On August 25, 2009 the Eaglet Coach dropped 15 players from the camp of the squad preparing for the 13th FIFA U-17 World Cup finals which Nigeria is hosting from October 24 to November 15 this year. Nigeria has won the competition thrice and came second once. In fact we are the defending champion. Coach John Obuh explained that the players were dropped based on performance as well as the results of the MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) tests conducted on all the players recently. This was after initial denials by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and the Coach. A source said Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of organs and structures inside the body. It evaluates age (in this instance, of football players) from the degree of fusion of the distal radius (in the wrist) and compares these findings with those of normal population of similar age. Is age-fraud a new occurrence in Nigeria or football world? Definitely not. Many sports analysts have always suspected foul play in the age of players Nigeria parades for age grade tournaments, but since there was no proof, they let go. Now modern technology through MSI has come to prove conclusively that Nigeria was about fielding many over-age players either by error of omission or commission in order to gain undue advantage over fellow competing nations.
Indeed this ‘de-branding’ and unfortunate incidence is a metaphor on Nigerian nation. It is a law of Karma, nemesis that has caught up with us. The popular saying is that ‘you’re going to reap what you sow’. These young lads were trying to play smart because they have come to realise that it pays to cheat. They understand that Nigeria is a country where the Machiavellian principle of ‘the end justifies the means’ is given full expression. Has anyone been tracking the staggering number of exam cheats caught anytime there is a general examination such as the West African School Certificate (WASC) Examination, University Matriculation Examination (UME) or Polytechnic and College of Education Entrance Examination (PCE)? Exam fraud has become a perennial challenge to many of the Examination conducting councils like the West African Examination Councils (WAEC) and National Examination Council (NECO). It was even revealed that some parents go all out to buy leaked exam questions for their children while others engage the services of hired exam writers popularly called ‘mercenaries’. This menace has degenerated to the level of Primary School Leaving Common Entrance examinations. The phenomenon is not limited to general examinations but also rear its ugly head in Intra School examinations be it at primary, secondary or tertiary institutions. It is this unfortunate incidence that led Nigerian Universities to introduce Post-JAMB examinations. This second layer University entrance exams have revealed that some students who scored high in the UME sometime perform poorly in the Post-JAMB all because their sterling performances at the UME were aided and abetted.
We can recall the ‘Toronto Certificate Saga’ of a former Nigerian Number 4 Citizen between 1999 - 2003 who was disgraced out of office for falsifying his age and educational qualifications to the Nigerian House of Representatives. The man was later given presidential pardon and was made chairman of Board of an examination council. What is the moral lesson in that? Even early this year, the election of a member of House of Representatives from Lagos State was voided by the court on the premise that the man presented fake academic qualification to Independent National Electoral Commission. It is also an open secret that some of our civil servants doctor their age and service records so that they can prolong their stay in civil service. How many curriculum vitaes being peddled by many of us are genuine? If MSI is to be conducted on many of those who apply to work or are working in many of Nigerian companies that apply age-limit entry requirement, the failure rate will be high as many desperate job seekers are in the habit of making bogus claims in their CVs. Even for the youth service scheme, many of the students falsify their age right from the time of their admission to universities in order to qualify them for NYSC whose age limit for mobilisation is thirty.
The Eaglets age cheat story is a sad commentary on our national life. It taints all our past victories and laurels at age group competitions. Little wonder Nigerian athletes and footballers have a short performance records. While Lionel Messi of Argentina and Samuel Etto Fils are still on top of their game, more than a decade after featuring for their countries in age grade competitions, their Nigerian colleagues have fallen off the radar. The age scandal in the Eaglets camp should be thoroughly investigated. There is a need to know who recruited these over-aged players, what criteria were used in selecting them? and whether there were any attempts made by Nigerian football authorities to verify the claims of these men who claimed to be boys? Those found guilty should be punished while the decamped over-aged players should be banned from representing Nigeria in any international competitions. Similar searchlights should be beamed on players and athletes recruited for other age-grade competitions in order to prevent re-occurrence of this national embarrassment. Above all, let us all strive to make integrity our watch-word.