My passion for soccer was inspired by the infectious enthusiasm of my football-crazy youngest son. From the ages of 6 to 21, I humored him with presents of jerseys, Nike sneakers and other sporting paraphernalia, all of which had to feature the green-white-green of the Nigerian flag. Having invested so much in his passion, I am very happy that the Nigerian team is competing in the 2014 World Cup.
Watching soccer helps to bridge the divisions in my society. People in Nigeria are able to put aside their differences and, when the national team is playing, unite behind a common cause. I often wish that we could come together for longer than the time span of a match to address all of the socioeconomic issues facing our country.
The “Super Eagles,” our continent’s reigning champion after winning the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa last year for the third time, is full of talented individuals. We also have a coaching staff with immense experience and some pedigree in winning international football competitions. Coach Stephen Keshi previously steered Togo to its first and only World Cup qualification, at the finals in Germany in 2006.
I believe, though, that there is room for improving the team’s cohesion. Individual skill alone cannot carry the day for Nigeria, and I’m sure the manager is aware of this and is working hard to build a strong team that will fend off the likes of Argentina.
Our national soccer team, with gifted individuals that are sometimes not quite cohesive as a group, mirrors the traits I see in our economy. The Nigerian economy is now Africa’s largest and perhaps one of the most diverse in the region. Gross domestic product will climb by 7 percent this year, according to a Bloomberg survey of 13 economists taken last month, after expanding by 6.4 percent last year. The economy is full of talented, entrepreneurial individuals, many of whom do a wonderful job playing to their own strengths and interests as the market dictates; I sometimes wonder how our growth rate might benefit if our entrepreneurs in addition increasingly played to the national interest.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is Nigeria’s finance minister.