I recently watched an American football game in a large stadium filled with sport loving Americans. The excitement and passion I saw on everyone’s face strained me in trying to understand the game. The referee blew his whistle almost every 10 seconds. Either a rough tackle or some other fouls had been committed. I wondered how Americans enjoyed the game with all the regular stops. The females that cheered the team and crowd during the half times were entertaining with their performance. Even though I didn’t enjoy the game because I couldn’t understand the rules on a short time, the American unifying strength I observed during the game unexpectedly entertained me. I began to wonder if these weren’t the individualist Americans. The serious minded people I would see in the street and that cared about pursuing personal goals. At the field of play, they were collective for fun and to win. My American friend that invited me paid for my bottles of beer at the pub. His team won, I know. On usual days, we must individually pay for our beers. I later explained to him about the different Americans I saw during the match. His answers marveled me and there I began my thoughtful journey back to Nigeria. ‘The American football is a unifying metaphor in America. It unites all kinds of America no matter your individual pursuit or achievement,’ he said.
I began to think of Nigeria, the country I grew up loving. What would I call the Nigerian metaphor? Ask any Nigeria this question; her/his answer would quickly be ‘soccer’. I can’t forget the lovely Nigerian people on the day we won the Olympic gold in Atlanta. Kanu Nwakwo found a place in every Nigerian’s heart. People, who weren’t interested in the soccer game, couldn’t overlook the celebration of Atlanta 1996. But in determining a metaphor for a country, I would credit football to the British who brought the game to us. Football has a long tradition in Europe. It is more than a century old in the European continent. In the European history, the game brought the idea of a friendly travel from one location to another. Even till today, football clubs and their fans travel from one city or country to another. Is that travelling passion for sports present in Nigeria? My answer will be ‘no’. Our premier league within the support of Nigerians cannot be compared with that of Americans or their European counterparts. But, the fortitude of traveling is still present in Nigeria. It can be found on the other way, Nigerians travelling in search of money. Travelling to sell or buy goods and products is most common.
Drive through a slow traffic in Lagos, the market will suddenly appear to you. Unexpected products would be displayed by this ‘traffic hawkers.’ If you feel you would not buy from them, you must be deceiving yourself. Arguable, you would see an item that you had planned to buy or a product that had been out of stock at your usual market place. On my recent visit in Nigeria, this year, I saw a white American hawking sausage rolls at a slow traffic. The sausage roll he hawked was the regular type popularly called ‘Gala’. He didn’t fail to attract Nigerians amazingly looking at him and caused monopoly at the fellow Nigerians hawking their daily ‘gala’ snacks. The next day, I saw his picture on an evening newspaper. He claimed to had hawked ‘Gala’ because he needed a better perspective to understand Nigerians for his research. That might sound unnecessary, but there must be a reason why he chose hawking.
The Fulani people carry their stocks and animals travelling from one location to another. This had been a long tradition. I am sure still that the tradition exists today within the conservative Fulani people. Take a trip to an Igbo village in the Southeast; you would hear the four market days of Afo, Nkwo, Eke and Orie. On the day of the Nwko market day in my village, the city square would be filled up with market women. Most of them had travelled from the neighboring villages to sell their stocks. The same tradition can also be traced to the Southwestern part. The idea by which the Yoruba market women divide their market place in stalls can be traced back to tradition. Some markets had remained in the same location for ages. Many of the same traditional foodstuffs sold in market places, the ancestors of modern Nigerians had sold them at the same location. So too, these practice have some beliefs, practices and social norms that endured the onslaught of centuries of colonial and slavery influence.
The marketplace is an appropriate metaphor for understanding the multicultural of modern Nigeria. For centuries before the arrival of the Europeans, the marketplace was the community center for a town and the surrounding settlements. It was the center of commerce, the local town hall, and the main social center all rolled into one. The characteristics are still true till today. The traditional market place created the today’s Nigerian middle class society. The middle class that own large stalls at Onitcha and Alaba markets. That sells and imports car spare parts and electronics. Many other middle class members also involve in one trade and travels from one location to another. The travelling zeal and characteristic in the Nigerian market place includes its diversity, dynamism, and the balance between different traditions and cultures.
I am sure any Nigerian that reads this piece would understand that the Nigerian market place is our unifying metaphor. Although it is something we might overlook, but it had helped in building the country, irrespective of the inconsistencies that exists at the top. There are other factors that can be listed; we all know that they cannot be counted. Apart from crime that the international media projects about the country, the market oriented people is still big part known for Nigerians.