When the Super Eagles of Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa on 10 February, Nigerians both at home and abroad celebrated the feat of Stephen Keshi and his Eagles after a title drought for 19 years.
The team defied all odds and with a shaky beginning, shocked bookmakers to lift the trophy with a resounding victory over surprise finalists, Burkina Faso.
Even President Goodluck Jonathan had to abandon some of his engagements in the United Kingdom to watch the final of the Nations Cup. Jonathan and the First Lady, Patience, celebrated Nigeria’s victory with some of his aides after the match while in London.
In the wake of the victory after 19 years of waiting, Super Eagles and their coaches were showered with cash gifts by the Federal Government, state governors and business moguls. The Eagles and their handlers got over N900 million (about $5.6 million) for winning the cup.
Apart from the cash, the Federal government gave out a plot of land each to the players and the coaches in Abuja, which is valued at about N10 million per plot, while Delta State gave Keshi a duplex in Asaba. Keshi was also given a Range Rover Sport and Toyota Camry by Globacom boss, Mike Adenuga.
Now, the naira rain on the victorious Eagles has thrown up the issue of neglect of players and athletes involved in other sports, especially those who had won one major tournament or the other for the country. President of Athletics Federation of Nigeria, AFN, Solomon Ogba, expressed his bitterness over the pride of place accorded football at the expense of other sports by the authorities and sports loving Nigerians.
To Ogba, AFN opened the floodgate for other Nigerian teams on the African stage when Nigerian athletics team won the 18th Confederation of African Athletics Championships, CAAC, in Porto Novo, Benin Republic, last year. According to him, Nigeria broke a 13-year jinx to defeat leading athletics nations such as South Africa and Kenya at the championship. Nigeria last won the tournament in 1998 in Dakar, Senegal. He believes this is athletics equivalent of the Africa Cup of Nations, but, unfortunately, nobody celebrated the athletes. It is his belief that if athletes could get this type of accolade and money given to football, Nigeria will dominate African athletics, now that Nigeria currently has five athletes among the top 30 Africans in the world, which is a great achievement for the nation.
Top Nigerian athletes, Blessing Okagbare, Ajoke Odumosu and Nurudeen Selim are also not happy about how government treats football heroes at the detriment of heroes of other sports.The athletes want the authorities and indeed sports loving Nigerians to extend such rewards to athletes engaged in other sports whenever they win laurels for the country.
There is no doubt that football enjoys enormous patronage from Nigerians than other sports, which equally have brought fame and honours to the country. The cry of the AFN and some of its athletes cannot be ignored. It deserves a serious consideration because all these sports unite Nigerians. So every sport is as important as the other.
Other sports and their athletes as well as their officials must be encouraged for them to be proud of representing the Nigeria at international competitions. We feel that if this is done, the athletes will not feel inferior or alienated and they will be spurred to win laurels in international tournaments. It is high time the government gave all sports equal attention in Nigeria.