STEVEN KESHI AND THE SUPER EAGLES, LESSONS TO BE LEARNED
Nineteen years ago, the Nigerian Super Eagles rallied to the top beating many other defiant African soccer teams to become the 1994 Africa Cup Of Nations (AFCON) Champion. Steven Keshi, a versatile defender, young and full of skills was in the midst of it all.
Since then, the road to AFCON championship had become bumpy, elusive, froth with messy internal organizational issues. These challenges followed by repeated failure by the Eagles to return to a dominant position in the AFCON chart were merely a reflection of a grander internal national struggle plaguing Nigeria; social, economic and political alike.
Fast forward to 2012, when the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) in its bid to bring order and a winning legacy for the national team, decided to sack former Nigerian Striker, the interim coach, Sampson Siasia, the hunt for a new brand of leadership commenced although riddled with disenchantment and frustration, particularly from football enthusiasts in the country. In the end, Steven Keshi emerged as the new Super Eagle’s Coach. It is noteworthy to mention that two years earlier, after the replacement of former Coach, Lars Lagerback, Steven Keshi lost the chance of becoming the Super Eagles’s Coach to Samson Siasia. According to report from ESPN dated November 5, the NFF Secretary General, Emmanuel Ikpeme is quoted to have said, referring to Siasia, “He was the obvious choice based on his performance at the interview. It begs the question whether being the best choice literally means the best for the team. That was in 2010. But the wind of favor came and swept Keshi back to the same position he had longed to covet. A pastor once intimated to his followers, “What is yours is yours and no one can take it away from you: If they have it now, it is because God allowed it”. By inductive reasoning, one can conclude that when your time comes, you will have it. You can say Amen to that and as they say in the West, you can take it to the bank.
Back to the point! The Nigerian Football Federation contract terms with Steven Keshi were rigid and direct: deliver the Super Eagles to 2013 Africa Cup Of Nation qualification and on to Brazil for the World Cup 2014 or get fired. Six months was all he had to make good on the first part of the agreement. There were, as is the norm, many that believed in him as well as those that dissented. But he knew he had his work cut out for him and so he went at it.
Entering into the tournament, the Super Eagles’ not so stellar performances worried its fan base with some agitating for Keshi to pack and go. Soon, the wheel turned and a ray of hope came with their 2-0 defeat over Rwanda in June 2012. And the winning continued: equalizing with Liberia at 2-2 on their first leg and then smothering them to a 6-1 victory in Oct. 2012 during their second leg. Now, the whole country galvanized their support around the Super Eagles as their position shifted to a title contender. Finally, on that memorable Sunday evening, the 10th of Feb. 2013, the Super Eagles soared once more, for the third time in the history of AFCON and brought down the Burkina Faso Stallions to clinch the coveted 2013 AFCON Championship.
There are two important lessons to learn here and perhaps a recipe for economic and political future of Nigeria. Firstly, good leadership or rather conscientious leadership is extremely vital for rapid growth and development of any entity or nation. Nigerian leadership should borrow a leaf from Coach Steven Keshi, his dedication, discipline and his overall human relationship skills.
Secondly, cohesive teamwork spirit, as exemplified by the players, is equally crucial for achieving goals set forth by any group or nation. The Super Eagles understood their objectives and their goals as was reinforced by a good leader. They committed themselves to the task, breaking free from any ethno-centric idiosyncrasies and got the job done. As citizens of Nigeria, we need to come together, shed off old ethnic biases, commit to changing the status quo, actively participate in the democratic process and uphold high standards in whatever role we find ourselves either in public or private service. What other lessons can we draw from Keshi and the Super Eagles?
Dr. Edwin Ndukwe