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Opinion: Has Nigeria still got football talents?



Magical Jay Jay Okocha on the ball
Over the years, the number of Nigerian footballers in Europe’s top flight has drastically reduced. Especially with the curtain drawn on the careers of all the golden generation of the 90s, those who managed to come through the ranks and appear to be on their way to become their successors have found their shoes difficult to fill.

They have continually struggle to maintain their place in their various club sides. Many now use ‘customized seat belt’ on the reserved benches of even their middle of the pack teams to borrow OAP Shawn Amadi’s famous phrase, while many more have been reduced to mere squad players good only as training materials.

Alternatively, many have either resort to plying their trades in some of Europe’s football backwaters (not entirely a bad idea, though, if only for developmental and transitional purposes) or in the less competitive but lucrative leagues in Asia.

Okocha juggles the ball
It is worthy of note that three marquee players presently in the senior national team, the super eagles now play there. Nigeria’s highest goal scorer during the qualifying round of matches for next year nations cup Odion Ighalo and the substantive captain of the team Mikel Obi currently plays in China, derogatorily described by a former French coach of Nigeria national team, Philippe ‘the white witch doctor’ Troussier as a league of effeminate.

The team’s stand in captain and Nigeria’s shining light at the last world cup in Russia Ahmed Musa equally plays in Saudi Arabia. This, football enthusiasts, have struggled to make sense of. Considering his age, 26, many argue it is a disservice to the game to move to a league so lowly something others would only consider when it is obvious they are aging and declining and having given their best in Europe where it matters. 

It is only reasonable to some because he has actually struggled to pin down a starting shirt at both Leicester City and Locomotive Moscow respectively which calls to question the trueness of his quality and age in particular. 

Perhaps he has sinned in football sense like so many others who lied about their age and he is only being true to himself that he cannot cope with the demanding rigor of competitive Europe’s elite leagues. And so he doesn’t give a jerk about what anybody thinks.

Gangling Kanu Nwankwo
It has become so bad that legions now turn their attention to leagues in other African nations too for succor. Now the sense you get is it has become a hustle and urgent which also to borrow the words of Godwin Enakhena who argue time and again that you are only a ‘power and principality’ to scorn or deny these guys the right to migrate elsewhere to better their lot for whatever reasons. 

After all, what is obtained domestically is no better. Besides, the economy for a long time now is in a crunch state and both facilities and pay in the league are intolerably poor and inconsistent and so validates the wisdom of responding in drove to the lure of greener pasture anywhere crispy wards of dollars are dangled at them.  

Aside players like Mikel Obi and Taiye Taiwo, who were on the podium alongside Lionel Messi as the second and third best players at 2005 under 21 World Cup and who to some extent, ably represented, one may argue considering that they both at the peak of their game played for top teams and won laurels, others have come short of the glory expected from their careers.

There are many others especially at the valid global age-grades and other transitional levels which conceptually are the nurseries for nurturing future talents that will eventually succeed their mercurial seniors but after showing bright prospects have failed to live up to expectations.

Kanu at Arsenal
Narrative or theory of the ‘talents gap’ if you like have continued to gain ground since the mercurial Austin Jay Jay Okocha and Kanu Nwankwo among others called it a day with their respectful careers some decade or so ago. 

No doubt, these are players who could make you leave whatever it is you are doing to come to watch them play. Same is difficult to say of the present crop of players.

This has prompted a school of thought to theorize that there is a dearth of talents in the country. They premise their argument on the fact that the word talents characterize ‘a set of individuals with exceptional innate abilities’. As such they don’t appear on the stage all the time. 

Some of the players I mentioned above belonged in this category and only need a few touches by managers to thrive. They concluded by saying that talents cannot be hidden for long and that even with slightest of opportunity will glitter. And since they have not been found means they don’t exist.

On the other hand, there are those that believe there is an abundance of talents in the country waiting to be discovered. They cited the inadequacies in the present system as the stumbling block to discovering them. 

The process of developmental football in the country they say has been comprised of unprofessional practices like cronyism, godfatherism’, undue political interference, age falsification, the pursuit of money against the necessity to grow through the rank and above all the perceptible unwillingness of the Nigerian players to put in what they described as ‘ridiculous work ethics’ that could turn an average player into a world beater. 

The average Nigerian player they accused of routinely becoming swollen headed after signing a contract worth some million bucks. We can say a sizable number are culpable of being indiscipline. Discipline is an important prerequisite for talented footballers or professional people if they want to go far in their chosen careers and this some Nigerian footballers lacked.

As for me, I believe Nigeria still got talented footballers. What we have achieved so far, great as it were, is tantamount to scratching the surface of the treasure mine. However, there is a lot of work for both the players and the administrators if we are to discover more in the class of the golden generation of the 90s.   
   
What do you think?      

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Issue: On The Politics of Being Religious

Rev. Father Mattew Kukah, a religious icon in Nigeria
Nigeria definitely is not the country with the most religions in the world. The honor I’m aware belongs to India. It must be acknowledged, however, that it boasts a sizable number too. 

If I'm correct, the Yoruba nation alone has more than 200 hundred deities that are being worshipped. If you add that to whatever number from other ethnic nationalities, the figure could reach up to a thousand or more.

This is in addition to Islam and Christianity which interestingly have overtaken the traditional religions in order of national political importance.

To buttress my point, in states like Lagos, Kano, and Kaduna to mention a few, there is at least one religious facility belonging to either Islam or Christianity within a half kilometer or less drive of every street. 

Unlike in India with staggering 3000 religions, and still, they play no direct role in their body polity; religion has continued to have an increasing impact in Nigeria’s body polity whereas the constitution clearly designates her as a secular state.

In spite of this, Nigerians, according to a school of thought, are arguably the most religious people in the world but remain yet largely an ungodly bunch. They are always ready to proudly rub in the fact of their faith or any of its denomination whenever the occasion permits and rightly so. 

At the same time, they also routinely forget to ponder why it hasn’t so far had a meaningful impact on the downing moral and socio-economic indices of the nation; they argue further, juxtaposed with the fact that these religious houses are always filled to the brim every other day. 

Even working days and hours are not excluded outside of customary Friday and Sunday set aside for their faithful to congregate for prayers. For instance, religious activities are regularly scheduled for morning Mondays through Fridays. 

Instead of imparting on the nation’s developments and expectedly so, all you get more often than not are diversionary flashes of disruptive and destructive incursions.

But things have always not been like this. Indeed, the role of religion in Nigeria body polity has evolved over time. In the Nigeria of my teenage years, and especially in the West, boundaries of these two now rivaling religions of Islam and Christianity have been fluid or blurry. 

The popular saying that ‘don’t carry your sacrifice beyond the Mosque or in some cases the shrine lest it will be eaten by the faithless was continually ignored’. As a Christian, I’m an enthusiastic partaker of Islamic feasts season in season out. 

A similar gesture was equally reciprocated by Muslims. And in most families too, there is a good mix of people from both faiths. This has helped in the promotion of religious harmony over the years. We eagerly looked forward to religious festivities.  

I’ve also eaten of the so-called umble-meat without the slightest of worry about spiritual corruptibility. I was a big fan of masquerades; the big masquerades and scarcely come last in their festive entourage. Such experiences had helped to shape my poetical sojourn. Above all, I love to bits the Oro cult. 

Now things indeed have changed like I said earlier. People now view with great suspicion drinks and delicacies served even with the most genuine of intentions by elements of both religions during their festive periods. 

I know of people who collect these items only to dump them in the waste bins. I also know of people who outrightly reject them pointing out their faith forbids such. These are new trends. 

The same attitude has also been extended to people suspected of or known to be traditionalists. Whereas my Bible tells me ‘it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles the body but what comes out of it’.    

Like I was saying, evidence that things have spiraled out of control abound. Whereas the state is secular, state officials voted into offices by people from fundamentalist and moderate Muslims, Christians, traditionalists, and atheists are continually being sworn in using either the Bible or Quran. 

At best, they have acted continually at variance to oaths administered from them. And the suggested alternative to swearing them in using the local deities is ‘unthinkable’ because it would be deemed contrary to the professed faith of elected public officers. 

More so, worship centers belonging to the two have been erected in government houses at both state and federal levels. So far, such moves haven’t led to the enthronement of a Godly society in which peace, unity, equality, prosperity and social justice reign.

Concurrently too, well reported are incidents of violent clashes between members of both religions across the country. More than ever before, it is now religious and fashionable to destroy and kill fellow human beings for religious purposes. 

Heads of alleged blasphemers have been used as trophies by processions of fundamentalist Muslims in times pasts. The unfortunate Stephen Akaluka readily comes to mind. He was said to have used a leaf from the Quran to clean his anus after defecating. 

Christian’s crusades have been brought to an abrupt end by Muslim youths with special reference to the botched crusade by German Evangelist Reinhard Bonke in the 90s or thereabout.

Traditionalists too are not left out. They sacrifice human beings to their gods; kill for money ritual amongst a host of other clearly satanic indulgences. That is not to say that desperate ones from the big two don’t also partake of these dastardly acts. This is little wonder, after all, money and other worldly gains have been elevated to the status of gods.  

Muslim brothers have been known to deceptively invade Christian congregations to court and marry their ladies only to shortly afterward revealed their true identity leading to the collapse of such marriages. 

Many Muslim fathers especially are known to oppose, disown and fought their daughters who openly tries to or got married to Christian brothers and vice versa. There are widespread stories of fathers who went as far as throwing their sons down from high rise buildings for converting to the Christian faith.

By the constitutional provision, Patrick Yakowa emerged as the governor of Kaduna state when the then governor-elect Namadi Sambo was selected to deputies for President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in 2011. 

All initially appears to be cool with everybody. Midway into his reign as governor, he died suddenly in an air disaster alongside a military top brass Gen. Andrew Azzasi. But shortly after the news hits the airwaves, a spontaneous celebration erupted in the state spearheaded by Muslim youths. 

Conspiracy theorists are still insisting that the air mishap which claims the lives of the two notable personalities was the handiwork of Islamic establishment in the state. That is how bad being religious could get in Nigeria.

Recall that a mild succession drama had ensued after it was confirmed that president Yaradua had died. Without much ado, Vice-president Goodluck Jonathan should have been sworn in as stipulated by the constitution. 

But there was some dillydallying which could have led to a power vacuum in the country but the day was saved when well-meaning Nigerians protested and he was sworn in. On the surface of it, politics was believed to be a reason. However, a school of thought, continue to argue until today that it was more religion other than politics.

After all, it was the turn of the North to produce the president after the tenure of Olusegun Obasanjo has ended. It was clearly unthinkable that a southerner and Christian for that matter would succeed him. 

But that is what it is because the drafters of the constitution did not imagine this and therefore did not factor such in. If the North power bloc has had their way, they would have preferred a situation whereby a political solution to the quagmire then is brokered and a Northerner is able to continue through a substitutionary arrangement. 

A school of thought strongly believed it was the major reason incident of Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East actually did spiked. And it is still very much with us today having graduated from a sect that initially opposes western education to one with the ambition to establishing a caliphate and finally kidnapping for ransom and wanton killing of both Christian and Muslims alike, destroying schools, churches, and mosques.

There was a time in this country when Muslim-Muslim ticket did fly through late Bashorun MKO Abiola and Babangana Kingibe’s ticket of 1993 presidential election. Now things have drastically changed and such is no longer feasible. Elements on both sides now strongly hold their ground against any form of marginalization. 

The aspiration to or consideration for elective offices is now subjected to both rotational and religious considerations except in regions where one of the two religions is predominant. E.g. South-South and South-East of the country.  

There was also the case of Sharia Law defiantly introduced by former governor of Zamfara state and later Senator Ahmed Yerima. Though the unwarranted hydra-headed religion motivated monster died a natural death as accurately predicted by the then president Olusegun Obasanjo; but it was not without creating a near onset of religious unrest and bandwagon effect in the North. 

The same controversial character would go on to marry a 12y-old Egyptian girl and who reportedly was the daughter of his driver as a senator of the federal republic. And if the historicity of the quintessential Nigerian politician is anything to go by, one is certain that not only would all his own daughters be studying abroad; they would also certainly not be available for marriage at that tender age.

There is also a case of silent religion supremacist struggle. The reports say or should I call it rumors that there are attitudes ranging from reluctance to outrightly refusal by Muslims from a section of the country to worship standing behind the one leading the call to prayer if he is not one of them. 

While some Pentecostal or fundamental Christians likewise view people who attend white garment church as following the Old Testament which the birth of our Jesus Christ has superseded.

With all of these, what I’m driving at is the fact that religion and politics are not a good mix in many countries. It must be said, however, that some countries have managed to marry the two successfully. 

Unfortunately, Nigeria does not belong in this exclusive comity of nations because it is a peculiar country with two of world most popular religions among others struggling to co-habit and dominate others to the detriment of the desire national developments. 

Religion to the best of my knowledge is personal. As such, it is common to hear Christian evangelists ask there would be converts to accept Jesus as their personal lord and savior. God, I also understand deals with people on the basis of their faith individuality and not as collective. Respect for one another viz their religious leaning would not only engender harmony; it would also be a catalyst for good governance in Nigeria.

In a nutshell, what I’m saying is each and every one of us should try to keep our religion or religiosity as personal as possible and not be unduly intrusive, deceptive, touchy or destructive about it because Nigeria is a secular state and no one religion can lord it over the other no matter how appealing it might look. 

Let’s give it careful handling when winning or losing souls from across the seemingly endless divides.  Yes, your maker can be the almighty Allah and mine the almighty Jehovah; the difference is still the same which doesn’t really call for warring of any kind.  And if you hold opposing viewpoint, please don’t insist everybody embrace it with force of arms instead of conviction.

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Issue:Lagos to Minna by Rail: The Good, The Bad, The ugly.


Headquarter of Nigerian Railway Corporation

I had my first travel on steel wheels in the late eighties as a teenager from Abeokuta to Lagos when I think Nigeria hasn’t lost all of her innocence. It was during one of those long holidays back then. And I could remember the trip was memorably glitches free and excitement packed as well. Now I can’t recollect where exactly I went or disembarked but I know I went to spend my holiday with beloveds from my maternal side.

I also had a pocket of experiences commuting by rail in the early the nineties shuttling from Ikeja and Ikoyi in Lagos on a daily basis working at a now defunct AP gas station managed by an in-law blessed his soul in ascent.

The most recent, however, was between 2012 and 2014 as a student of the National Open University of Nigeria and it was In the bid to cut down on associated stress that comes with going for examination because of the fact that I then lived somewhere in Ogun State.

The experience was nowhere comparable to what I had seen in time past. I can say with a deep sense of responsibility it is progressively deplorable. All I can recollect were the regular stampedes trying to get on board or disembarking from the coaches by people at the designated rail stations, the filthy and overcrowded coaches, torn chairs with people crammed into available spaces which include toilets, aisle, and dangerously hanging by the tail boards and the likes, the suffocated and fainted babes and their apprehensive mothers, concerned co-travelers contriving to revive them with sachet waters and hand fans.

During this period, I had seen on a couple of occasions touring train with its mixture of cozy first class coaches beautifully curtained and fitted with flat screen digital TV, which curiously was all gone now and other conveniences and endless stretch of second class coaches and I was intrigued. And I had said to myself that one of these days I would love to travel by rail to a distance place. 

The opportunity finally came on Friday, 9th Nov. 2018 after months of delays and postponements.  I was to travel to Abuja as a matter of existential necessity out of several options. What really gave impetus to the choice of traveling by train was the growing fear of the death traps Nigerian roads have become over time.

Ordinarily, I purposed it in my mind to be an excursion so that I would be able to cope with any disappointment that may come up simply because you really cannot trust public corporations in Nigeria to consistently deliver on their core mandates at its were. It is no news that Nigeria has a plethora of failed public corporations from Nigerian Airways, Nigerian Shipping Line, and Nitel et all. It is that awful.

Pix of Abuja Light Rail during Commissioning.
The journey took off a little behind schedule if information I gathered from official quarters on earlier inquiry was anything to go by. The train which was said would arrive at 11.00am ended up arriving at 1.00pm.  As usual, we hurriedly boarded the train with a female voice warning us to be security conscious as miscreants might have invaded our midst.

The station like any other perhaps must have had a history of passengers experiencing and reporting the loss of personal chattels while boarding trains on a regular basis. So, I think the verbal sensitization is a welcome development after all like they use to say ‘to before warn is to before harm’. However, there wasn’t anything of such at least from what I know. 

The first disappointment.  
There was a disappointing incident of derailment at around 3.00pm some distance from the Itori station in Ogun State. And by the time NRC team of engineers arrived, it was around 6.00pm.

It took them close to two hours or thereabout to re-rail the affected coach by then it was exactly 8.10pm. But while the engineers labored to fix the problem, it occurred to me that there is an official position to cover up incident such as this. How did I know this?

As a blogger, I was inclined to recording details of my travel experience with a view to sharing it with my readers. I got the first shock when I tried to take pictures of the derailed train as well as the engineers at work.

I was abruptly stopped in my track by a spontaneous cacophony of voices who demanded I delete the pictures querying if I’m just traveling by train to have been surprised by the incident of a derailment that to them has become commonplace.

Next was what shocked me the most. 
This time another passenger not far from where I stand was caught recording a video of the on-going and was caught in the act. And I could hear one of the security guards threatening to shoot the guy and he actually did draw on his service pistol.

Then it dawns on me that it is an official position that anything that happens in the form of the accident no matter how minor must be kept under wraps and out of media glare. At the end of the day, the journey recommences at around 9.00pm.  But if you think we are done with similar experience you are damn wrong.

Engineers on Site at a Rail Project
The second and final disappointment.
On the second day of a journey which I thought would take no more than hours, there was a second derailment shortly after leaving Oshogbo station.

This time it was the cargo coaches that derailed. But unlike what we saw in the first derailment, the officials decided otherwise to detach that section so they could come for it later instead of waiting by to get it fixed.  

This decision pleases many of us who thought in error that there would be no more delay. So, our next stop was at the Offa station in Kwara state. Again, the time was coincidentally 3.00pm like the first.  

But contrary to what most passengers had expected they were to go back with the carrier to pick the derailed cargo coaches after it might have been re-railed.

But these activities took far longer time than anyone could ever have imagined. However, those who had expected as much decided otherwise to explore alternative option like continuing their journey by road.

At least I know of two families who left in this manner. Their decision was further fuelled by a rather unconvincing response we got from the officials who we asked how long it would take to get the problem fixed.

They were simply not sure, and more so their tacit support for plans by the women in question who to say the least had become frustrated with the incessant delays to explore alternative options. I saw off the women whose destination was Ilorin, the Kwara state capital.

What a wise decision this proved to be in the long run because the carrier returned with the cargo coaches late and the journey started again Sunday, at exactly 12.44am the third day. I was brought back to consciousness from a short sleep by the sudden jerking movement of the train and I was duly consoled by the realization we on the move again.

To my utter dismay at no point during these flurries of disappointing service delivery by Nigerian Railway Corporation from which a flagship world-class customer oriented train service is expected was any apologies offered to the travelers.  Everything seems to have been taken for granted.

After spending three days traveling from Lagos to Minna treated to some shoddy and dodgy service by NRC management, the good thing finally was I made it safely to my ticketed destination as I disembarked at the Minna station en-route Abuja the FCT by road.  

The roads especially the one from Minna to Suleja was dusty and full of potholes and at different stages of repair works. These no doubt pose a varying degree of dangers to the road users as drivers dangerously meander through poor visibility occasioned by a successive cloud of dust and gullies that littered the road.    

Finally, my thoughts on the light rail.
As Nigeria prepares to upgrade to the light rail in no distant future with the first phase from Lagos to Ibadan nearing completion, I’ve genuine fears for its sustainability if the same crop of heads who have routinely mismanaged the almost moribund standard rail we are about to phase out are to take over.

I honestly feel if they are unable to profitably manage the old and analog system, it is predictable enough they wouldn’t do any better with the digital. It is not about being pessimistic, it is about being realistic.

Perhaps when completed the government plans to turn it over to the private sector for effective and sustainable management. If so, maybe then we all can be hopeful for a better day ahead in the rail system which is universally adjudged by train enthusiasts to be the safest, reliable and most convenient way of traveling.

As to whether I would still love to travel by rail in the coming days given my experience as captured in this narrative?  I’d say that I’m still very much open to such if the roads remain the way they are at present more so if the trip is cross country.

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