The mind-boggling cash gifts splashed out on the national football team players and officials that won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa early in February by the Federal Government is a wrong way of incentivising those who have done the nation proud.
It is excessive and perverted as there are standards of rewards for successful athletes in more sober climes where public funds are handled with the utmost sense of responsibility and accountability.
Rewarding success in sports or in any area of human endeavour – as the Goodluck Jonathan Administration did with the Super Eagles by giving each of the 23 players a cash gift of N5m, the head coach N10m, assistant coaches N5m each and other officials N2m each (totalling N150m of taxpayers’ money) – is to send a dangerous signal to youths that it is only sports that can guarantee them unmerited instant financial reward. This is unhealthy for youths – and the future of the nation. Our youths should rather be encouraged to take pride in wearing the national colours.
The excessively generous cash gifts to the team failed every standard of good governance. It is only a lax state that throws money around. In a world of lightning-fast change, governments are faced with serious challenges, including space exploration, education, epidemics and even terrorism. That explains why some countries, including the United States, have in place innovation and competition strategies to encourage people to aspire to be the best. How many times has our system rewarded academic excellence of those who graduate with First Class degrees with scholarships? Of course, no state has the capacity to fund this kind of reckless financial expenditure, certainly not Nigeria, where it is difficult for many state governments to pay a minimum wage of N18, 000 a month to workers in the public sector.
It does not meet the practice in sports across the globe where a standard bonus system is put in place before major tournaments. For example, countries like Russia budgeted and gave $135,000 and the United States $35,000 to gold medallists at the London 2012 Olympic Games. It was – and is still – the standard practice. Athletes from those nations knew beforehand what to expect. This was not a case of “as-the-spirit-directs” financial misapplication that the Nigerian government is sadly thriving on, over-celebrating a euphoric victory that will do little to impact positively on the run down domestic football league, where players are supposed to be identified, nurtured and moulded for the international arena.
For AFCON 2013, the Nigeria Football Federation had already agreed with the team a just reward package. Each player was entitled to $5,000 for every drawn match in the group stage, and $10,000 for every win, while the coaches were guaranteed double that. At a stage, the NFF had to increase the bonus for the group match against Ethiopia to $15,000, while that of the quarterfinal against Ivory Coast was upped to $20,000. This is apart from the extra bonuses guaranteed for qualifying from the group stage to the knockout phase. With the reward of more than $2m from wealthy individuals like Mike Adenuga, Aliko Dangote and Tony Elumelu, the Presidential reception and the national honours awarded to the team (as it was done in 1980 when the Green Eagles won the AFCON trophy as hosts), the Federal Government has no cogent reason to be doling out scarce public funds to the Eagles and their officials again.
The Federal Government, the Lagos State that also outrageously gave the team N54m and Delta State that similarly rewarded them with monetary gifts, have to understand that doling out money to professional athletes does not provoke patriotism in them. The Federal Government has to admit that the N155m (plus the N5m that was given to the Supporters Club) is an illegal act since it was not budgeted for in the 2012 Appropriation Act or in the 2013 Budget. The likelihood is that neither Lagos nor Delta included the largesse to the team in its budget.
How can a serious government engage in illegal expenditure and, at the same time, complain of padded budgets by lawmakers? It is only a different side of a coin. This shows that the federal administration is not disciplined in running the affairs of the country, ruling by rule of the thumb, and not by rule of law. This is sad. It only further depletes the treasury of a nation that is already in crisis. The National Assembly is also to be blamed for this illegality. If our lawmakers were alive to their responsibilities, they should have made the government to account for all its extra-budgetary spending, which is an impeachable offence.
If the Jonathan administration is serious about transforming Nigeria, it should take a leaf out of the book of a country like Britain, which hosted the London 2012 Olympic Games. The British Olympic Committee’s policy for the Games was that financial rewards were not capable of motivating athletes to win medals. Instead, it believed that representing Britain was enough incentive to make athletes excel. In spite of coming third at the end of the Games – a huge achievement for a country that was far behind third-placed Russia in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games four years earlier – the United Kingdom did not change its policy by recklessly handing out financial rewards to its victorious athletes.
The British policy is not much different from that of American presidents, who host successful National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Super Bowl (baseball) champions in the White House without giving any monetary reward. Nigeria, which once had a “handshake” policy in sports, can copy this laudable move by disciplined governments as part of efforts to change the orientation of youths. There was a time when it was an immense honour to represent Nigeria, and athletes took pride in wearing the Green-White-Green. This sort of motivation cannot be earned by giving money; it can only come when every Nigerian is made to have a sense of belonging in his or her country through the right environment and orderliness in its affairs.