The FIFA World Cup remains the most important football event across the world. Since Uruguay hosted the first edition of the World Cup in 1930, during the era of revered FIFA President, Jules Rimet, the competition has continued to grow in leap and bound. From a 13 team event, with which it started in 1930, it grew to become a 32 team affair during the1998 edition, which was hosted and won by France. Today, the World Cup commands a global TV audience in excess of one billion. Every nation desires to be represented at the quadrennial international football tournament. The event has become more than a football affair. It is now a huge public relations platform for nations.
Hence, the sheer ecstasy and electrifying jubilation that greeted the 74th minute Alex Iwobi’s goal that gave Nigeria qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. As Nigerians continue to savour the joy of the hard won victory against Zambia, one thing that is quite instructive is the unifying power of football. It is quite mystifying how a nation that is faced with diverse agitations suddenly decided to bury the hatchet in order to pursue a common goal.
While various groups complain about marginalization in political appointments, resource control among others, it is hard to see anyone complain that a particular section of the country dominates the Super Eagles. Nobody cares about that. No matter where the players come from, the song on every lip remains: “Halleluiah, Eagles are winning today!” Muslims, Christians and Atheists were united in singing this song.
Now, the question is: How come we easily unite when it comes to the passionate matter of football and the Super Eagles and yet don’t seem to see eye to eye on other major national issues? Well, while there might not be a straight jacket explanation for this, my take is that the ordinary Nigerians from diverse walks of life don’t really care about most of these seemingly divisive stuffs. The ordinary compatriots don’t really bother much about religion, tribalism and other such conflict-ridden tendencies. This much was demonstrated in the botched June 12 1993 Presidential election when they overwhelmingly voted for the defunct Social Democratic Party, SDP, Muslim-Muslim ticket of the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe.
The bane of our nation is the elite (political, religious, traditional, bureaucratic, academic, professional etc) who through pointless egotistic, parochial and avaricious tendencies have continued to hold the nation by the jugular. Whenever it suits them, they could agree to work together, intermarry, preach tolerance and act as harbingers of goodness. But then, when their egos are bruised, business interests and political concerns collide, they could set the country on fire. Yes, the nation could burn, for all they care.
Sadly, whenever they decide to go on rampage, it is the hapless commoners whose rights and privileges they so deliberately and viciously trample upon that are often used as canon fodders. When some of the most tumultuous socio-political crises that have engulfed this nation are properly scrutinized, major victims of such crisis have always been the common folks on the street who are subtly hoodwinked into being active participants in a skirmish they nothing about. Ours is a nation where ‘warlords’ trick the ordinary folks into coming into the battle front, unarmed and ill prepared, only to flee at the slightest prospect of trouble.
The Nigerian elite need to come to term with the reality of the time. The times are changing and very soon, there would be no more guinea pigs available for exploitation. Rather than continually engage in destructive selfish agenda that will do our nation more harm than good, the elite need to allow the metaphoric message of football sink deep into every sphere of our national life. We should allow the football process serves as model and reflection to our real life in the society. Being a team sport, every player in a football team including the coaching crew pursues one common goal: Victory.
The Super Eagles achieved victory against Zambia because everyone worked together. Everyone worked to ensure that the weakness of the team was not unduly exposed. Everyone worked to ensure that the strength of the team was fully maximized. Team spirit and focus which are the main forces in football are the hallmarks of nation building. No nation that is against itself can stand. Just as any football team that encourages in-fighting can’t achieve victory. This is the time for the elite to think Nigeria first in all that they do. This is also the time for the common folks to stop being willing tools in any agenda that could bring the country down. As the saying goes in my part of the country, “It is not everyone that knows the beginning of a war that would live to recount it”. God bless Nigeria.