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Sports as a metaphor for Nigeria

Special to
USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
The Black Business Journal


The first two weeks of June 2002 was an emotionally draining one for me. It was sports that ruined my week and left me in a pyschological tasking condition. Before the World Cup 2002 started in Japan/Korea, I began experiencing episodes of homesickness. I wanted to watch the World Cup at home in Nigeria, with my exuberant friends. That was not to be. I watched the first match with a friend, and after the loss to Argentina, we concluded that Nigeria had a winning team that will get better as the competition progressed.         
It was with great expectation that I woke up at 2:00 am in the early hours of Wednesday to watch the Nigeria-Sweden match. The match commenced with both teams sizing each other up and after the first ten minutes, I was convinced Nigeria would carry the day. Our boys were fit and played beautiful football. How could we lose? My celebration of the first goal by Julius Agahowa woke up my neighbors. I kept repeating: I knew we had it! I knew we would surprise the world! The quick equalizer by Sweden did not dampen my mood. However, after the penalty kick that sealed our hope, I turned off the television set, although I knew there wo
uld be no sleep for me that morning. My heart was too heavy.

In the days following our loss to Sweden, I wore a smile on my face and pretended that
everything was going great. It wasnt, but that is the only way I know how to deal with my emotions. Some may wonder why a football match will affect me that way but you have to understand that it wasn't just a football match to me. It symbolized for me our national aspiration and pride. Indeed, it meant everything about Nigeria; our hopes, our dreams, and our aspirations as a people.

Saturday, I looked forward to the Tyson-Lewis fight. To me, this was Tyson's last chance. He needed to win this fight, if not to prove to the world that he is a great champion, at least to remain relevant in boxing. Ironically, Lewis is my favorite boxer. I knew if he lost to Tyson, Lewis could easily regain his title. He is a better boxer and a better behaved man. But the endless criticism of Tyson had made him an underdog in my eyes and I had to support him.

The fight began with Tyson showing some brilliance and courage. After the second round, he seemed to have lost everything. He gradually receded into a shadow of himself. Lewis used the advantage of his superior skills--a longer reach and height--to wear Tyson out. By the seventh round, everybody knew Tyson had little chance of making it to the end of the fight.

In the post-fight interviews, we saw a Tyson the world has never seen. He was humble and gracious. Tyson admitted Lewis fought a better fight and lamented that all he got from the fight was the seventeen million dollars he would be paid. He wanted something more. The man who was once called a great fighter longed for that title again. He missed being called great!

I wanted Tyson to win the fight or at the least, have a draw with Lewis. I wanted Tyson to have another shot, another chance to turn his life around. I had always argued with friends that the Tyson we see on television and read about in newspapers is not real. That Tyson is a creation of the media and boxing promoters. The Tyson the world knows is a victim of forces within and outside of himself; that Tyson is not a human being, but a cash cow. I still believe it to be true.

Nigeria has been killed in the FIFA's group of death. Argentina, the favored team to win the tournament and the catalyst of our demise, is the other casualty from this group. In my mind, the Nigerian and Argentine teams should have qualified. They were the best teams in their group.
Contrary to my feelings of the past week, Nigeria was not disgraced out of the World Cup.
Though we lost to Argentina and Sweden, we held England to a draw. Our demise was a result of inexperience.

My new week started well. I was ready to put the Super Eagles, and indeed, the World Cup
behind me. Tyson was out of my mind. A whole week of mourning sports was enough. Now I have to pick the pieces and move on. That was my resolve as the week began until I read a story in the Guardian about a three-day old boy at Suleja prisons.  The nineteen-year old mother of the boy is an inmate of the prison and she gave birth to him there.

The Obasanjo Administration has been credited with having the most humane regime in Nigeria. Its human rights record has been acclaimed. Yet, this government looks the other way while an innocent three day old is imprisoned. I know the argument will be that it is his mother's fault.
This only true to those who lack imagination and creativity as, obviously, our judicial system does. The operators of that branch of our government lack dynamism. Could they not have protected that child from his mother?

If the judge who sentenced Ngozi Ajah, the boy's mother, to prison had any brains he would have given her liberal bail conditions, knowing she was pregnant and that her child neither aided nor abated in the crime. He could also have given her a suspended sentence pending the delivery of the child. But as usual, the Nigerian Justice system does not have a heart when it comes to dealing with the poor. Does anybody believe that Ms. Ajah would have given birth in prison if she was the wife, daughter, or sibling of a prominent politician, or businessman?

How could the government of retired General Olusegun Obasanjo have trampled on the rights of this child? Did this child deserve to come into the world as a prisoner? Why did the Nigerian social services not take the child away from his mother after birth? What do we do to prevent this from happening to another child? These are questions that must be answered by the Nigerian government. The human rights community should demand explanations. This boy deserved better than we gave him. His country should not have welcomed him like this and we must make it up to him.

Let us start by ensuring that his life from now on will be better. The government should make sure that he never lacks a good meal, a good education, and a real home. It is the least we can for him to ensure he does not become the kind of Tyson we read about on the pages of newspapers.     
Wednesday, June 12th, was the ninth anniversary of the election of Moshood Kashimawo
Abiola, for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That election of June 12, 1993, was adjudged the freest and fairest election in the history of Nigeria. It is now history that Abiola did not serve for a minute in the office to which he was elected. Instead, he died in prison. His wife, Kudirat, was assassinated by the Sani Abacha junta, the same regime that imprisoned him.

The ouster of the Super Eagles from the World Cup, the loss of Tyson to Lewis, and the
imprisonment of three-day old baby Ajah--all these events remind me of Nigeria, and what is to come between now and 2003. We went to the World Cup with a brilliant, but inexperienced team. They performed well, yet did not win the cup. Tyson came out of the fight with Lewis showing the human and humble side of himself. To the little boy who was born in the prison, some may argue that he was given a taste of the larger Nigeria, which to so many people, is a prison from which they wish to escape.

Just like our Super Eagles should be kept together as a team as they mature, the military and all those who would want an excuse to take power by force, we say: suru lere, softly softly. Our politicians have been a disappointment but some have shown some promise. We should remove those who have not performed through the ballot box, not thuggery and violence.

The Super Eagles of Nigeria, Mike Tyson, and our democracy demand a second chance. Let us all join hands to pull our beloved homeland from the edge of the precipice, where it now rests.

Elendu is a contributing editor of and He writes every Friday, exclusively for Archiving of this essay on another web site is not authorized; only web links are allowed.

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