The Super Eagles finished a disappointing third in Group A on eight points despite a 2-2 draw against South Africa on Wednesday night in the southern town of Uyo.
The failure to qualify mirrored the disappointment when Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2012 tournament hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
The scorer of Nigeria’s two goals, Sone Aluko, said the whole team was devastated.
“I am disappointed, everybody is disappointed,” said the Hull City forward. “We did not get the result we wanted and we now have to pick ourselves up as a team.”
Out-of-contract coach Stephen Keshi blamed his players for taking South Africa too lightly in a match they needed to win to qualify for the tournament finals, to be held in Equatorial Guinea.
“Maybe we took South Africa for granted and we paid dearly for this,” said the coach, who was only reinstated to his post last month after being sacked by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).
The NFF said in a statement that they would shoulder the blame but believed the country would bounce back from the setback.
“The NFF takes full responsibility for what has happened,” said the body’s president, Amaju Pinnick. “It is a tragedy for us to come so near and yet fail to reach the finals.
“We made so much effort and sacrifice in Congo to achieve the victory we needed there on Saturday and really had no business bungling it here.
“This is a disappointment but for us, we gave it our best shot and supported the team fully. This is a dark moment but we will emerge into sunshine shortly.”
Former Nigeria skipper Segun Odegbami said he was shocked and that South Africa, who had a poor head-to-head record against Nigeria, must now be taken a lot more seriously.
“We have always taken South Africa for granted, believing we can have them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but they have now shown us that this is an end of era,” he said.
Abuja-based sports journalist Michael Obasi said the failure to qualify was a sign that there needed to be changes made in the Super Eagles.
“The players let a whole country down in front of their fans, just as was the case in 2011 when we also failed to qualify for the 2012 Nations Cup,” he said.
“We should now do away with this generation of players. We need hungrier and more committed players to represent Nigeria.
“Keshi should also bow out of the national team. His best was not good enough.”