A Happy New Year to all the readers of this column.
For some reason the year 2020, a leap year I am told, has come with a feel-good aura of hope. I like the symmetry – 20, 20. I also like the fact that during the year, on October 1, Nigerians will have the opportunity to recount their country’s story and be reminded of their journey since Independence. On that date, Nigeria will turn 60. 60 years is a long time in the history of a country. Many things can happen in 60 years to change the narratives of its history. In 60 years, several modern countries and cities have been born and built. I have witnessed a few of them even within my small lifetime.
I was in China in 1977 for some friendly international football matches with the Green Eagles. Although a very old cultural civilization like Nigeria, China was then a Third World, and underdeveloped communist country. Today, it has transformed into the First World, with the second-largest economy in the world. In less than 60 years.
I was in Brazil in 1979. Like Nigeria, it was emerging, and struggling developing Third World Country. Rio de Janeiro, its commercial capital was laying the foundation stone of its city metro rail system. In that same year, Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, was also laying the foundation stone for a similar city metro rail system. Both were to be completed in 25 years. 25 years? It seemed then that 25 years was such a long time the project would take forever. Well, 40 years have since come and gone. Rio’s metro rail system has been running smoothly for years and has transformed the city into First World status, and is astronomically boosting its business, social as well as the economic life of the city. Meanwhile, Lagos’s metro rail line project is buried in the archives of abandoned projects in an office in the Alausa Secretariat of the Lagos State government. Meanwhile, the megacity is gradually and steadily being asphyxiated to ‘death’ by grinding traffic.
I have been visiting the city of Dubai in the past few years. The rate of its development from a one-time desert place to one of the most modern cities in the world must be a world record of some sort. Dubai, in less than 60 years has transformed into one of the most visited cities in the world by tourists, and its international airport is now ranked as one of the busiest in the world. The Dubai international airport alone contributes almost 40% of the city’s GDP, and still growing!
Despairingly, Nigeria’s flagship International Airport in Lagos opened as a modern airport in 1979 has become a relic, and one of the ‘worst’ airports on the African continent. The unfortunate sum total of Nigeria’s story after 60 years is that the country is still miles and decades away from the ‘promised land’ flowing with milk and honey. Any examination of where the country stands today amongst the comity of developing or developed countries, compared to where it should be after 60 years, would bring either depression or tears, or both, to eyes weary with the litany of the country’s failures in virtually all sectors.
But, I am a sportsman. Sportspeople see and approach failure differently. That’s why 2020, the start of the third decade of the 21st Century, excites me and gives me some hope because the biggest event in the world in 2020 is the sport, the Olympic Games. All eyes around the world are trained on Tokyo, Japan, this summer, and Nigeria can learn some useful lessons. This will be the largest gathering of people at a single social event on the planet – with athletes, officials, journalists, and visitors from over 200 countries coming together in the spirit of competition, friendship and peace, to present the best of their young men and women to compete in physical and technical challenges in over 40 different events, devoid of any man-created differences, competing on a level playing field without consideration for religion, race, colour, creed, language, or social status. Meanwhile, for two weeks, the rest of humanity, over 4 billion projected, will sit before television sets in the comfort of their homes around the world to watch how the best amongst homo sapiens convert their rain of ‘failures’ into droplets of successes in sports! That’s sports’ biggest lesson – how failure is a necessary and inevitable part of achieving success. The Olympic Games provide the greatest platform for the demonstration of the conversion process. It is the largest assembly of ‘failed’ athletes. To win a single race or a medal, every athlete will have to go through years of failures in training, in preparation and in competitions. A single medal is achieved riding on the back of several tons of failed athletes. Yet, at the Olympics to win is not necessarily to come first. It is about giving the best of a person’s natural capacity in an event. That makes everyone a winner of some sort.
So, the Olympics also demonstrate the stories of how the best athletes overcome adversities, accept failures as an inevitable part of the process, and become winners. That path is replicated in every athlete, in every sport and in every country. That’s why I am excited. Nigeria will be at the Olympics. The country must learn to start to see its past political, socio-economic and cultural failures in the past 60 years as unfortunate but inevitable ladders to greater achievements and successes ahead. The country must change its attitude to past failures and eliminate the spirit of despair. The country must learn that rather than languish in despair, Nigeria must journey into the future with renewed determination, a new spirit, fresh ideas, a new approach, new leaders, with new paint and brush in hand, ready to artistically create a new and better country. To complete the new picture, there is also a new Sheriff of sports in town. The good news is that he is really new, untainted by past malfeasance, surrounded by also untainted aides breathing and spewing new ideas. The Minister is not making empty promises of a medal haul without foundation. Mr Sunday Dare comes into a challenging office with a new aura of hope. That’s why on this page I choose to be hopeful and positive about Nigeria’s political future. Because I am a sportsman, I believe that Nigeria must dream big dreams, be ready to climb high mountains, and be prepared to sail uncharted seas in order to surmount the obstacles that must inevitably lay along the route to the ‘heaven’ that is on, and underneath the ground, we all stand on in this blessed country.