Vice President Kashim Shettima’s engagement with Nigeria’s national team, Super Eagles of Nigeria, last Wednesday at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament spoke eloquently to the connection between leadership and the round leather game. It also underscored the extent to which football has grown to become one of the most influential games and one with long-term sustainable growth and national integration- a sport that influences the social, economic, political and demographic aspects of a nation.
So, it was quite strategic that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has again sent a high-powered federal government delegation led by the Vice President to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, to stamp the President’s unalloyed support for the Super Eagles as they take on host, Cote d’Ivoire in the finals of the tournament.
At the instance of the president, the delegation was in that country last Wednesday where it motivated the team to advance to the final of the tournament after beating Bafana Bafana of South Africa 4-2 on penalties. On the entourage of VP Shettima, President Tinubu’s personal emissary, were Governors Dapo Abiodun of Ogun and Duoye Diri Bayelsa States; minister of Youth, Dr. Jamila Ibrahim; Wale Tinubu; former NFF president and FIFA Council member, Amaju Pinnick, and NFF President, Ibrahim Musa Gusau.
No doubt, the message of hope and encouragement from the President to the Nigerian team sank in. Unlike African leaders, eminent personalities and senior officials who are usually confined to a glass section to draw the distinction of their VIP status, Senator Shettima chose to break with tradition and was everywhere with the boys.
At the end of the game, the VP disdained protocol to join the Nigerian crowd in celebrating the Super Eagles’ win against Bafana Bafana of South Africa. He moved to the field and danced with the Nigerian footballers as they Yama-throttled and gyrated in celebration of their win. In a moment of exhilaration, the vice president removed his face cap and tossed it into the ecstatic crowd of Nigerian fans, as they reveled in their victory after the team clinched a spot in the final of the tournament.
Back home, the morale of the Nigerian populace was suffused with the overflowing sense of bliss, love and joy that comes with the euphoria of being a citizen of such a great nation – proudly Nigerian.
Just like his boss, President Tinubu, VP Shettima was quite aware that the team’s superlative performance in the semi-final match against the South African side would be a big relief for Nigerians who hitherto had been inundated with negative public commentaries about the state of the nation in the face of frantic efforts by the ‘Renewed Hope’ administration to fix the ailing economy and security challenges it met on ground on assumption of office on May 29 last year.
That blissful Wednesday night, the vice president dazzled the Nigerian players with power hugs in their dressing room. With the demeanor of a tactician, Senator Shettima proved that he was also a coach – a motivational one at that – by the way he engaged the players and other members of the team. He told them that the government and the people of Nigeria were proud of their sacrifice.
The VP announced the federal government’s pledge to reward the Super Eagles for their commitment and dedication in reaching the final of the Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast. This was a big boost for members of the national team who, for the first time, felt raw humility and a tremendous sense of camaraderie from their country’s presidency.
The message from President Tinubu was loud and clear: that he has unwavering confidence in football as a viable tool for national unity and integration. This, to an extent, demonstrates his overwhelming joy and keen interest in the game. “From the southernmost cape of Africa to the plains of Mauritania and the coast of West Africa, you have made us all Proud to be Nigerians! Go…Soar in the AFCON Finals. Well done, boys!” President Tinubu told the players in an update on his official Instagram handle that Wednesday night.
Ahead of their quarter-final clash against Angola penultimate Friday, President Tinubu had in a pep conversation with the players encouraged the Super Eagles to go for a victory. In muted videos that went viral on social media, the President was clad in the Eagles’ home jersey while addressing the team through a computer before him.
So it was expected that the President will again send the high-powered federal government delegation headed by VP Shettima to the AFCON finals in Abidjan where the Super Eagle are set to face the host country, Côte d’Ivoire, in a rematch at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium today. Nigeria had thrashed Cote d’Ivoire 1-0 in the group stage.
President Tinubu is convinced that VP Shettima and his team will give the Eagles another psychological and moral impetus of reinforcement to boost their confidence ahead of the match. He understands that the incorporation of football as part of a country’s culture enables the promotion of peace within that country, as different people from different ethnic backgrounds are brought together, with the soccer game as their unifying factor.
The President’s keen interest in our national team is commensurate with the attention he is giving to other sectors in line with his promise to ensure a Nigeria with institutions that work for the overall good of Nigerians. He is not unmindful that under his renewed hope administration, the citizens need their hope sparked as demonstrated in the unquenchable desire to win a competition as much as they need the AFCON gold trophy.
That the Super Eagles are receiving maximum support from the Presidency to clinch the AFCON title shows the President’s recognition of football as a unifying factor. It is more so especially after the 2023 electioneering process was able to expose the sharp division along ethnic and religious lines in the country.
Also aware that football is a multi-billion-dollar industry that provides millions of direct and indirect employment across the globe, with top clubs in Europe making billions of dollars, President Tinubu is poised to make the round leather game an integral part of our national life. By doing so, he will empower the nation’s youthful population and ensure our natural resources create vast opportunities for growth, innovation, and prosperity. This will create job opportunities for many Nigerians who are either directly involved as players, coaches, referees, or in sports marketing and media. In turn, this will help to reduce unemployment, improve income levels, and boost economic growth in the country.
As Vice President Shettima and his team embark on another voyage of discovery to Cote d’Ivoire for the AFCON, there is no doubt that such a gesture would prove the fecundity of President Tinubu’s leadership prowess in turning every venture into gold. Time will tell.
Nkwocha is the Senior Special Assistant, Media and Communications (Office of The Vice President)