Following the revelations around the true age of Nigeria under-17 captain Fortune Chukwudi, Sabella Ogbobode Abidde writes in full support of the honesty of one of the player's former coaches, Adokiye Amiesimaka. As Amiesimaka faces ridicule and defamation of character, Abidde decries the behaviour of the supposedly religious individuals attacking a man who was only telling the truth.
The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) has been caught with its pants down. The Eaglets Skipper, Fortune Chukwudi, is said to be at least 25 years old, and not 17, as the NFF and the national team claims. For a country trying to re-brand, trying to clean up its image, this has to be a terrible blow to the face and chin. In one fell swoop, Nigeria’s image sinks deeper into the cesspool.
There is a contradiction, an ironic twist, to the over-age saga. Most Nigerians, privately and publicly, are quick to point to their religiosity. Usually the first to point to their born-again status, or to having a direct phone line to God, they usually cannot wait to shoot themselves in the foot. They cannot wait to expose their hypocritical nature. And as usual, they will not take the blame for their personal and official irresponsibility. They have God to blame or to praise for everything under the sun – even if God had no hand in it.
From all indications, the Nigerian Football Federation is made up of Muslims and Christians. Considering the nature of the country, vis-à-vis religion, one can safely assume these are men and women who attend church and mosques on a regular basis, and who wear their religions on their sleeves. As is the practice in some government ministries and government agencies, one can safely assume they hold prayer vigil at the NFF too.
The Qur’an, we are told, says, 'Truly, Allah does not guide one who transgresses and lies' (Surah 40:28). In the Hadith, Mohammed was quoted as saying: 'Be honest because honesty leads to goodness, and goodness leads to Paradise. Beware of falsehood because it leads to immorality, and immorality leads to Hell.' Two other passages in the Qur’an are also instructive: 'Cover not Truth with falsehood, nor conceal the Truth when ye know (what it is)' (2:42), and 'Take not your oaths, to practice deception between yourselves' (16:94). One wonders if the Muslims within the NFF who engaged in this deception and falsehood, read or are familiar with these passages.
Luke 16:10 tells us that 'Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.' We trusted the NFF to be honest with us and with the international community, but see what they’ve done? They lied! Heb. 13:18 wants us to 'conduct ourselves honourably in all things'. We also know, as Prov. 12:22 tells us, 'Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord.' And then this, from Rev. 21:27: 'No one who practices abomination and lying shall ever come into heaven.' The Christians at the NFF, Coach John Obuh and the members of his team must have read these passages too. God’s injections must not be taken lightly.
We know Coach Obuh to be a Christian. We know because the Vanguard newspaper, in 'Obuh takes eaglets to church for Thanksgiving' (1 November 2009), reported that, 'after guiding the Golden Eaglets to a hard-fought 2–1 win over Argentina, Coach John Obuh took time to attend a special thanksgiving service to God at an Abuja church'. The coach was reported as saying: 'Without God, there is nothing that one can achieve. How far and how well we have fared can be attributed to the divine handiwork of God … today is my day to give thanks to God and I know that I would have more reasons to give thanks to God in the future.' I hope he confessed to God for this grand deception.
Now that the Nigerian Football Federation and the Golden Eaglets have been caught with their pants down (for lying and for rubbishing Nigeria’s image), they have decided to shift the blame, refused to take responsibility, but have instead blamed the truth-teller. The move is in full gear to attack, to condemn and heap vituperations on the man who dare tell the truth, Adokiye Amiesimaka. As a result of his moral and enviable act, he has now become the object of hate, ridicule, and slander by the Nigerian Football Federation.
At a time when the nation is expending a lot of resources on re-branding our country, men and women like Mr Adokiye Amiesimaka should be commended, honoured and emulated. He has not committed a crime – be it legal or ethical. The current attacks against his person and reputation are therefore unwarranted. All he has done is appeal to our conscience, to our moral base. All he has done is help us believe in ourselves that we need not cheat in other to win sporting championships. He is telling us that, as a nation striving to be great within the international system, integrity matters.
If we allow duplicity within the sporting arena, what hope do we have in the economic, cultural and political arena? If the establishment turns a blindeye to the transgression of our young minds, what then do we expect of such men and women when they grow up and are in a position of authority? This is the time to re-brand and reorient our youth. If we lose the FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) championship, that’s fine. If we win, that’s also fine.
Win or lose, we must be confident in our ability; we must be proud that we played the game according to laid-down principles. Why celebrate a winning performance that’s based on duplicity? This, in essence, was what Amiesimaka was getting at. He deserves our collective praise, not condemnation.
But no, for speaking the truth, he has now become the target for crucifixion. Is this the type of nation we have become, a nation of liars? Are we saying it is now acceptable to lie and lie and lie until the last man lies? And that it is okay to lie and to deceive not only ourselves, but the international community. When Coach Obuh went to church to speak to God, to give thanks, he also lied to God. Three or more of those players also lied to themselves and to their country. They lied to FIFA and to all those young boys and girls who look up to them for inspiration and as inspirations.
For those who lied, why didn’t their parents, siblings, nieces and nephews say something, anything? Didn’t their pastors and imams and teachers know? Any one of them could have told the truth, but none did. instead, all partook in a mass deception. Instead of accepting the blame, they now want to shift culpability on a man who decided to tell the truth?
According to newspaper accounts, Adokiye Amiesimaka asserts that 'In the 2002/2003 season, I was chairman of Sharks Football Club of Port Harcourt. I decided to have a feeder team of fresh school leavers not older than 20 years. One of my key players then is the current captain of our so-called Under 17 Golden Eaglets. By his own admission at that time, that is seven years ago, he was 18 years old… If we are not utterly irresponsible, how can he be eligible for this tournament when he is not less than 25 years old now?'
Coach John Obuh and his technical team could not have perpetrated and perpetuated this scam without the active connivance of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and the sports ministry. Reacting to the scandal, acting General Secretary of NFF Musa Amadu said: 'We are not claiming to be perfect, as that is a virtue that belongs to only the Almighty God. But Nigerians are aware of the efforts we made to ensure that we put forward a genuine team.' No one demanded perfection, only honesty – which is one of God’s injunctions.
Other than the bold-faced lies and their habitual lying, the NFF is now accusing Amiesimaka of evil designs, claiming that a man who decided to tell the truth – a moral and ethical action members of the NFF seem totally incapable of – wants to destroy the Golden Eaglets and Nigeria’s reputation. Which is more egregious to a nation’s reputation, lies or the truth?
Musa Amadu went on to say: 'We are only stunned that there are Nigerians who so passionately hate their own country, simply because they are not at the helm… We should learn to celebrate excellence some of the time, not trying to bring down other people all the time. Has Amiesimaka been obsessed with so much hatred for our successful players because he never played in the World Cup? It is possible.' What nonsense! Who hates his country more, the truth-teller or peddlers of falsehood?
Along with Musa Amadu, others, including Taiwo Ogunjobi and his posse of impostors, are now accusing Adokiye Amiesimaka of the 'destroy them by-all-means' syndrome, instead of being grateful to him for being truthful and upright. How could a man who spent the better years of his life in the service of Nigerian sports and the judiciary be so accused of 'discrediting Nigerian football' as Ogunjobi has alleged. Now, who is a credit to Nigeria? Document forgers or the harbinger of truth?
In recent years, many Nigerians, privately and publicly, have been acting as though they are more catholic than the Pope, more saintly than St Michael, more righteous than the righteous ones in all the Abrahamic religions. These are people, including Musa Amadu and Taiwo Ogunjobi, who may have knowingly engaged in fraud. Yet they have the temerity to accost a truth-teller, a man who has for several decades been a credit to the country.
The action of the Nigerian Football Federation, directly and indirectly, encouraged older boys to falsify their age; their incompetence made it possible for deception to take place; their inaction made cheating FIFA possible. Collectively, the actions and inaction of the personnel in and within the Nigeria Football Federation has made a nonsense of Nigeria’s re-branding efforts. We speak of re-branding, of a new image, yet we made it possible for the global community to deride Nigeria. We owe Adokiye Amiesimaka a world of gratitude.
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* Sabella Ogbobode Abidde is a public intellectual who has written and commented extensively on African affairs. He is currently based in Washington, D.C.
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