Nigeria : Soccer and Music as Metaphor for Patriotism

16 Feb 2013

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By Ekerete Udoh

The point that we are a heterogeneous society where shared and commonality of ethos and values are deeply desirable yet elusive has been made and over-flogged in multiple platforms and foras.  It is a known fact that we lack a thoroughly internalized national narrative-in the mould of American exceptionalism and the can-do-spirit that defines the typical American psychological platform.

The topical American believes that he is the world, and the world revolves around his or her shadows.  In sports, pop culture, entrepreneurial spirit, technology, governance etc, Americans believe they are the load star. A baseball game that involves two New York City teams. The New York Mets and the New York Yankees for instance, would be called , World Series if the two teams met during the post-season. It doesn’t matter that the man from my village in ONNA Local Government of Akwa Ibom state may never have heard of the word  baseball and cares less about what motivates two grown men wielding bats and slugging a tiny little ball and the accompanying frenzy from devoted fans. Tell the same man about Lionel Messi-the Argentine soccer prodigy, and he will give you a biographical lecture of the soccer maestro. Put simply, Americans have internalized patriotism; they project it, live it and are not shy to proclaim the majesty of their country in every aspect of the human condition.

As programs are being unveiled to commemorate the anniversary of what many have termed a  marriage of convenience administered by Sir Frederick Lord Lugard and arranged by his worthy consort-Florence Shaw, ours is still not yet a perfect marriage. The heartbeat of the marriage appears to be on life support as many destabilizing forces keep circling around the couple-each feeding the other  stories of lack of fidelity to the union, of brazen infidelity, of deceit, sly and pernicious tendencies, of designs to render and deprive one of the partners their conjugal and property rights. The result has been a marriage that is devoid of bliss and the nourishing ingredients of faith and trust. As in most marriages-especially if the couple are willing to make it work, counseling and a return to those things that once had sparked the fire of passion can restore the luster and dash to the marriage.

That luster in Nigeria’s own case is being restored through the instrumentality of soccer and to a large extent, music. The recently concluded African Cup of Nations in South Africa where Nigeria won the gold has shown us that though we may not have a perfect union, that there are still certain elements in us that speak to unanimity of purpose. The patriotic fervor that enveloped everyone-from Lagos, Uyo, and Abuja to down here in the Diaspora was infectious. Everyone was united in our hopes and prayer for the success of our national team- there were no Hausa/Fulani, no Yorubas, no Igbos, no Ibibios, Ijaw, Annangs, Efiks, Idomas or Tivs, we were all Nigerians united and galvanized by one abiding impulse-the impulse of victory.

As Sunday Mba may have proclaimed loudly to the Bukinabes Mba, I won’t let you win on the day I was born-Sunday and scored a goal that ESPN here in New York described as classic, Nigerians let off a thunderous shout of celebration. At the Tropical Grill Restaurant and Grill here in Queens, New York, where Nigerians and other Africans had congregate and watched the game, you could see an unbridled display of patriotism and pride in one’s nation and it got me thinking: Why can’t we weave a national narrative around the things that speak to our unity and diversity? America, apart from being the sole hegemonic power of the world that has deployed both its hard and soft power to shape the world in its own image and thus maintained its strategic national interest,  has deployed the awesome power of its pop culture-music, sports and movies to define and shape what we internalize about the country. The result of this over-sanitized definition is that we have come to celebrate everything American as the gold standard.

We can use the power of sport and music to do same for Nigeria. Nigerian music, like soccer has grown exponentially. I was amazed and pleasantly so, when I was in Nigeria last month to observe that night clubs no longer play American music-its Nigerian music all the way. I remember attending a party last October that the Group MD of UBA , Mr. Philip Oduoza hosted in honor of the conferment of the National Honor of the Commander of the Order of Niger (CON) on Mr. Tony Elumelu- the immediate past Group MD of UBA and the Chairman, Heirs Holdings and seeing everyone get up to do different versions of Etighi dance made popular by Iyanya’s monster hitKukere.

Here in the Diaspora, at African-themed lounges and clubs, all you listen to, are Nigerian and African music. We should use the sweeping power of our pop culture-soccer and music to develop a sense of patriotism that may permeate other stubborn aspects of our drive to have a united, prosperous society where our diversity is not seen as a drawback but a source of strength.

Congratulations to coach Stephen Keshi and his courageous players who let it all hang out on the field of play and showed that if we were to apply a robust sense of determination, we can be all that we wish to be, including developing a nation that thrives less on zero-sum machinations but puts accent on shared goals and dreams.


Last Sunday, before the soccer match commenced, most of the Nigerian Diasporas that had gathered at Tropical Lounge took time to comment on the book by former Federal Capital Territory Minister-Mallam Nasir El-Rufai entitled, The Accidental Public Servant. The book has opened a can of worms on what had transpired during Mallam Rufai’s time in public service as Director General of Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) and later as Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister. Opinions are divided on what motivated the former minister to dig dirts on his former benefactors and exposed things that should otherwise have called for greater sense of circumspection.

 According to Akin- an IT Specialist who works in a Fortune 500 firm in Manhattan Mallam El-Rufai’s lack of tact shows a grave error of judgment. I mean, you can write a book that detailed what you saw while in government, but you don’t have to denigrate the very people who gave you a foot in the door in the first place. There are ways to bring to the fore the rot in the system, which we all know and acknowledge but calling people names, accusing the dead-former President Yar’Adua of suffering from inferiority complex, when he is not alive to defend himself, I think that was a low blow. His account reminds me of a whistle- blower and even in developed societies like the U.S, whistle-blowers don’t fare too well after the initial public accolades. We all want our public officials to have their feet put on fire if they sacrificed people’s trust, but I won’t have any future dealings with a man who was a part of a process and whose counsel he freely provided while an insider, only to come out and castigate for narrow and selfish purpose the very process of which he was a major actor.

Sally- a physician from Harford, Connecticut, disagreed with Akin,  I think El-Rufai is a hero. The more we expose the shenanigans of our leaders and bring them to public opprobrium, the better our march to having a sane society would be. Nigeria must be rescued from a cabal of narrow- minded and ethnic potentates who think they alone, have the solutions to our national woes. I commend the ex- minister and I have already ordered 10 copies of the book which I hope to give out as Valentine’s Day present to my friends.

To Emeka, a businessman, from Brooklyn, El Rufai reminds him of  Dick Morris-the former political Adviser to President Clinton who after being caught cavorting with a prostitute before the 1996 presidential elections, and stupidly giving the phone to the prostitute to listen in on a classified discussion he was having with the President of the United States ( in an effort to show how important he was in the perking order of the Clinton Presidency)  was  subsequently sacked by Clinton, when the prostitute went public about her dalliance with Mr. Morris.

In anger and filled with a spirit of revenge, Dick Morris openly became the darling of the Republicans and the conservatives who were looking for anything to tar and deface the Clinton administration in order to bring him down. The Monica Lewinsky sex scandal provided Dick Morris an opportunity to stick it out to the Clintons, as every classified material he was privy to, every private conversation he was privileged to have been a part of, an every concerns and thought that the Clintons-Bill and Hilary had ever reposed in Dick Morris, were now made public and to the most vitriolic haters of the Clintons.

This betrayal went on till last November presidential elections when after concocting all sorts of outlandish theories about the Clintons and the Obama presidency, Fox News, the only platform he had to mouth off his conspiracies finally told him they had had enough of him and yanked him off air. As we speak, Dick Morris is a reviled, hated human being that no one wants to touch. The lesson in this is that one should be careful in biting the fingers that once fed him. El-Rufai, in my opinion may be basking in the glory of the moment, but I can assure you that most people-even those that are celebrating him today will be careful about what they let him into for fear of turning against them when the friendship they currently have with him is challenged. I hate to see that happen to him because a few years ago, I paid for a ticket to see him here in New York when the Nigerian Lawyers Association honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award, because of the admiration I had for him. I think he should have concentrated on the issues as opposed to attacking the character and integrity of people with whom he had dealings with in the past. In my judgment, it was not a smart approach. But I still like what he did-the innovations he brought to bear in the management of the huge behemoth that is the FCT Ministry.

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