These individuals served the country in different capacities, but long after, not much has been heard about them again; writes ELEOJO IDACHABA.
The name Clemens Westerhof is synonymous with football in Nigeria. A Dutch man whose towering influence on international football, especially in Africa, knows no bounds having coached many football teams in Zimbabwe and South Africa aside from Nigeria.
Westerhof came to Nigeria in 1989 and was subsequently signed on by the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) to coach the national team, the Super Eagles. Under him in 1999, Nigeria reached the final of the African Cup of Nations which had hitherto been a herculean task due to poor management of the team. He was also instrumental to the success of 1994 World Cup popularly known as USA 94. Despite losing 2–1 to Argentina, still under him, a win over Bulgaria and Greece allowed the Super Eagles to do the unthinkable and finished top of the group thereby advancing to the second round. In spite of the heart-breaking loss in that tournament, the Super Eagles’ World Cup campaign was considered a tremendous success as Westerhof and the players were hailed as heroes on their return to Nigeria.
Under him too, Nigeria qualified for and competed in the 1994 African Cup of Nations in Tunisia shortly after returning from the tournament in the US. That, of course, was Nigeria’s second African Cup of Nations championship, the first since the year 1980 and the first trophy in Westerhof’s career as a manager.
Westerhof is credited with turning Nigeria into a powerhouse in African football with a story to show that African nations can compete on the world stage. He is responsible for what could be described as the ‘golden’ period in Nigerian football where the likes of Rashidi Yekini, Jay Jay Okocha. Sunday Oliseh, Kanu Nwankwo and a host of others were discovered leading to their global football scene in the 90s. This Dutchman, however, was not without any controversy in his glorious moments. For example, because of his style of football administration, it was said that the likes of Yekini, Finidi George and Emmanuel Amuneke often fell out with him; the reason for which some of them were dropped from the team at various points. In fact, Yekini was quoted as saying, “I have always been against this coach. It is no secret that I don’t like him and he doesn’t like me. I tried to go against him long ago but my teammates did not support me. As a result, I was out of the game; I never saw the ball.”
Westerhof left Nigeria and returned a few years ago in what many football analysts called his second missionary journey in Nigeria. However, this time as rector and chief administrator at the Football School of Excellence in Ilorin, a college that helps to discover and develop young players. Even though he is not a Nigerian, he was said to have been married to a Nigerian lady of Yoruba extraction. It’s, however, not certain where he could be at the moment. Westerhof is however someone whose influence on Nigeria’s football cannot be under-estimated.
Godknows Igali is a former diplomat and became prominent from the Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration all through the late Yar’Adua to Goodluck Jonathan. He began his career in the Foreign Service in 1982 and was posted to Czechoslovakia where he remained till 1986. He resumed at the then Ministry of External Affairs headquarters after his posting and joined the newly- established Trade and Investment Department to drive the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) introduced by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida in 1986 on the international front.
This Bayelsa state-born diplomat has served all around the world since joining the Foreign Service. Along the line, he distinguished himself as an expert on economic diplomacy and served as secretary to about 10 Nigerian missions overseas between 1986 and 1991. Dr Igali served as the special assistant (Special Duties) in the Presidential Villa between 2005 and 2006 under former President Olusegun Obasanjo. During the period, he was also secretary to the Presidential Committee on Money Laundering and Financial Crimes. In addition, he also served as secretary to the Presidential Subcommittee on Review of the Public Service Rules in 2005. He was later appointed secretary to Bayelsa state government in 2006 and was concurrently named honorary adviser and peace envoy to the president of Niger Delta when militancy started in the creeks. During this period, Igali was placed in charge of negotiations with various militant camps following the emergence of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
Through his engagement with the militants and other stakeholders, the 2007 general elections were held in spite of several threats. Also several kidnapped expatriates were released in the Niger Delta. He served as secretary of the Presidential Council of the Coastal States of the Niger Delta under President Obasanjo’s administration and suggested the amnesty programme. Subsequently, he was appointed the substantive adviser on the Niger Delta by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in June 2007. It was during his tenure as the presidential adviser that the framework for the Niger Delta Amnesty programme was developed. He remained engaged in Niger Delta issues as one of the leaders of the Pan-Niger Delta Forum which helped to facilitate dialogue between the federal government and the Niger Delta Avengers that had grounded oil production from the budgeted 2.3 million to 900,000 barrels per day.
Thereafter, he was appointed as Nigeria’s ambassador to Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway respectively between 2008 and 2010. In 2010, he became permanent secretary in the Ministry of Water Resources and later deployed to the Ministry of Power by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2013. In 2011, he expressed his interest to contest the governorship seat of Bayelsa on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but lost out. Since then, not much has been heard about him again.
Most practising journalists in modern times are said to have drawn their inspiration from Yakubu Mohammed who was the former deputy chief executive officer/founder of Newswatch Publishing Company Limited; an outfit that set the trail for what has become today’s journalism. He, in the company of the likes of the late Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu and Dan Agbese, left their previous domains as senior editorial staff of the now defunct Concord Group to form Newswatch magazine at a time that the prospect of a magazine was so lean in the Nigerian media market space. They, however, succeeded as it sets the trail for other magazines and different publications in the country today.
The magazine recorded huge success while it lasted. Following the unbelievable sale of the stable owing to debts, Mohammed joined the governorship race of Kogi state in the 2015 election. He, however, lost in his bid to realise the ambition under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Report has it that he later moved over to the All Progressives Congress (APC) where his influence has also not been felt even now that the state is in dire need of a political saviour due to misgovernance.
As a foremost editor of editors, he was invited in 2018 by the Guild of Editors, after a long recess, to present a paper in its annual conference in Asaba on ‘The Role of the Editors in Ensuring Credible Elections in Nigeria.’ In the paper, he said the citizens look up to the media to understand the programmes of the political parties and the characteristics of the various candidates.
“An editor must be credible enough in his work to ensure he or she achieves the success of the mandate of upholding the government accountable to the people.
“He must not allow personal interest to cross the lines of his professional obligations. The editor should ensure balance in electoral reportage by guiding against biased reporting.
“In all, I think an editor must learn to remain credible and should not be partisan in his/her professional conduct,” he said.
For someone who was among the set of people that set the pace for modern journalism, many are wondering where he is at the moment, at least, to give a voice to the malaise in the profession or better still set pen to paper again.