By ‘Dotun Akintomide
Twenty four years after raising Nigeria’s most prolific football squad till date, often referred to as the ‘Golden generation’, former national team coach, Johannese Bonfrere has every reason to smile as the Federal Government Tuesday in Abuja handed over the apartment promised the Dutchman in 1994.
The New Diplomat learnt that the promise was made during the late Gen. Sani Abacha regime following Super Eagles’ victory in the African Cup of Nations in Tunisia.
It would be recalled, it was Bonfrere Jo that led Nigeria’s sensational Dream IV to win the 1996 Olympic Gold medal in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
After winning the 1994 African Cup of Nations with Nigeria, the 71-old Dutch also guided the Super Eagles to USA 1994 World Cup, wowing the footballing world with one leg in the quarterfinals, until that team lost to Italy by 2-1 in the round of 16.
Appreciating Bonfrere’s contribution to the development of the game in the country, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said redeeming the pledge was a sign of government’s commitment to integrity.
“This is consistent with the commitment President Muhammadu Buhari has made to make Nigerians proud of the country and to stand by and respond to the needs of citizens.
“But the matter did not go back 24 years. Rather it actually goes back 38 years.
“The Green Eagles, like Emmanuel Okala, Martins Eyo, Tunde Bamidele, among others, became the Super Eagles after winning the first Nations Cup Nigeria won.
“They were promised houses, but in their own cases they actually received the allocations and they did not have any document.
“So, it was not until April 2017, 38 years after the promise, that they finally got letters of allocation in this administration, which simply shows that the Federal Government is committed to solving problems, no matter how old.
“Change means that the government is solving very difficult and old problems, no matter how long the problems are, be it human, social, habitation needs, including infrastructure.’’
Handing over the keys to the three-bedroom apartment, located at Prototype Housing Estate, Phase II in Gwagwalada, Fashola expressed satisfaction over the pledge’s fulfillment and thanked the former coach for his contribution to national development.
He noted that in Bonfrere’s case, he did not get any allocation or the letter, even though he has finally received the house.
In his response, Bonfrere expressed profound gratitude to the Federal Government for redeeming the pledge made 24 years ago as a reward package.
He noted that the gesture demonstrated the premium the government placed on integrity of commitments, particularly in relation to honour as a result of outstanding accomplishment by sports teams.
“This gesture will encourage our sportsmen and women to aspire extraordinarily for accomplishments, knowing their accomplishment will not be unrecognised.’’
Bonfrere however expressed his best wishes for the Super Eagles who are set to participate in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
“As a coach that was directly involved in the 1994 African Cup of Nations and 1996 Olympics football gold medal victories, I crave for an impressive performance by our Super Eagles in Russia.’’
The former coach called for continued support for Federal Government’s sports programmes and policies, adding that the role of sports as a unifying tool could not be underestimated.