(Swans - November 21, 2011) The recent hullabaloo surrounding the position of Nigeria's (now ex) national football coach, Samson Siasia, vividly showcases a stunning metaphor of a nation that cannot seem to get anything right.
For those who do not know the story, here is the lowdown: Samson Siasia was hired by the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) as the national coach following vociferous calls by many Nigerians who clamored for an indigenous coach following a sad parade of foreign coaches -- paid hyper-salaries -- who failed to get them anywhere.
And for those not in the know, Nigerians consider football their only redeeming feature.
Football is about the only thing that binds the citizens of the vast nation of one hundred and fifty or one hundred and sixty-eight million (depending on who is doing the counting) souls. Having been so badly let down by a succession of very callous, shameless, unprincipled, amoral, ruthless, and corrupt leaders, Nigerians find solace only in the glories their national football team used to bring them.
And also for those not in the know, Nigeria, like most African nations, is a fiction invented by the European colonialists to satisfy their imperial ambition.
Sadly, however, post-independence leaders have failed to build a nation from the vast conglomerate of ancient national, tribal, and ethnic groups forced by colonial imperatives to live together in the same geographical space.
To be fair, there were glimmers of hope in the immediate post-colonial period when the enthusiasm of seeing the demise of foreign rules galvanized the people to aspire to prove to the world that, in the words, of Kwame Nkrumah, "the Black man is capable of managing his own affairs."
Sadly, this golden period was short-lived. Tribal jingoism colluded with political opportunism and grand larceny to set the country ablaze in a 30-month-long civil war from 1967-1970 when the Igbo people (of Eastern Nigeria) sought to secede.
Successful prosecution of the war to keep the country united also brought about a semblance of unity. This was helped by easy petro dollars that flew into government coffers and soon gave the people and their leaders the illusion of wealth and grandeur. A Nigerian president boasted in the 1970s that money was not the country's problem but how to spend it.
Like all good things that were obtained easily, the vast wealth was soon wasted mainly on consumption and white-elephant projects that contributed nothing to the nation's economic development.
The petro money was soon frittered away so much so that by the 1980s, Nigeria needed to be rescued by the Bretton Wood institutions. A punishing austerity measure wiped out the country's nascent middle class and saw the devaluation of the currency, the naira, to the point of virtual inutility.
Things fell apart for Nigeria and the people were no longer at ease.
In recent years, tribalism, political hooliganism, and virulent religious intolerance have polarized the country so badly that citizens' lives are being wasted with Old Testament abandon. Nigerians no longer feel safe except in their home regions. Not even members of the National Youth Service Corps set up to foster a sense of unity among Nigerians are immune from the senseless tribal-cum-religious slaughters.
A militant Islamic sect, so-called Boko Haram, is wreaking havoc in much of Northern Nigeria, and the federal government appears powerless to stop them. Both the UN office and police headquarters in the nation's capital, Abuja, bore the brunt of massive suicide car bombings.
Against the security threat, the Nigerian police and the security services deploy more bombast than intelligent strategies.
A nation that used to boast of being the GIANT OF AFRICA was reduced to seeking the help of the Israelis and the Americans to combat a security threat to its corporate existence.
A US National Intelligence estimate has predicted the collapse of Nigeria before 2015.
As their world collapses around them, it is only in football that Nigerians find a unifying factor. Their national team, the Super Eagles, represents the only symbol of national unity.
The field of football is the only place for Nigerians to compete based on their individual talents rather than the usual appeal to tribalism, religion, godfatherism, and the "who-you-know" policy.
Nigerians not only sleep and dream football, they eat, drink, and swim in it. People joke with football in Nigeria only at their own peril.
Despite all of the religious imbroglio, it is not uncommon for Muslims to be seen singing the praises of Jesus Christ as their savior at football matches involving the Nigerian Super Eagles.
The Super Eagles were once known as Green Eagles but a series of successes got into people's head as it were, and Green was transformed into Super to boost the inordinate egos of Nigerians.
It is true that a generation of hugely talented football stars graced the Nigerian game in the 1990s, resulting in their winning the Olympic Football Gold medal at a pulsating game against the then-mighty Argentina in 1996.
Nothing gets into the head like success. As it is said, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it; Nigerians refused to learn from their past mistakes and they are reaping the whirlwind.
The singular feat of becoming Olympic champions plus the lavish monetary and other accolades showered on them by a grateful nation got into the footballers' heads.
That coupled with the nation's legendary inability to develop long-term planning to sustain successes resulted in the deterioration in the football sphere.
The once-feared mighty Super Eagles suffered gradual erosion of their mystique resulting in Nigerians calling their once-revered national team the Super Chickens -- sacrilege, sacrilege.
The culmination of failures resulted in the debacle of October 2011 when Nigeria failed to qualify for a place at next year's African Nations Cup Final to be held jointly by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
It was a most humiliating experience for a nation and a people that have come to think that participating in the African Football Fiesta is a writ.
That other giants like Egypt and Cameroun, which have won the African Cup five and four times respectively, also failed to qualify is no solace to a nation that believes that it is a birthright to feature at the African's biannual football fiesta.
To satisfy the yearning of the obstreperous Nigerian football fans who wanted an indigenous coach, the NFF gave the job to Samson Siasia, a former Super Eagle star albeit one with little coaching experience at the national level to recommend him.
Many whispered that he got the job because the powers-that-be in Nigerian Football wanted to look good to the president, who happens to come from the same geographical area as Siasia.
Siasia's contract stipulated that he had to take the nation to, at least, the semi-final of the tournament. An educated, intelligent and very articulate chap, Siasia appended his signature that saw him become Nigeria's highest paid indigenous coach.
In more civilized clime, failure to fulfill his part of the bargain would have resulted in Siasia's tending his letter of resignation immediately after the final whistle was blown with apologies to all concerned.
Then entered the infamous Nigerian factor, which always ensures that simple processes end up becoming major productions.
The NFF, which should have fired Siasia after the last whistle was blown to signal Nigeria's ignominious defeat, took almost three weeks to deliberate on whether the letter of a clearly spelt-out agreement should be enforced.
Then came all manners of shenanigans that revealed why nothing works in the country.
The ethnic card was played to the hilt; there were suggestions that the presidency might look unkindly to Siasia's sacking as he came from the same ethnic stock as Mr. President.
After all, this is Africa, where people displease presidents at their own peril.
Then there are those who see nothing wrong in Siasia not honoring his part of an agreement.
This should be put into context.
In Nigeria, many citizens consider laws and regulations as mere suggestions to be respected or breached at will.
To many of them, agreements and contracts are nothing sacrosanct -- not worth the paper on which they are written. Many Nigerians simply cannot understand why a man should be called upon to honor an agreement to which he has appended his signature as a free agent. They seemed amazed that a man should be sanctioned simply because he had failed to comply with a clause of a contract.
There are also those who managed to muddle the water further by claiming that since Siasia was not the first Nigerian to breach a contract they failed to see the reason why he should be made a scapegoat.
It is these types of mindsets that have driven the country to its abysmally low depth. It is the same attitude that informs the inability of rulers to take the citizens seriously enough to deliver on all the promises they ritually make. It is the only reason that explains why governments award contracts at inflated prices and still end up not carrying them out. It is the only reason that could be adduced why seventy-six percent of the nation's income is expended on running the machineries of a clearly dysfunctional government that cannot feed, house, or give its citizens security. It is why we see Nigerians organizing "Solidarity" rallies in support of officials indicted for stealing their commonwealth and sentencing them to lives of penury. It is the only reason why, after fifty-one years of self-government, Nigerians still dance in joy when they receive their daily allotment of about four hours of electricity. It is why many of them go through life without tasting potable water.
But like many Nigerians, Siasia is pugnacious. Perceived arrogant and insolent by many, Siasia came out swinging pungent counter-punches. He blasted those who called for his sacking as enemies of progress who were jealous and envious of his hefty salary.
After intense wrangling, the NFF finally relieved Samson Siasia of his duty and hefty salary.
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About the Author
Femi Akomolafe (see his profile on Swans) is a computer consultant, a writer and social commentator, an avid reader, and a passionate Pan-Africanist who lives in Kasoa, Ghana. Femi is known to hold strong opinions and to express them in the strongest terms possible. As he likes to remind his readers: "As my Yoruba people say: Oju orun teye fo, lai fara gbara. It means that the sky is big enough for all the birds to fly without touching wings." Femi Akomolafe's views, opinions, and thoughts can be accessed on the blog he maintains: http://ekitiparapo.blogspot.com/. (back)