So the Super Eagles of Nigeria provided the nation with something you can call a moment of unity or a unifying performance in Uyo, by debilitating the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon four goals to nil in the third round of qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup.
Goals from Odion Ighalo, captain Mikel Obi, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheaanacho, in what was truly a clinical performance, put the Cameroonians away and put Nigeria in poll position to qualify for Russia. The game did not start off with fireworks, but as the first went in, it became a progressively good performance.
At half-time, where I saw the game, without the worry about the Eagles not winning, attention turned to the appropriateness of the $10,000 promised by Governor of Akwa Ibom state, Udom Emmanuel, for each goal scored by Nigeria. There was a debate – well, if you can call the ramblings of noisy boys watching football a debate – that the Governor was being wasteful with “our” money, and that many of the players did not need the money anyway. The “Chinese products” – who scored the first two goals – did not need the money since they were on heavy contracts in the Chinese Super League.
The main thrust of the argument was that there were better uses to which $10,000 could be put, rather than giving it to players who earn multiples of that in their clubs whether or not they play every week. Being gathering of students, the obvious example of such alternative uses was Education. Our livid spectators wondered why Mr Emmanuel would not have given that amount to striking ASUU lecturers instead, or use the money to build up primary and secondary education in Akwa Ibom, or give it to teachers, doctors… feel free to add as appropriate.
Having converted the sum to naira, it did not take long before boys began wishing the money was given to them so they can immediately withdraw from their MSc and go start a business and fetch wives in their villages. So much for young people thinking big.
To be sure, the argument was not necessarily about this particular incident because it is common knowledge that such pledges have been made in the past by other public officials. The proponents of the argument were pushing the broader view that public officials should not arbitrarily declare motivational bonuses to sportsmen, footballers especially, because there are always more important causes to motivate. Our guys argue that the mere chance to go to a World Cup should be enough motivation for a footballer who has high ambitions for his career.
There was particular criticism for Mr Emmanuel for not keeping pace with his predecessor, Godswill Akpabio, but that was secondary to the main issue.
But did the Governor do anything wrong?
The Super Eagles are professionals doing their job, and representing the nation. Yes, they play for patriotic pride and should be honored to be given the privilege to wear the green and green, but does that make some extra motivation in the face of a very credible opposition (AFCON 2017 champions) wrong and wasteful?
There are other aspects of the country that are in need of dire funding and motivation. That best graduating student from the UNN college of medicine should have been given more than N10,000 by whoever it was that gave him that, but students and sportsmen have their categories of reward, just as the D’Tigresses were well rewarded with N1 million each for becoming Afrobasket champions.
It should also be mentioned that the players are a representation of the youth population of the country, who deserve to be motivated to success, financially or otherwise. Regardless of the amounts they earn at their clubs, it still is a duty for their country to properly remunerate them for the services they are offering over here. And for every Mikel and Moses who earns close to or over a $100,000, there are the Moses Daddy Simons and Ikechukwu Ezenwas in the team who are still working their ways up the professional ladder, for whom $10,000 will serve as good motivation.
Nigeria’s victory over Cameroon puts the team within a win and a draw to booking a plane to Russia 2018. That would definitely not be something to be excited about if students are still on ASUU strike by that time next year, but it would not take away the excellence of the achievement made by the players.
Business and team building experts are not in unity as to whether it is best to use financial motivation or not. A 2015 article in the Telegraph says that “money is best staff motivator” but another in Forbes, four years earlier, goes with the idea that the best way to motivate people “isn’t with money”.
Either way, we know the kind of calls sports casters on radio would have received from disgruntled fans had that game not been won: “Why did the NFF not give them enough motivation?”
By Alexander O. Onukwue