially prominent among professional sports leagues and teams.”

Nigeria must make hay while the sun shines. 

•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via doziebiko@yahoo.com

Source News Express

Posted 15/07/2017 9:18:04 PM

 

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