JJ, Omojuwa: Letter from Leicester City, to Nigeria

Just like Leicester City. This will probably become a cliché, as a descriptive line for those who achieve the improbable, especially in sports. The City of Leicester and its stakeholders will not be bothered about the wrong pronunciations; they are the darlings of global sports right now. As far as impossible goes, Leicester City winning the English Premier League in 2016 was more or less deemed impossible by bookmakers. When you place Leicester’s odds of 5,000/1 of winning the Premier League as of August 2015 against the following odds: Piers Morgan becoming Arsenal manager – 2,500/1; Kim Kardashian for the US president – 2,000/1; and Elvis Presley who died 39 years ago being alive now 2,000/1. In practical terms, bookmakers, those who place numbers and cash against the possibility of something occurring, believed Leicester had a far lesser chance of winning the Premier League title than Kim Kardashian becoming the US President. Leicester City are Champions of England! The US President, Kim Kardashian? Trump that!


In a season of Donald Trump, anything is possible, but this is not anything, this is a well-thought out vision becoming reality. David versus Goliath was a one off victory of the seeming underdog against the favourite, Leicester’s victory is a run of 36 matches against several football Goliaths: Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and even Arsenal. Arsenal fans will claim they beat Leicester twice in the course of the season but there will always be a telling difference between winning a battle or two and winning the war. Lessons for Nigeria? Plenty.

The Chairman of Leicester City, Thai Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, paid £1m short of £40m to buy the club in 2010. They are due to earn about four times that amount over the next one year. He said in 2014 after Leicester got promoted to the Premier League he’d spend £180m to get them into European competition in three years. Two years on, they will be playing in the ultimate European competition as Premier League champions. This did not happen by chance; instead, it happened by intentional strategic planning. There will be many books this summer to detail “Conquering the Impossible: The Leicester City Story” but one thing is at least apparent to everyone who paid attention to Leicester’s rise. The leader was clear about what he wanted to achieve. Their first season back in the Premier League, they were bottom of the league with nine games to go, seven wins later, they escaped relegation. That was not even good enough for the chairman, so the then manager, Nigel Pearson, got fired and a man with many people to prove wrong, Claudio Ranieri, was trusted with the Leicester job.


They knew what they wanted, Leicester; they never expected that they’d win the Premier League this season but they did expect to compete for European places. Their ambitions intersected with a period in the Premier League when the big teams only looked big in their traditional jerseys but indeed largely mediocre all season. Whether or not those other teams got weak, Leicester have been deserving of the title; three losses all season. Amazing!

How many people will Nigeria lift out of poverty by 2020? Have you seen the number anywhere? In pursuit of European glory, Leicester landed the Premier League; does Nigeria know what it is in pursuit of or have we simply learnt to just live day-by-day and simply hope for the best? Bring it to football in Nigeria; what are our real goals for the World Cup in 2018?  Many serious countries have a 2018-2026 FIFA World Cup plan. We have no plans; we just live from result to result and controversy to controversy. We will win the odd youth competitions but we will never do a Leicester at the World Cup soon because Leicester may look like a fairy tale but it is one that was built on a foundation of intentions and strategies.

Everyone who can read and write agrees the education system in Nigeria begs for an overhaul. When will this happen? Indeed, will this happen in our lifetime? When will Nigeria have a university system that directly feeds the needs of its industrial and economic development? Today’s system is still serving meals for colonial masters who have since departed the dining table!

By 2030, 25 per cent of road trips in Dubai will be by driverless vehicles. By 2020, Saudi Arabia intends to have relegated its oil revenue while working really hard at the moment at making its economy sophisticated enough to thrive without oil money. In 2012, one mentioned on this column that Nigeria had to work out a plan on its route out of oil money because the reality surrounding the industry suggested dark days ahead. Incidentally, we are here now!

Some things seemingly happen by chance but nothing happens by chance; nothing happens without being a consequence of another thing that happened before it. Today’s Nigeria is the consequence of the decisions that were taken or not taken years ago. The Nigeria of 2025 is being prepared today. The harvests our children will reap in 2040 are being planted today. If we are not planting, there will be no harvests and if we are planting the wrong seeds for our country’s future, no miracle will make our citizens harvest the right harvests in years to come. Life functions in cycles and dominos, everything comes around to reward or to bite. Prayers are great, prayers actually do work but it is an act of insolence for a people who have been blessed with all the human and natural resources to expect that the same God who made those blessings available would come down here to teach us what to do with them. God does not fool around and no, God is not a Nigerian.

The truth is a very scarce commodity in our country and those who tell it often get knocked by those in power and those who feed off them but permit me a chance to tell one more simple truth: If the current administration of Buhari-Osinbajo fail to get it right by 2019, we’d have lost the last men and women still standing with the faith and belief strong enough to hold the torch of a bright future for our country. It is in the interest of everyone, including those who still continue to re-live on the pain of the election loss of March 28, 2015, to see to it that this administration gets it right. The cost of anything other than that will not be fully repaid even by 2029.

We have our work cut out for Nigeria but we must now know that despite today’s realities, our country can indeed become a great country indeed. We just need to first give ourselves a chance, then ask critically, what sort of country do we want to be? The one where rules and order prevail and there is as much respect for the traffic light as there is for a judge. A country where getting a job right after university is not an outlier reality but the norm. A country where everyone is united on the common goals that bind us. What are those goals? What will Nigeria look like – not pictures this time – in terms of the millions we intend to lift out of poverty, the children we intend to return to school, the mothers we intend to save from maternal mortality and the children we intend to save from childbirth by 2019? What are our goals? We get so?

Leicester City had a goal to play in European competitions by 2017. They worked at it so much they have got a lot more than they expected; they are Champions of England. Coincidence not!

This piece was published in the Punch Newspapers today 4th May, 2016