After a dazzling football career that saw him win two prestigious football awards, FIFA World Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or, which no other African has won after him since over two decades ago, George Tawlon Manneh Oppong Ousman Weah has scored the biggest goal of his life. Last Friday, December 29, 2017, he was declared the winner of his country’s run-off elections and he is the President of Liberia with effect from the 22nd of this month. Yeah, what a way to start a new year!
As a footballer, George Weah was a spectacle to behold on the pitch. Many things worked for him including speed, acceleration, dribbling skills, multi-functionality, goal-scoring mastery and breathtaking finishing. It was little wonder that he remains a football legend and three-time African Footballer of the Year, in 1989, 1994 and 1995.
If you ask them, pundits would tell you that Weah’s greatest moment as a footballer was on September 8, 1996, the day he solely dismantled the entire Verona team by running through the entire pitch for AC Milan with the ball at his feet until he safely delivered it into his opponents’ net with several players pursuing him to no avail. I watched the clip again and again and it was thrilling and mesmerising.
In spite of the success of Weah and the fact that he had made millions from his inspiring career, he wanted to score more goals in the pitch of politics and life after his retirement from football. His first shot at the Liberian Presidency was in 2005 but he missed the goal post to Africa’s first female President, the Harvard-trained Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
During the campaign at the time, his opponents threw jibes at him for being a school drop-out. That was a good punch for the boy born and raised in Clara Town slum of Monrovia. Then, life was difficult and he bade bye to education in his final year in secondary school to pursue his career. The ghost of quitting school would haunt him later.
The greatness of Weah does not just lie in becoming the President-elect of Liberia. His actual greatness lies in going back to school and getting himself prepared. After he was pooh-poohed at 39 when he failed to win the Presidential election, Weah studied and obtained his Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) in 2006 at the age of 40. He enrolled in the University and obtained his first degree in 2011 at the age of 45 and got his Master’s degree in 2013, aged 47. A year after, he was elected a Liberian Senator in 2014 and this month, he is to be addressed President George Weah.
What the story of Weah demonstrates further is the power of education. Regardless of achievements in other areas, the attainment of one’s dreams will still be constrained at some point in life by lack of education. Weah might have ruled the world of football and even got crowned as the African Footballer of the 20th Century among other eye-popping awards. In a country dominated by the youth, who are still familiar with his exciting football exploits, he could still not be trusted with leadership while an older and educated person was preferred by the vast majority. With education, what was elusive 12 years ago was delivered to him.
As a new year begins, this is another opportunity for a new beginning. This new beginning should be anchored on the philosophy of Abraham Lincoln, who said, “I will study and prepare myself, and someday my chance will come.” The President-elect of Liberia, George Weah, has studied and therefore prepared himself; now, his chance to rule Liberia has come. It is hoped that the same talents that helped Weah to succeed in his football career, such as speed, multi-functionality, resilience and fine finishing, would help him to also succeed in office as President. Afterall, he said he is a “born winner.”
It is not always applicable to cite Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg as successful people who dropped out of school. It is always relevant to be inspired by people like George Weah and our own former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who within ten years of completing a two-term tenure as a democratically elected President obtained his first degree, Master’s degree and PhD.
Higher education is both an end to itself and a means to an end. Either as an end to itself, as the case is for Dr Olusegun Obasanjo, or a means to an end, as it is for many people including President-elect George Weah, education remains the visa to the world of possibilities and opportunities.