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Super Eagles and Marcus the pig at the World Cup

There has been nothing in recent memory like the build up to Nigeria’s first match at the on-going 2018 FIFA World Cup tournament in Russia. Football is Nigeria’s greatest unifier: when it is football, our compatriots drop all ethnic

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There has been nothing in recent memory like the build up to Nigeria’s first match at the on-going 2018 FIFA World Cup tournament in Russia. Football is Nigeria’s greatest unifier: when it is football, our compatriots drop all ethnic, religious and ideological differences and profess the missing faith and ideology of one Nigeria.

They have expressed similar solidarity over whose jollof is sweeter in the competition between Ghanaian jollof, Senegalese jollof and Nigerian jollof – the way Nigerians defend our national cuisine, you would think we are a nation of gourmets, but nothing compares to the magic of football and its connection with nationalism. When it comes to football, Nigeria is the home of passion, zeal and boundary-less excitement. This is intriguing so to speak in the same nation where politics is combustible and a comment about another person’s faith or religion, or ethnicity or a mere disagreement between a Hausa-Fulani and a Yoruba at Mile 12 market, or between a pastoralist and a farmer in the Middle Belt could result in bloodbath, even at a football-viewing centre. The only explanation we have for this is that Nigeria is a complex country, full of paradoxes, and clearly, only Nigerians understand their country.

Nonetheless, the disappointing performance of the Super Eagles in their first match at the on-going 2018 World Cup tournament has nothing to do with paradox or complexity, it was a display of sheer absent-mindedness. In the build-up to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Nigeria was the darling of the entire world. The news was that we had the best set of jerseys and kits in the world. Despite the shoulder-rubbing aspiration of Egypt, Croatia and one other country like that, the Nigerian jerseys designed by Nike became the aso ebi of the World Cup – a nice combination of colour, mood, shade and tint. The jerseys sold out a few minutes after being made available on the Nike website. Before you knew it, everybody that is somebody or simply pro-Nigerian started wearing the jersey, across the world. If the World Cup were to be won by the beauty of the garment, Nigerians would have seized the trophy even before the tournament began.

There was even a quarrel over the attires: there must be like four different types, but the one eventually designed by a local tailor made as much wave as the Nike ones and one guy went on twitter to protest that there was a Nigerian conspiracy against the Warri guy who designed the local aso ebi. At that point, the ethnic element came in, but Nigerians didn’t dwell on that. They quickly recognized @gt_stitches and asked the Super Eagles to show the world what they have.

Beautiful Nollywood girls and professional local slay queens pushed their frontal and back-end assets in our faces proclaiming Up-Nigeria. Some even exposed nice, succulent, tempting flesh, to reassure the Super Eagles that the women of Nigeria were behind them. Some celebrities joined the craze, including a few pot-bellied, and white-hair-in-the-nose actors wearing the Super Eagles jersey. The international media spotted the story – BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera etc and adopted the Super Eagles as the best-dressed team in the World Cup and we all went wa-ah–oh. They even interviewed Russians watching our Nigerian football fans, dancing round the streets of Russia, singing, jolloficating, and energetically pounding the streets. “The Nigerians just won’t stop singing and dancing”!

The excitement was so much that even the President of Brazil endorsed Nigeria as a key team at the World Cup. The Irish, not having a team at the World Cup, ignored England and said they were supporting Nigeria. It was clear to me, doing a structuralist and semiotic reading of this that Nigeria is a country in desperate need of good news. I didn’t attempt a Marxist reading- the Russians themselves having killed Karl Marx after his death. The World Cup is not about the struggle of the masses, or equity or justice. It is war, even if at the end of the day the gifted are separated from the waka-pass and a dictatorship of the former is established. Every qualifying team joins the war to defend its country, its brand, national ego and corporate brand. Very sad. Very bad. So frustrating, therefore: The Super Eagles messed us up on Saturday, June 16. Many Nigerians were disappointed with their performance. It was Nigeria’s 6th World Cup appearance. The boys may have worn the most fashionable clothes, but they failed to realize that the World Cup is not a Dolce and Gabana show where Wizkid and Naomi Campell can exchange boy and woman banters or that the garment does not make the Monk. Every World Cup match is a macho game, a game of thrones, with too much at stake – personal brands, national brands, and the ego and emotions of nations. Our team lacked energy, drive and creativity. Alex Iwobi, the leading light from the qualifiers was anonymous on the left wing. Victor Moses was the man every Nigerian thought would make some difference. The fella was busy showboating all over the pitch on Saturday, falling up and down like a yoyo, kicking the ball like a headless chicken. Ighalo was left isolated with no secondary support.

Troost-Ekong certainly does not know that the World Cup field is not a night-club. He should be told to stop holding and embracing the opponent in the penalty yard. A football match is not a ballet where people cling to each other and do the pirouette. Mikel Obi should try and help his country. Cristiano Ronaldo had a big tax evasion matter on his head, but he still stood up for his country. Diego Costa: he proved himself for Spain. Lionel Messi may have lost the penalty: I blame the coach – never ask Messi to take the penalty, he would mess it up- but he worked hard for Argentina.

With an own goal and a silly penalty give-away in the match against Croatia, we have all now become a nation of football coaches. Young Nigerians who claim to understand football, even if their only claim to that is the Aba-made Super Eagles jersey they bought in Lagos Traffic, or at Yaba bend-down market, are now telling Gernot Rohr what combination he must adopt in subsequent matches. Many amateur coaches have recommended the 4-4-2 combination but I think Nigeria probably stands a chance of doing better in this World Cup if all the arm-chair coaches on social media can be blocked and all the fine girls with corruption-laden body parts can be banned from sending Direct Messages to the Super Eagles. Also, the boys must not visit Mikel Obi’s in-laws until the end of the tournament. They must stay away from Russian hospitality and Vodka. Nigeria as a country needs to concentrate on the task at hand. Switzerland was able to hold Brazil down to a 1-1 draw because they focused on the job. The same was the case in the Portugal-Spain match. Marcus, the pig had predicted that Spain would beat Portugal. But that didn’t happen. In the dying minutes, Ronaldo made it a hat-rick and cancelled Diego Costa’s brace. We need people like that in the Super Eagles. Portugal obviously did not rely on the pig.

It is indeed a crying shame that Nigerians are relying on fashion and animals for their World Cup 2018 fortune. Just before our first match against Croatia on Saturday, we were told that the Football Association Chairman in Russia had issued a statement forbidding Super Eagles fans from bringing live chickens to the stadiums. Apparently the Super Eagles Fans’ Club Association had asked for permission to bring live chickens to the match venues- chickens are said to be symbols of the Fans’ association. I don’t know whether or not the Russians were being polite, but they said No. I have tried to put myself in their shoes. Having heard all those stories about snakes that steal millions of money in Nigeria, who in his right senses in the world today, will allow Nigerians to bring a live chicken to a competitive football match? What if any of the chickens, the sprightly, springy ones broke loose, jumped onto the field of play and caused some havoc in the course of a peregrination across the stadium? There is also the additional threat of bird flu, being spread inadvertently through contact or air-borne pollination. But may be it was not even the chickens that posed the greatest danger, it was probably Marcus the pig- the prophesying-animal that reportedly told the whole world that the Super Eagles would make it to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup.

Nigerians generally, including the Super Eagles are very superstitious. But we all need to be told that the World Cup is not about chickens and pigs. Some Nigerians were so dependent on the pig’s prediction that when they were disappointed at the end, they slaughtered and barbecued Marcus – representations of it – literally, and figuratively, on social media for its treachery. May they be reminded that the same pig probably predicted that Spain will beat Portugal in their first encounter. But Portugal had Ronaldo who proved to be brighter than the pig and in the dying minutes, he changed the game. And that takes us to where we are going: the Super Eagles must stop relying on predictions, or pigs or chickens and play football. The on-going World Cup tournament is already springing surprises and living up to the hype. Mexico trashed Germany the defending Champions. Switzerland held Brazil with their individually and collectively talented squad to a draw. Portugal and Spain played as if they were at war. Iceland, a first-time participant at the World Cup, put up a great showing, 1-1, against Argentina, a team mentioned as one of the favourites to win the tournament. This particular match recorded specular saves by the Iceland goalkeeper, including a Lionel Messi penalty kick. Magical moments like this indicate determination and the desire to win. Hannes Halldorsson, Iceland’s goalkeeper, is a film-maker away from football- he would never have guessed he would produce a film-like performance at the World Cup and also be named Man of the Match.

On Friday, June 22, the Super Eagles will again be on the field – against Iceland. If there is ever a must-win match to keep a nation’s hope alive, that must be it. The Super Eagles must not play like pigs or chickens. We expect them to play like champions. Just before the World Cup began, Javier Mascherano, an Argentine player commented on how the great thing about Nigeria is that we are a disorganized team, and that our disorganization disorganizes other teams. Masherano was proven right in our match against Croatia. That is disheartening.

As a country that has football ingrained into its identity, we expect a lot more even if, to be honest, there is an obvious lack of high-end talent representing the national team. Many of our own who can make a difference are, sadly and unfortunately, representing other national teams at this World Cup. Manuel Obafemi Akanji, born to a Nigerian father, has just helped Switzerland to secure a draw against Brazil. Dele Alli, another Nigerian is in the English national team. So I ask: are we expecting too much from the Super Eagles? Are we putting too much pressure on them to perform? I don’t think so. Romelu Lukaku, a star of the Belgian team and Manchester United, is from a family that had no access to Cable TV. His family was poor. He is now making a second-time appearance in the World Cup finals. He has scored 2 goals in this World Cup to help secure a 3-0 victory for Belgium over Panama. Gabriel Jesus of Brazil used to paint streets; today he is one of the leading stars for Brazil at the World Cup. What Nigerians want from the Super Eagles at this World Cup is good performance, a display of ability and seriousness, and a successful defence of the Nigerian brand.

Developing football? Whatever happens at the end of the day in Russia, we have to learn to develop Nigeria’s football sector and the entire sports sector – the management, the leadership recruitment, the diversification and strategic intensification – to demonstrate to the world that we are a serious-minded nation. Super Eagles – a severely depressed nation in search of good news waits on you.

Commentator….Reuben Abati

Strictly Personal

If I were put in charge of a $15m African kitty, I’d first deworm children, By Charles Onyango-Obbo

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One of my favourite stories on pan-African action (or in this case inaction), one I will never tire of repeating, comes from 2002, when the discredited Organisation of African Unity, was rebranded into an ambitious, new African Union (AU).

There were many big hitters in African statehouses then. Talking of those who have had the grace to step down or leave honourably after electoral or political defeat, or have departed, in Nigeria we had Olusegun Obasanjo, a force of nature. Cerebral and studious Thabo Mbeki was chief in South Africa. In Ethiopia, the brass-knuckled and searingly intellectual Meles Zenawi ruled the roost.

In Tanzania, there was the personable and thoughtful Ben Mkapa. In Botswana, there was Festus Mogae, a leader who had a way of bringing out the best in people. In Senegal, we had Abdoulaye Wade, fresh in office, and years before he went rogue.

And those are just a few.

This club of men (there were no women at the high table) brought forth the AU. At that time, there was a lot of frustration about the portrayal of Africa in international media, we decided we must “tell our own story” to the world. The AU, therefore, decided to boost the struggling Pan-African New Agency (Pana) network.

The members were asked to write cheques or pledges for it. There were millions of dollars offered by the South Africans and Nigerians of our continent. Then, as at every party, a disruptive guest made a play. Rwanda, then still roiled by the genocide against the Tutsi of 1994, offered the least money; a few tens of thousand dollars.

There were embarrassed looks all around. Some probably thought it should just have kept is mouth shut, and not made a fool of itself with its ka-money. Kigali sat unflustered. Maybe it knew something the rest didn’t.

The meeting ended, and everyone went their merry way. Pana sat and waited for the cheques to come. The big talkers didn’t walk the talk. Hardly any came, and in the sums that were pledged. Except one. The cheque from Rwanda came in the exact amount it was promised. The smallest pledge became Pana’s biggest payday.

The joke is that it was used to pay terminal benefits for Pana staff. They would have gone home empty-pocketed.

We revive this peculiarly African moment (many a deep-pocketed African will happily contribute $300 to your wedding but not 50 cents to build a school or set up a scholarship fund), to campaign for the creation of small and beautiful African things.

It was brought on by the announcement by South Korea that it had joined the African Summit bandwagon, and is shortly hosting a South Korea-Africa Summit — like the US, China, the UK, the European Union, Japan, India, Russia, Italy, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey do.

Apart from the AU, whose summits are in danger of turning into dubious talk shops, outside of limited regional bloc events, there is no Pan-African platform that brings the continent’s leaders together.

The AU summits are not a solutions enterprise, partly because over 60 percent of its budget is funded by non-African development partners. You can’t seriously say you are going to set up a $500 million African climate crisis fund in the hope that some Europeans will put up the money.

It’s possible to reprise the Rwanda-Pana pledge episode; a convention of African leaders and important institutions on the continent for a “Small Initiatives, Big Impact Compact”. It would be a barebones summit. In the first one, leaders would come to kickstart it by investing seed money.

The rule would be that no country would be allowed to put up more than $100,000 — far, far less than it costs some presidents and their delegations to attend one day of an AU summit.

There would also be no pledges. Everyone would come with a certified cheque that cannot bounce, or hard cash in a bag. After all, some of our leaders are no strangers to travelling around with sacks from which they hand out cash like they were sweets.

If 54 states (we will exempt the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic for special circumstances) contribute $75,000 each, that is a good $4.05 million.

If just 200 of the bigger pan-African institutions such as the African Development Bank, Afrexim Bank, the giant companies such as MTN, Safaricom, East African Breweries, Nedbank, De Beers, Dangote, Orascom in Egypt, Attijariwafa Bank in Morocco, to name a few, each ponied up $75,000 each, that’s a cool $15 million just for the first year alone.

There will be a lot of imagination necessary to create magic out of it all, no doubt, but if I were asked to manage the project, I would immediately offer one small, beautiful thing to do.

After putting aside money for reasonable expenses to be paid at the end (a man has to eat) — which would be posted on a public website like all other expenditures — I would set out on a programme to get the most needy African children a dose of deworming tablets. Would do it all over for a couple of years.

Impact? Big. I read that people who received two to three additional years of childhood deworming experience an increase of 14 percent in consumption expenditure, 13 percent in hourly earnings, and nine percent in non-agricultural work hours.

At the next convention, I would report back, and possibly dazzle with the names, and photographs, of all the children who got the treatment. Other than the shopping opportunity, the US-Africa Summit would have nothing on that.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. X@cobbo3

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Strictly Personal

AU shouldn’t look on as outsiders treat Africa like a widow’s house, By Joachim Buwembo

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There is no shortage of news from the UK, a major former colonial master in Africa, over whose former empire the sun reputedly never set. We hope and pray that besides watching the Premier League, the managers of our economies are also monitoring the re-nationalisation of British Railways (BR).

 

Three decades after BR was privatised in the early to mid-nineties — around the season when Africa was hit by the privatisation fashion — there is emerging consensus by both conservative and liberal parties that it is time the major public transport system reverts to state management.

 

Yes, there are major services that should be rendered by the state, and the public must not be abandoned to the vagaries of purely profit-motivated capitalism. It is not enough to only argue that government is not good at doing business, because some business is government business.

 

Since we copied many of our systems from the British — including wigs for judges — we may as well copy the humility to accept if certain fashions don’t work.

 

Another piece of news from the UK, besides football, was of this conservative MP Tim Loughton, who caused a stir by getting summarily deported from Djibouti and claiming the small African country was just doing China’s bidding because he recently rubbed Beijing the wrong way.

 

China has dismissed the accusation as baseless, and Africa still respects China for not meddling in its politics, even as it negotiates economic partnerships. China generously co-funded the construction of Djibouti’s super modern multipurpose port.

 

What can African leaders learn from the Loughton Djibouti kerfuffle? The race to think for and manage Africa by outsiders is still on and attracting new players.

 

While China has described the Loughton accusation as lies, it shows that the accusing (and presumably informed) Britons suspect other powerful countries to be on a quest to influence African thinking and actions.

 

And while the new bidders for Africa’s resources are on the increase including Russia, the US, Middle Eastern newly rich states, and India, even declining powers like France, which is losing ground in West Africa, could be looking for weaker states to gain a new foothold.

 

My Ugandan people describe such a situation as treating a community like “like a widow’s house,” because the poor, defenceless woman is susceptible to having her door kicked open by any local bully. Yes, these small and weak countries are not insignificant and offer fertile ground for the indirect re-colonisation of the continent.

 

Djibouti, for example, may be small —at only 23,000square kilometres, with a population of one million doing hardly any farming, thus relying on imports for most of its food — but it is so strategically located that the African Union should look at it as precious territory that must be protected from external political influences.

 

It commands the southern entrance into the Red Sea, thus linking Africa to the Middle East. So if several foreign powers have military bases in Djibouti, why shouldn’t the AU, with its growing “peace kitty,” now be worth some hundreds of millions of dollars?

 

At a bilateral level, Ethiopia and Djibouti are doing impressively well in developing infrastructure such as the railway link, a whole 750 kilometres of it electrified. The AU should be looking at more such projects linking up the whole continent to increase internal trade with the continental market, the fastest growing in the world.

 

And, while at it, the AU should be resolutely pushing out fossil-fuel-based transportation the way Ethiopia is doing, without even making much noise about it. Ethiopia can be quite resolute in conceiving and implementing projects, and surely the AU, being headquartered in Addis Ababa, should be taking a leaf rather than looking on as external interests treat the continent like a Ugandan widow’s house.

 

Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:buwembo@gmail.com

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