FROM HON. GODFREY GAYA
Exactly this day in 2016, a greatNigerian sports man passed on to the great beyond. Stephen OkochukwuKeshi died in Benin, Edo state at the unripe age of 54. Keshi was a phenomenon. He recorded many ‘firsts’ in his chosen career as a footballer. Right from his days at St. Gregory in Lagos, Keshi was a distinguished footballer. He was the captain of his school. He led the school severally to win the Principals cup in Lagos. It was the most competitive football even amongst secondary school in those days in Lagos and provided able opportunities for young talents to be discovered for stardom. No wonder, Keshiand his co-travellers then easily found their ways to major clubs in Lagos those days. Clubs like Stationary Stores, ACB, NEPA Football Club all of which were in Lagos made the Principal Cup competition a hunting trip found the advent of Stephen Keshi and teammates in the late 70’s and early 80’s.
Expectedly, Keshi was a trailblazer. He became a successful footballer within the shores of Nigeria. Was the first to leave the shores of Nigeria to play outside. He moved to Ivory Coast to play professionally there.He left there for Belgium to also become the first of his generation to play in Europe from Africa. He was the Nigeriannational football team captain for 10 years. He was then till date the longest serving captain of The Eagles and he’s arguably the most successful. For during his reign as captain, Nigeria won the 1994 Nations cup in Tunisia and qualified to world cup for the first in the USA also in 1994. It was during his reign as captain that Nigeria was the most highly rated African team in the world. During that period, Nigeria rose to the fifth ranked team in the world, a record that no African team has beaten. Due to Keshi’s leadership attributes and the respect he commanded from his team mates and officials, Keshi was simply revered to as ‘The Boss’. After his glorious football playing days, Keshi took steps into football coaching. A profession he left an indelible mark. He succeeded in Togo, taking them to the pinnacle of football by their qualification to the world cup in 2006. As the true patriot Keshi was he desired to come home and serve his fatherland. He was by popular demand named the coach of the Super Eagles in 2012. Heel made no joke of this by qualifying Nigeria to the edition of the AFCON in South Africa, 2013. There again, The Boss made history by winning the AFCON the second time for Nigeria and becoming the first Nigerian to win the AFCON championship both on the captain and also as the coach. Keshi died this day in 2016, serving Nigeria. At the announcement of his death, the present Minister of Sports and Youth Development announced to mourning Nigerians that Keshi was a“government property” and that all will be done by the government of the day to immortalize Stephen Keshi. In fact in his word he vowed that his government will never forget the contribution of Keshito National growth and will do everything possible to reward his labour of love and services to the Fatherland. Shockingly days after the declaration by the minister, Keshi’s burial was funded fully by his family and friends while person from the federal government deemed it fit to attend, not even the minister of Sports and Youth Development despite his clearly advertised utterances immediately after Keshi’sdeath.Keshi was left alone even before his final laying to rest in his grave. Similarly in the same month, same city, coach ShuaibuAhmadu also passed on. Ahmadulike Keshi served his country meritoriously winning laurels and Applause for the super Eagles. Ahmadu was called upon several times on a salvagemissionfor Nigerian football and like Keshi died for Nigeria and was denied by Nigeria.
I have chosen to use only Keshi and Ahmadu’sexamples because this write-up makes the first remembrance anniversary, looking back before them several Nigerian Sports men and women have severally being abandoned by the government after toiling and making sacrifices for Nigeria. It is the word of the Holy books that command that the labourer deservetheir wages. This divine injunction is hardly respected in Nigeria particularly to sports men and women. The number of Nigerian Sports persons that have died and have been forgotten these are too numerous for this write-up to list. The irony is the fact that’s our ‘anthem’ on the ‘pledge’ are the ‘oaths’we make every day. The words captured there are supposed to be sacrosanct. Words that should not be confused for whatever reason. Unfortunately here we say everyday in our anthem that “ the labour of all heroes past shall never be in vain!” For me these are mere high-sounding words full of sound and fury signifying absolutely nothing. In these times oaths are not respected by government. Here governments don’t keep promises. They fail you the moment you are no longer in position to defend yourselfmuch less of being dead.Once you are six feet under only your immediate family remember you. Pan here’s are forgotten, their families are left at the mercies of kind hearted individuals while government suddenly takes cover and your sacrificial contributions to your National are not remembered nor appreciated.
The neglect of our past Sports Heroes is imparting a negative toll on the youths of this country. The younger ones have noticed with dismay and disappointment the lack of honour afforded to our fallen Sports Heroes. It is therefore not surprising that there are many Nigerian youths outside the shores of this country who do not wish to associate with Nigeria. The fact that they have full Nigerian blood in them nor withstanding. They would rather opt to wear the colours of other nations who they believe will immortalize them after their playing days are over. In their present England U-20 team at the FIFA youth World Cup hostedby South Korea,parades six “Nigerians” in the England team of 23 players. It is sad that these young promising lads have chosen to adore the colours of England because they have lost faith in the ability of their fatherland to recognise them thereafter. This drift is there in athletics, basketball and all major sporting events.
Lagos and Rivers state both celebrated 50 years of statehood within the federation called Nigeria. I carefully looked into the list of “sons and daughters” honoured for their immense contribution and state development by these states and was utterly embarrassed to not even witness even a single name associated with sports, I used to think that Teslian Thunder Balogun a moniker associated with sports heroism was a Lagosian.