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Home Abuja Metro Super Eagles’ day at the Villa and President Tinubu’s magnanimity, By OCHE ECHEIJA EGWA

Super Eagles’ day at the Villa and President Tinubu’s magnanimity, By OCHE ECHEIJA EGWA

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Nigeria’s high-flying, football team, Super Eagles, returned to a hearty welcome, and their visit to the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Tuesday, 13th February, turned into an icing on the cake of a successful outing in the tournament. Apart from the cheers, hugs, handshakes and selfies that heralded their entry into the hallowed Council Chambers, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, quintessentially, had a surprise for them.

On behalf of a grateful nation, President Tinubu announced gifts of a flat for members of the team, a piece of land in Abuja, and also conferred national honours, Member Order of the Niger, on them. The Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nyesom Wike, in his characteristic, hands-on style of leadership distributed land forms immediately to start the process of allocations.

The President’s warmth for the team members, who dazzled at the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2023, in Abidjan and Yamoussoukro, the Ivorian economic and political capitals respectively, was a humbling and revealing moment for many. The Nigerian leader shone brightly at the reception by calling players by their first names, and sharing his insight on the matches, particularly on the final with the host team, Elephants of Cote D’Ivoire.

President Tinubu described the Vice Captain of the team, William Troost-Ekong as a “Warrior” who provided strong leadership for the team, and the rampaging striker, who consistently tormented the opponents’ goalkeepers, Victor Osimhen, he called a “Trojan horse”. Although the Nigerian team lost at the finals,2.1, to the Ivorians on Sunday, 11th February, after scoring first, the magnitude of commendations and celebrations reflected appreciation for the zeal, diligence, and dexterity that the Super Eagles showcased in Abidjan.

Super Eagles defender Troost-Ekong was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) at the 2023 AFCON.

The Villa was upbeat and ready like the nation to receive the team. A combination of public officials and ordinary Nigerians watched the final play at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa on Sunday, at the invitation of President Tinubu. After the match, an elated President said the Super Eagles represented the nation with panache and dignity.

“Let this passing event not dispirit us, but bring us together to work harder. We are a great nation bound as one by the green-white-green banner of resilience, joy, hope, duty, and untiring love.

“To those cherished Nigerian youths expressing their gifts in communities, drawing lines in the sand as they play football in their humble rectangles of play, you can be our heroes tomorrow; do not relent in your pursuit. My administration is here to make dreams come true,” the President said.

In an unusual show of support for the Super Eagles, President Tinubu had sent the Vice President, Kashim Shettima, to Cote d’Ivoire for the semi-final and final matches in less than five days, explaining that his role as ECOWAS Chairman of Heads of State and Governments, restrains an open campaign against a member state. The Vice President, Secretary to the Government George Akume, Chief of Staff Femi Gbajabiamila, Sports Minister John Enoh, Jamila, and Bio Ibrahim, were part of the reception at the Villa.

President Tinubu told the Super Eagles that he was moved by their “team spirit’’. He said their collectiveness should serve as an example to the political class that the country can thrive and succeed, with less rancour, tension, and division, by redirecting energy into building the nation.

“You were determined. We salute your resilience. You lifted our spirits, and you made us proud. You made us smile as Nigerians.

“It is not easy to absorb a loss, particularly when the expectations are high. But you have demonstrated sportsmanship, resilience, and teamwork throughout the entire tournament. That is what AFCON stands for, the unity and resilience of the continent. You have done a great job, and I am very proud of you,’’ President Tinubu noted.

To further accentuate his “open door policy” in the growing sectors of the country, the President assured the Super Eagles that they would be consulted on issues related to sports development while sharing his vision for a more structured, functional, and purposeful Football Local League.

“As your President, I will go out to attract greater private sector investment in the Nigerian Professional Football League. We have to grow our local league, and I promise to be a super promoter of sports in our country.

“Many of you may in the future become managers of our local premiership system. I want to say once again that I am proud of you, and Nigeria is proud of you. You are a lifter of spirits,” he said.

Doing an X-ray of Nigeria’s participation at AFCON, 2023, the Minister of Sports, attributed the success of the team to the support received from the President, from the preparation stage of the tournament to the finals, highlighting some areas of conflict that were carefully taken care of.

“For the first time, we have gone through a major competition; we have come back without any crisis, without any complaint, without any issues whatsoever relating to allowances, bonuses, or whatever. This kept the team focused on the matches in front of them with quality results,” the Minister said.

The Minister of Youth was full of appreciation for the support received by the team, and the President’s focus on empowering youths in the country.

Ibrahim said the fatherliness shown by President Tinubu serves as a pillar for the youths to show more loyalty and commitment to the growth of the nation, pledging more dedication in ensuring the creation and integration of programmes, particularly in sports.

Alex Iwobi’s presence at the Council Chamber elicited more celebration as public officials and staff specially approached him for pictures while denouncing the cyber-bullying after the final match.

Troost-Ekong had some good words for the President, and a promise for the future: “We are very grateful for your support during our time in Ivory Coast. We did our best until the final. I wish that we were here carrying the trophy for you.

“In 2019, I was here with a bronze medal. Now we are here with a silver medal. I have two gold-medal winners beside me here and all we can promise is that we will continue to work hard, and the next time we meet, hopefully, next year, we will be bringing home a gold medal,” the Vice-Captain said.

Speaking with newsmen, after individual and family photos, NFF President Ibrahim Gusau, said, “This is a great day for all of us; you can see how the President received the team, and we are highly elated to say that we have been honored with MON, to all our entire team, including myself and my general secretary.’’

The coach, Jose Peseiro, revealed it was the first time he had met a country’s President in the course of his managerial career.

“I would like to say thank you to the President. I am 60 years old, and this is the first time a president has invited me to his house,” the Portuguese coach said.

Peseiro, however, said it would have been better if his team had lifted the trophy. “Of course, I would have liked to bring the cup to the Nigerian people. I’m sad about that. But of course, I’m happy because I think we did a fantastic job. In the final, I think we felt that atmosphere.”

Team members, like goalkeeper, Stanley Nwabali, and Osimhen said they were already looking forward to the qualifiers for the World Cup, and AFCON 2024 in Morocco, assuring the nation of a better outing.

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