Nigeria is currently going through its own mini World Cup fiesta. After many months of doubt, deliberation and dubious ‘readiness reports’ the FIFA Under 17 World Cup is on and much of this football crazy nation are intensively following the super Eaglets quest for glory, to restore national pride and re-capture their 1999 Crown.
It's hard to pick a favourite as some of the squads were radically altered after FIFA introduced new imaging techniques of player’s wrists that accurately determine age: one nation withdrew completely!
At six locations around the nation large crowds are turning out to cheer on the teams, adding African style noise and intensity to make the occasion. I decided to make the effort and headed down to the home of our local team, Kano Pillars: the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano.
Getting a match ticket was the easy part, getting past the baton wielding police, shut gates and crowds of disaffected ticket holders was not. Most of my friends gave up when a camera was pick-pocketed. Eventually though, a FIFA ‘risk assessment’ officer let me in.
Inside the atmosphere was electric as the 10-man Spanish team scored to go 2-1 up over the USA. The quality of the play was a lot better than I expected and the crowd enthusiastic. Fans chatted with me about the stars of the Premiership and La Liga, giving sympathy for my home team Newcastle United. The stadium, complete with giant video screen was great, I really felt like I was at Old Trafford. Only when the floodlights failed (twice) and 14 minutes of extra time added was I reminded of the problems that plague Nigeria’s quest to become one of the 20 most developed nations.
DFID has been supporting the international 1 GOAL! Campaign, in collaboration with FIFA, to use the World Cup competition to focus both public and political attention on getting all children into school – a lasting legacy, beyond stadiums and video scoreboards. Africa has most of the out of school children in the world, with Nigeria having the dubious distinction of topping this league table. 1GOAL was recently launched in Nigeria by a passionate football fan and governor of Lagos, Babatunde Fashola. Video messages promoting schooling are being broadcast together with all the U17 World cup games in Nigeria.
The healthy, literate Western teenagers on display in Kano have had the benefits of a well rounded education and great prospects lie ahead. Outside the stadium the Almajarai street boys scavenge for a living on Kano’s dusty streets and girls younger than the soccer stars on display die from maternal complications, following arranged marriages. Girl Effect, a Nike Foundation initiative eloquently illustrates the potential of adolescent girls - if they are given the opportunities of education and empowerment.
The Eaglets are now in the final knock out stages of the competition that will culminate in the capital Abuja on Nov 15th. I hope both they and the other 30+ million school age children in Nigeria get the education and opportunities they all so richly deserve.