The month of June is here this year as it had always been in preceding years at about this time. According to African myths, the month has never been attributed to anything death. However, this assertion is subjective depending on the reader’s position in terms of faith and psychic leanings. For some, the month of June is associated with harvest. In some climes it is associated with fertility just as it entails success in other parts but in Nigeria it has taken a new twist. Instead of the celebrations enthused above June has brought with it pain, anguish, tears and remorse of what we football- loving Nigerians did right or did not do right, in its wake.
The news of the deaths of two of Nigeria’s finest football personalities recently was greeted with shock and disbelief all over the country such that the demise of the former world boxing champion Muhammed Alli paled into insignificance. What is intriguing is that first Stephen Okechukwu Chinedu Keshi, former under-21 player, former Super Eagles player, captain, assistant coach and chief coach, and most significantly the only Nigerian to have won the nations cup both as a player and a coach yet, joining the like of Mahmoud El Gohary to do so in Africa, passed on in the ancient city of Benin, Edo State. Second is Shuaibu Amodu, six time Super Eagle coach and technical director as well as two time bronze winning coach for Nigeria, also passed on in the ancient city of Benin, three days after Keshi’s . The two, apart from their various stints with the national team, managed Togo national team and Orlando Pirate FC of South Africa respectively. Both were born and bred as well as launched their separate careers in that city from whence they became nigeria’s coaching exports to date. Stephen Keshi worked as an assistant to Chief Coach Amodu when they qualified Nigeria to the 2002 Japan/Korea World Cup and were conspiratorially edged out for Chief Onigbinde to lead Nigeria to the mundial. In 2013 Keshi stepped out, beating Cote d’voire, Mali and Burkina Faso en route to winning the cup.
In the wake of their deaths, millions of Nigerians have been pouring out tributes, celebrating the coaches’ successes but ironically, this seems to bring to the fore once again, the lackadaisical attitudes of our football administrators and other stakeholders to the welfare of our sportsmen and sportswomen who have brought laurels and immense recognition to our dear country. Over the years our stakeholders had pitched against one another for positions on boards such as NFF, NOC, NTTF, NAF to mention few, at the expense of these sports persons’ wellbeing. The implication is the nation losing many of her celebrated athletes in the field of play such as Samuel Okwaraji, who collapsed and died on the field of play from congestive heart attack in Nigeria’s match vs Angola in 1989. Even match officials are not excluded from the tragedy. Nigeria’s football lost two referees, Messrs Basit Giwa and Wale Akinsanya , during the annual Cooper Fitness Test between 2015 and 2016 respectively as well. This is because those in charge did not provide for emergency secondary ambulance resuscitation unit in case such a mishap were to occur. This contrasts with the exigency plan put in action in 2012 when an English player of Congo descent, Fabrice Muamba, collapsed and medically died for 78 minutes in the match between Bolton and Tottenham after which he was revived to the consternation of the sporting world. This feat was made possible because the English society shunned selfishness, and materialism to emphasize their athletes’ health and comfort.
Suffice it to say that the health and wellbeing of sport people include financial inducement and remunerations. The question is: are our sport people adequately paid so as to provide for their medical needs, knowing the hazard of the profession? It is public knowledge how the NFF defaulted in its contractual obligation in paying Keshi and his players even after they had won the CAN in 2012. The same happened to Coach Christain Chukwu, who has been owed for the past 10 years and counting. According to Coach Bitrus Bewarang, Coach Amodu, who is in the employ of NFF, was being owed seven months’ salary as the technical director just as many others had been treated. It is well documented that many who have been hitherto mistreated are intimidated into silence. Many may question why these people fail to cater for their health needs. Of course the answer will be there is not money. Pay them their entitlements and they will not hesitate to seek medical attention whenever the need arises.
Let us hope that Benin that has given Nigeria these two heroes among others will become an anchor for the much touted change Nigeria yearns for. That change will provide for our sports people and stop others from switching nationalities and our nation will be great again. Good enough the current government is keyed to this change mantra.