By Fred Edoreh
While condemning the threat to our innocent Super Falcons players in the service of our nation, Nigerians had rightly dismissed the intruder on their Vienna train as a frustrated idle sojourner and misguided attention seeker. But, it is disturbing to see a reputed media organisation like Sahara Reporters openly endorse the attack and ride on the incident to attempt to de-market Nigerian football and bully Nigeria’s First Lady, Dr Mrs Aisha Buhari, in whose honour the forthcoming international women football invitational tournament is named.
In its editorial of July 20, titled “Nigeria’s National Female Football Team in Faraway Austria Preparing For Wasteful Self-serving Aisha Buhari Tournament,” it re-echoed the intruder to describe the programme of the Super Falcons as “less than noble,” suggested that the tournament is “wasteful” and accused Mrs Buhari as never standing up “for the real issues affecting the girl-child in Nigeria,” therefore undeserving of the honour.
Even as we play down the Vienna incident, it cannot be lost on us that it is below the belt for anyone to attack our girls, in any guise, anywhere, and much lower to attempt to drag our football into the cauldron of nationalist agitations and bad politics.
While some persons may pander to the iconoclastic divide of promoting extreme disorder, others are more responsibly disposed to keeping faith and continuing to contribute to nation-building.
Players of the Super Eagles and Super Falcons are so positively disposed of. Not only have they continued to provide rallying points for national unity, collective pride and joy for citizens, their programmes and activities provide inspiring international perceptions on Nigerians as a people.
Footballing is their profession and it is not the case that other compatriots from the South, North, East and West have resigned their jobs in various government agencies or abandoned their businesses in protest of the state of the nation to require the players to do so.
Football continues to provide a gainful platform for thousands of Nigerian boys and girls in their engagement in local and international clubs, with many graduated to coaches and managers across the world.
Through this platform, many Nigerian women footballers not only are able to fend for themselves, but they have also become breadwinners for their immediate and extended families and have impacted whole communities economically and socially.
Succeeding generations of footballers are toeing the same path for a better life and the national teams provide them the platform to project themselves.
Of Nigeria’s about $25b annual remittances from the Diaspora which accounts for about 6% of the GDP, the sports sub-sector, especially football, accounts for a significant share of the inflow.
It is therefore worrisome for any person or organisation to seek to destroy such socio-economic asset on the alter of politics.
Even if it is about showing concern for the state of the nation, our football has always been part of the solution. Not only does it offer employment for youths and moments of relief for the populace, it is on record that Nigerian footballers greatly supported the #EndSars protest against police brutality by identifying with it on big international football stages, thus eliciting the solidarity of their foreign colleagues and other global stars.
Also, it must be recognised that sports thrive on events and the Aisha Buhari Invitational Women Football Tournament is a most worthy initiative.
Our girls were invited to the Turkish Women’s Cup in February and the US Summer Series in June, and it is fitting for the NFF to equally organise one to also bring the world over to Nigeria.
Not only would the event provide entertainment for the good mood of the people and attract positive international attention to Nigeria, it will provide opportunities for local businesses, enterprises and sundry professionals and workers.
The tournament is being organised not as an end in itself but as a build up to the Super Falcons qualification campaigns for the forthcoming African Women Championship and next FIFA Women World Cup.
Interestingly, neither the government nor the First Lady as a person is funding both the training tour in Austria nor the tournament itself.
For quite some time now, the NFF has been managing all the national teams and their various development programmes mostly from sponsorships. It is therefore a huge disservice to both football and Nigerian youths to attempt to de-market our football, worst still to drag it into the politics of ethnic and regional nationalism.
Ironically too, Sahara Reporters’ suggestion that Aisha Buhari “never stands up for the real issues affecting the girl child in Nigeria” contradicts its own earlier reports on the First Lady.
While her forthrightness on public affairs is commonly known, she has demonstrated her passion for women, children and common folks through her Future Assured Foundation with the strategic vision of accelerating efforts to end preventable maternal, new born and child deaths.
Without seeking the klieg lights, the foundation has committed much on girl-child and children’s education, women empowerment, protection of the rights of women and children, medical outreaches and support for victims of insurgency.
Sahara Reporters confirmed these in its story of March 8, 2021, when it reported the First Lady as lamenting the continued abduction of women and girls by bandits and terrorists.
“As a mother, I share the sorrow and agony of the victims and families. I am also not unaware of the impact that these abductions could have in reverting many successes we have hitherto achieved, especially in terms of girl-child education and early marriages,” the report quoted the First Lady.
Continuing, Sahara Reporters said “She called on all stakeholders to exert their different areas of influence towards bringing the mass abduction to an end.”
What is more? Quoting from her biography in another of its story on April 8, 2021, Sahara reported that “…She has been consistent in warning politicians against politicising the issues of health and women empowerment.”
It is from such reports that organisations draw convictions to honour persons as the NFF has done with the Aisha Buhari International Women Football Tournament.