Football and national interest

Nigeria Football Federation Office

Sir: As most sport enthusiasts would know, there was a Nigeria – South Africa match on Saturday, June 10, 2017 at Uyo in Akwa Ibom State. But the match surprised some of us outside the shores of Nigeria. In order to watch live, those of us who found ourselves in Atlanta in the United States of America had to go to the CNN Centre to arrangement to that effect. However, doing that had its own hassles but it was worth it.

Tragically, Nigeria lost to South Africa by two goals to zero. Perhaps, that was a ‘good’ defeat in relation to what followed. One is referring to the ambience of a funeral that descended on all sports loving Nigerians that were part of the arrangement of watching the match live in the CNN facility. There was no tribalism, no ethnicity, no regional or religious differences. It was national grief of inestimable proportions, to recast late Chief Awolowo’s similar usage decades ago. To the extent that some people were weeping, it was genuine outpouring of nationalism, even as our friends in Psychology might call it banal nationalism.

Watching the entire spectacle play out was as personally humbling as it was an unpacking of Nigeria in terms of what we might, collectively, have taken for granted. The defeat and the reaction to it that one saw in Atlanta strongly suggests how losing is such a devastating blow. And how strategic winning is to that national culture, thereby necessitating the question: if winning has such a powerful unifying import, why is sports in Nigeria not organised in such a way that we keep on winning? This cannot be too much to ask for if we are the giant of Africa.

In other words, is it not possible to isolate the organisation or administration of sports in Nigeria as the country’s model of a merit system? It should be possible to implement a merit system that is, however, not exclusionary. The idea here is that the spirit of excellence in a merit system would keep us winning all the time. No doubt, sports and particularly football unites Nigerians and our differences suddenly disappear.

One might still be under the influence of that emotional moment at Atlanta but this might be one instance where emotion has been more powerful than reality or, in fact, created a reality. In any case, sports has become an all involving social domain with something for everybody – national and international unity, professionals and professionalism, governments, business, security and tourism.

Therefore, associating oneself with the dominant sentiment in Atlanta as to whether the Nigeria Football Federation, (NFF) is fully aware that the only thing, which brings people together in a unique manner across barriers is football. Like the military when Nigeria goes to peace keeping engagement outside, the jersey has its own magnetic pull that winning is no longer something to be pursued as a matter of chance but of strategic thinking and actions. This is a process from which other actors and factors cannot be excluded but which, for the start, the Nigerian Football Federation, (NFA) is well placed to lead on behalf of the government. This is not a Naira and kobo issue at this level but about strategising on how best to convert main features of this particular domain in relation to national interest.

It is amazing how a single experience could have had such a transformative impact on one’s thinking as far as the potentials of sports in national interest is concerned. This is an area that has hitherto been relatively remote even as sports has been in one’s life.
Steve Lawani, immediate past Deputy-Governor of Benue State, sent this piece from Abuja

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