‘Perhaps the basis for this massive investment in football [at the expense of other sports], is this blunt lie that football is the only thing that unites Nigerians’.
The Avant-Garde, ‘Nigerian Football, Back to Square One’, Daily Independent, Tuesday July 13 2010.
Once again, I am afraid that I am going to have to begin my journey with you, folks, from a supercilious point of view. My parents did not teach me to be arrogant, neither did my teachers. Arrogance is something you could pick up along the road of life, and sometimes too when you seem blessed with the benefit of some hindsight. That blessing in itself should and would not be the reason to be an arrogant camel – but if you were to give the camel a break and ask him why, there’s some chance that he’ll tell you that carrying his nose in the air the way he does comes naturally from his being able to traverse great distances in the desert without water. I am not a camel. But this camelian arrogance usually rears its head if you take me for a fool or a simpleton. For now however, mine is happy arrogance, if there’s some collocation like that.
This story actually began sometime around July, just after the World Cup in June 2010. President Goodluck Jonathan, apparently pissed off with our football team’s performance in South Africa, banned our team from participating at all FIFA events for two years. The rationale behind that move, I suppose, was for us to take some time out to look inward and make a fresh start. But no sooner had Mr. President made that pronouncement than all hell broke. People started saying all sorts of shocking things and I will never be the one to repeat them all here. But so strong was the pressure on the poor chap that he found himself face-to face with a Catch 22 – rescind the 2-year ban by playing to the gallery or to take a difficult decision by sticking to that ban and giving Nigerians hope and respect. Well the President decided to be popular. He rescinded himself and people began to hail him as a Daniel come to judgment and a messiah. Some silly people even made this statement that he had ‘a listening ear’.
For me, that decision to rescind that ban was a disaster. I almost didn’t recover from it. It was presidential weakness in its pure and unadulterated format and template. But I am, sadly, having the last laugh now. I also knew then that if ever I was to recover from that act of weakness, Nigeria as a nation wouldn’t. So what I did to purge myself of the anger I felt then was to speak up. And I did. You could read the article on this paper’s website, with the title, Nigerian Football, back to Square one [Daily Independent, Tuesday July 13, 2010]. Apparently, my reaction had the power a fart has in a windstorm then. The rabble, the elite, the politicians and even members of the so-called Fourth Estate were saying that football must not be left to die, that we must continue to play for bad and for worse, that football is the only thing that unites Nigeria and Nigerians, oops. Believe me, all this was a pile of shit. So I held my peace. But one thing I know though was that that decision to rescind ourselves was the worst a country and her people could take. It diminished and devalued our worth as a self-respecting people who do not have the balls to take hard decisions and go through with them.
But you know what? Just yesterday as I was taking my bath, I heard it in the news: FIFA had banned us. They said that their grouse with us is that our government was interfering with football in Nigeria. At first I was shocked. But then I broke into a fit of laughter. I laughed and laughed, I almost forgot my name. What a laugh. What a sick joke. It was a laugh and a relief, because yes indeed FIFA is helping us, telling us by innuendo to take some time out of that expensive and hypertensive game – football, to put our house in order. We should. We should eat the humble pie, come back home and develop our local league first. I have said it at several fora that all of those making all those noises in favour of either Arsenal, Man United, and Chelsea should go hide their heads in shame. How many people in Chelsea, Manchester and Liverpool know about Eyimba, Heartlands, and Sharks of Port-Harcourt? None. We should groom our own coaches, not relying on these carpetbaggers called foreign coaches. We should focus on and concentrate on other sports apart from football. We should stop living that old lie, manufactured by those who feed fat on it, that football is the only thing that unites Nigerians. Football does not unite us. It brings hypertension. We should, we should, we should, we should, but we aren’t doing or are doing the things we shouldn’t. So for FIFA banning us from taking part in this game that gives us hypertension, Thank you FIFA. For helping to vindicate me on the stand that I took concerning the initial ban, Thank you FIFA.
But just as I was savouring elation for being a good prophet of doom for Nigerian football, FIFA was busy somewhere making a bigger fool of itself by rescinding a ban it slapped on Nigeria in less than a week. The question now is, what business has FIFA in the football fortunes of Nigeria when on its own, it could not stand by its own decision? The implication here is that in FIFA’s rescinding itself, it has proven to the whole world that all it cares about is just its own image and the pecuniary benefits that accrue from the game. The basis for this line of argument is that if our government pumps reasonable and unreasonable funds into football, and if the image of the country is at stake, and if these monies were being siphoned, there is no way any responsible government will not interfere. There is no way.
So the way things stand now, thanks to FIFA but no thanks to FIFA. The match we played with Guinea a fortnight ago ultimately lends credence to the fact that we must do these two things: let us again ban ourselves from these hypertension-inducing football matches. Let us shut ourselves in, revise, review, and re-strategize. In the meantime that we are revising, reviewing, and re-strategizing, we must then focus on non-football sports, NFS. The glory they have brought to us in the past, present and future is to be treasured and valued than the temporary ‘unity’ that football is said to engender.