In my childhood and teen years, I was a great fan of the local football league. I knew the likes of Yisa Sofoluwe, the Bright Omokaros, the mathematical Odegbamis, best Ogedengbes, the Henry Nwosus and others that adorned the green white green at the Nations Cup. Spartans of Owerri was my home team though I never watched any of their league matches for I was holed up in my quiet village life. Newspapers like the Statesman had enough Sports News to whet my appetite. I constantly listened to Barry Maughan’s Sports Journal program on VOA through which I won a couple of T-shirts, face caps, and other gift items. This was complimented by the BBC’s daily Sports Round Up which I hardly missed. Just by turning the knobs of the radio in my village, I knew what happened in the sports world such that I wrote a congratulatory letter to Deutsche (German) Football Association after they won the 1990 world cup. I had kept a notebook where I recorded all the match results, and knew the names of all the players of the winning teams and the stars that shone brightly at the mundial!
That was over a decade ago. Now am no longer as passionate about football like I was then, yet I can’t deny the fact that football has become a culture of its own. Business moguls are having boardroom fights just to buy over one premiership side or the other. Even with the exit of the ‘special one’ as Jose Mourinho (ex-Chelsea coach), the ‘Blues fans’ are still ready to die for Chelsea FC. I once had an experience in 2005 when a sworn Chelsea fan got me a branded Chelsea T-shirt as a gift from his short trip to London. I was walking on a street in Lagos when another guy hailed; ‘Blues 4 life!’ and I didn’t see the need to return the greetings as he had wished. I didn’t understand the value of the shirt I wore since I had long pulled my heart away from football. I had no particular club that I supported and neither did I lose any sleep when a team crashed or lost a game. I just watched some matches when I could, or visited sports websites to keep abreast so I don’t look old school and out of touch with happenings in the glamorized world of ‘English Premiership’. So disappointed was the guy that he wondered why on earth did I adorn myself in the blues colors.
As I move around Nigeria and interact with guys and ladies, I realize that the power of the premiership, nay world soccer is so powerful. I have had guys reel out names of players in all the major football leagues across the globe. Seria A, Bundesliga, Spanish Leageu, Scottish League etc, and none of these leagues lack large followership in Nigeria. Most cars now have emblems and mementoes of ManU, O2, Liverpool, Barca, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan, FC Cologne, Ajax, etc and their fans are ready to die for their teams. Many are ready to fight and defend their teams even when they are at the bottom of the table. Even when the favorite team is not performing well in a season, their fan base may not be affected because they always believe they’d improve in the nest season. In the 2006 season, Thiery Henry who became a cult figure in Arsenal rejected juicy offers from other clubs because he just won’t let Arsenal be disgraced. Our own dear child prodigy, Mikel Obi spurned all advances from ManU just to make sure he adorned the blue jerseys of Chelsea and be coached by the ‘special one’.
I thought about this phenomenal passion and commitment to football teams by their owners, players, and fans and I wondered out loud in amazement. You might think I loathe football, but my sorrow was elicited by the reality that hit me daily as I moved around Naija and read the newspapers and commentaries on websites. Naija seem to lack a committed fan base that can cheer her up and lift her spirit when she’s down and dysfunctional. Naijaland is loathed by the very people whose umbilical cords and those of their forebears were buried deep in her soil. Naijaland is hated and denigrated by those whose wastes and excreta have become washed into her earth’s crust. Those who have eaten food and have been nourished by the fruits grown in her gardens still hate, disparage and spite her. Those who should defend her would rather wash her dirty linen in the comity of foreign friends and enemies alike.
Yet we wonder why Naijaland is regarded as a pariah nation and her people punished and abused for having the green passport. If a dying football club can rise from the zone of relegation to the zone of champions, why have we not hailed and supported Naija to rise up from the rubbles and display her green and white flag internationally. When Bolton FC signed up Jay Jay Okocha, Nigerians in their thousands became Bolton fans, and like a warrior, Okocha’s prowess and football artistry helped to lift the team from the doldrums. Nwankwo Kanu’s entrance into Portsmouth has raised the profile of the club since he joined, and Obafemi’s goals may likely drown Michael Owen’s influence at Newcastle United. Though they may not have the chance of winning the premiership, Nigerians yet will support the teams where Nigerians are playing, yet we hardly will support Nigeria as a country because we feel what we have is a failed state that no one should ever think of reviving!
But this mindset needs to change, especially among the teeming youths of premiership. If we can begin to see Nigeria as a football team whose destiny and fortune depend so much on our supportive fan base, things would begin to change. If we could develop the kind of FAITH that we have for ManU or Chelsea and begin to support Naija FC as a winning team, things would snow ball and change in no long time. As I walk through the streets of Lagos, I cringe at the sight of commuters dropping thrash from their car windows. I am left in anguish like Moses when I see a fellow Naija dehumanize and mistreat a fellow Naija. I am weakened by the faithlessness we all have shown to our land and yet we expect and desire good to come.
When Apostle James, the disciple of Jesus Christ re-echoed the wisdom of the sages that in the mouth is the reservoir of the power of life and death, he must have thought prophetically about Nigerians. We lampoon and berate Nigeria with a tone a cursed man would cringe at. We speak no good about Naija, yet expect good to come to Nigeria. We do things that degrade our environment and yet expect the government to do a miracle. Sure the people at the helm of governance has failed over the decades, we still share in the blame and are part of their failings. If we so love Nigeria like the Ukrainians do, we may have had a leader like Victor Yuschenko who was poisoned because he so loved his country to not tyranny be systematized. If we could love Nigeria a little more, we might have the same kind of resolve that pulled Buddhist monks and nuns from their monasteries so they can protest against the junta in Burma at the risk of their lives, and co
mfort of their monastic cellars. If we could love Naija enough and live in that dignity that makes us unique as the envy of Black Africa, other Africans would’ve loved to be called brothers of Nigerians!
If we lack faith in our nation, how on earth do we expect the miracle of capitalist economics to help us raise our standard of living? If we could believe in Nigeria like MTN and CELTEL owners, no one would have had reasons to record in Johannesburg the turn over and profit margin gotten from phone calls made in Nigeria by Nigerians. If we love Nigeria enough and believe she can win the game of economic recovery and political stability, we would not let the Chinese become the ‘glorified saviors’ they have just turned into in our corporate economics. If we could see the beauty and glamour that is shrouded by our warped mindset about Nigeria, our paradigm would begin to change, and we’d have more hope and faith in Nigeria.
If we could for one football season transfer our love and passion for ManU, Barca, or Chelsea to support Naija FC and cheer her on from the stands, those who have lost faith in Naija would become induced by our strength of belief in Naija. And no sooner, the fans at the stands would begin to holler and scream. Naija 4 life!