TWENTY-FIVE years ago, the Nigerian national football team, the Super Eagles, flew to the United States to take part in the country’s first ever men’s FIFA World Cup. Although the Super Eagles entered the tournament as the reigning African champions having overcome the KK 11 of Zambia 2-1 in April of that year to clinch the African Cup of Nations trophy on foreign soil for the first time, very few supporters thought the Eagles had any chance of advancing beyond the preliminary round. In fact, for most Nigerians, the fact that the country’s flag was being flown at the world’s premier football tournament was enough cause for celebration.
But the Super Eagles did not just parade the Nigerian flag; instead, they took the tournament by storm, handing Bulgaria a comprehensive 3-0 defeat in their inaugural game, before losing narrowly to Argentina 1-2, and then taking Greece to the cleaners in their last group game. By the time the Super Eagles lost 1-2 to Italy in the Round of 16 (a game they really should have won but for a last- minute loss of concentration), the team had put the world on notice that something special was brewing in African football. Heading into the 1994 World Cup, the Nigerian team was ranked fifth in the world, an achievement that, since then, has not been equalled, either by the Super Eagles or any other African team.
Impressed, like most Nigerians, by the team’s exploits, the then military government of General Sani Abacha announced the award of a house in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), to each member of the squad and its technical team led by Dutchman Clemens Westerhof. That it has taken the Federal Government all of 25 years to redeem its pledge to Mr. Westerhof, as it did eventually last week at a ceremony presided over by Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, is a fact to be lamented.
Better late than never, some might interject, and granted, there is something to be said for that. But as the good book says in Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” As the honourable minister himself noted while speaking at the ceremony, some members of that team who should have been beneficiaries of a largesse that the Federal Government voluntarily announced, have since passed to the great beyond. For such players, who served the country with distinction, no atonement is possible.
This is not to make light of Mr. Fashola’s gesture. We applaud him for doing the right thing, and we congratulate Mr. Westerhof on receiving his letter of allocation. Nevertheless, we are genuinely baffled by the fundamental mismatch between promise and actuality, and what seems like a serious case of institutional amnesia at the highest levels of governance in the country. As Mr. Fashola admitted, it took the personal intervention of a public-spirited journalist, Mr. Onochie Anibeze, for one of Mr. Westerhof’s assistants, Johannes Bonfrere, to receive his own promised house back in 2017.
In any case, even Mr. Westerhof’s own apartment is not ready yet because as the minister disclosed, the apartment is ‘under renovation’ and the coach would only get the keys when it is ready for occupation. As Westerhof himself said: “I am thankful to you all, and I can feel myself more of a Nigerian now. I can now stay here when it is so cold back there in Europe. I also thank God for this blessing of being invited here today to collect my papers. I hope I will soon get my keys, because you never know with Nigeria.” Since the Federal Government is yet to make good on its promise to several other members of the team, there is no better time than now to do so. It should not take the intervention of a random journalist for the Federal Government to redeem its pledge to citizens who hav
e done the country proud.