Now I know that Nigeria needs Sport to get out of the cesspool it has found itself after over 50 years of a political arrangement that has largely failed to produce results reflective of the country’s huge expectations at Independence as a future global Black superpower. With the way things are going politically at the present, it is unlikely that things would change. The world is not designed by the White person for the Black person to succeed. So, why would Nigeria, the most populous, and potentially the most powerful, be the exception?
A friend asked me the other day to sum up my experiences in politics, ‘particularly as you kept insisting to everyone how you saw the country and its future through the prism of sports, and how you kept repeating the eternal words of late Nelson Mandela like a broken record that “Sport has the power to change the world”. Why could you not change the dynamics of politics in Ogun State, through your message?’.
Those are valid questions.
My friend was one of those that believed every word I said and wrote when I ventured into politics a few months ago and started to ‘sell’ the vision of a new Nigeria starting from Ogun State, developing rapidly through the instrumentality of sport. The strategy was simple. Since politics are a game of numbers, deploy the numbers of adherents to sport to access political power.
Try to imagine the numbers I was dreaming about.
There are more sports betting houses in Ogun State than there are mosques, churches and schools combined. There are more television viewing centres patronized by very faithful followership of the English and European football championships every week than churches, mosques and schools combined. There are as many mushroom football academies in the country, each with its team of young ambitious football players aiming to become professionals and to live a life of fame, riches and glamour, as there are primary and secondary schools put together.
These academies, visible on every available open space all around the country, with children milling around them kicking footballs under the guidance and control of untrained coaches, game masters, scouts and agents of every hue and shape, are incubators of the possible numbers of those (politically passive up till now) that can alter the political landscape of the country. This entire army in this unique ‘planet’ do not care or even think about tribe, religion, status, colour, race, or what-have-you? They are completely immune and oblivious to all the vagaries and divisions that have held back social integration and advancement for Nigerians through the years.
If one were to be looking for a new army of young, enlightened, energetic, apolitical, de-tribalised, non-partisan Nigerians united by a common cause, also grounded in the values of determination, passion, friendship, teamwork, hard work, fair play, focus, patriotism, (all inherent in sport) to challenge the status quo and alter the political dynamics of the country, this is it – the army of the sports faithful! That’s the group I went into politics to wake up, being one of them myself, empowered with a clear vision to drive our collective dreams to fruition and develop the country in the process.
It was a new and different message even though the goals were the same as with every other politician in the country. So, my friend’s question was valid.
I am afraid to admit that my first reaction is that my message did not sink in. It did not resonate with the targeted young people. They were deaf to the message. It was not backed with money – or how to make it quickly. At the end of my adventure, my greatest inclination is to admit to myself that there is little hope. With what I saw and experienced in the local communities, with the total lack of disconnect between the government and the people at the grassroots, I have little faith left that Nigeria will emerge successfully as a great nation and be the leading light of the Black race on earth through the present political structures and orientation.
To say I am not tired of the whole issue of a lack of understanding of what sport can do for a people and a country in the present world system in Nigeria is a frustrating understatement. Why can’t our leaders see the evidence all around us every day and everywhere you turn? Of all human institutions and activities, sport is one of those thriving undisturbed, untouched and undiminished by the vagaries of human failures, divisions and differences in the world.
Although several of my friends in the arts and entertainment industries also express similar passionate frustrations, it is Sport that leads as a beacon of the power and possibilities as a potent tool to drive a global agenda.
Sports, arts, leisure, hospitality, tourism, culture, film, music, and so on all fall under the common umbrella of entertainment. Culture is critical but Sport is potent. Their combination is a winning formula for the Black race on earth.
Once a people lose their culture they lose their identity. Having surrendered who they really are for who they are not and can never become, they surrender their humanity and their place in the world! They abandon their ‘inferior’ language, traditions, and systems and embrace, without question or reservation, ‘superior’ foreign prescriptions, thus entering into an enslavement mental prison from which the Black person has been unable to extricate himself for over 600 years. That’s why and how Africa and the Black race have remained at the bottom rung in virtually all fields (except a few) in the world.
The few fields in which the Black person has succeeded in finding a certain level of equality, recognition and appreciation, and being able to compete on a seemingly equal footing, are in areas embedded in Culture – Education, Arts, Music, Film, Sports, Tourism, and, indeed, the entire Leisure and Entertainment industry. Sport still stands out as providing the highest levels of opportunity – unbridled and unstoppable. Incidentally, the entertainment sector is also a huge part of what drives happiness, wellness, friendships, peace, harmony and most importantly, even business in the world. It is the one sector that has ‘resisted’ divisions and separatism through their power to transcend man-created differences and divisions in the world.
The Power of Sport is all around us, in every child, in every home, everywhere on the planet. Yet, we do not see it in Nigeria, the largest Black Nation on earth, with the largest population of a people naturally endowed with the physicality that could make them become the best with the benefits converted into additional economic gains that can propel the rapid development of their environments? Nothing holds Africa back from becoming the healthiest and safest place to live, to work, to recreate and to invest in the world.
Nothing holds Africa back but the people and their lack of appreciation of what sport, an important resource that the continent has in overabundance, can do to change their place in the world. Kenyans, Ethiopians, Jamaicans, and even South Africans have been showing all a clear path to those possibilities. Africa only needs to build on them, be creative, be wise and spread the good news and works around the continent.
Once again, the political and economic architecture of the world today is not designed so that Africa (and the Black race) should succeed. That’s why the Black race is the butt of civilization in the 21st Century, discriminated against by all others and looked upon as inferior no matter any colourisation to the contrary.
So, it is incumbent that Africa must chart a different and independent course in order to succeed, to achieve its potentials and to become equal partners with others in the world. It must earn that right. African leaders that championed political Independence for their countries in the middle of the 20th Century had a vision of a united Africa to drive Africa’s development. Their successors have lost touch with that vision and are groping in the darkness of economic and political prescriptions of former colonial masters that will never let go of their stranglehold.
We must wake up and be as wise as serpents.
We must wake up to the reality of Sports being a tool of change in our world.
In Nigeria, we are still fast asleep and that’s why it is all so frustrating.
So, is there hope for Nigeria?
The answer is blowing menacingly in the wind.