Nigeria’s World Cup Adventure is Over: Do We Still Love Her?

Focusing on sports allegiance to Nigeria, offered a break from pondering over all of its social ills.

Nigerian forward, Alex Iwobi. Image: Nike.

The quadrennial football tournament has a tendency to make it feel as though we live in a more pluralistic world, one where players of various racial and religious backgrounds, from both Western and non-Western countries can compete squarely on a level playing field. Of course, none of that is real, but I suppose it’s healthy, at least once in a while, to forget that we live in an inequitable world.

National pride soars during the tournament for every country that qualifies, but as with most things, Nigerians took such pride to unmatched levels. In the lead-up to the games, it was as though we existed in a time-suspending bubble that allowed us to relish freely in the pandemonium surrounding our kits, the increasing influence of our cultural exports, and the ever-indomitable Nigerian spirit. It was a welcome feeling that, even I, neither a lover of sports or conspicuous patriotism, was not immune to. I purchased one of our modish green and white jerseys, and even said a prayer over the Super Eagles prior to their first game—arguably the single most “Nigerian” thing I could have done. As Nigeria’s national anthem beckoned, the “compatriot in me arose.”

Collective reverence for Nigeria helped provide a timely distraction from how our country is usually perceived: a youth codeine crisis, an ongoing conflict over land in the country’s central region, and an aging President Muhammadu Buhari’s unfounded appraisal of Nigerian youth.

Focusing on sports allegiance to Nigeria, offered a break from pondering over all of its widely-documented social ills. I unguardedly held on to hope that if Nigeria was to see success at the World Cup, that success would help establish a more triumphant story, one that would eclipse the harsh realities that often make it a challenge to love Nigeria.

The admiration we afforded our country in those weeks before the World Cup was the sort of effortless, unconditional love that a person grants to tasty food or a child who gets all A’s. Now that we’ve been knocked out of the World Cup—our run cut much shorter than most of us would have liked—it’s time to return to the tough love that sometimes makes us want to pull our hair out.

It’s the kind of obligatory, yet unrelenting love that Nigeria’s team captain, John Mikel Obi, displayed so stoically when he faced Argentina despite learning just four hours before the game that his father had been abducted in Southeastern Nigeria—again. “I was confused. I did not know what to do, but in the end I knew that I could not let 180 million Nigerians down,” he told reporters. Mikel Obi’s situation read as an exasperating metaphor for how Nigeria mistreats the very people who strive to put their best foot forward—no pun intended—in its name.

The prolific James Baldwin once wrote of the United States: “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

I have similar feelings about my homeland. Because I love Nigeria, I will continue to focus on the bad. I will openly acknowledge its shortcomings and even reprimand it like a problem child when it misbehaves. I will encourage it to do better: be more equitable, just, and collectively minded, not just when it comes to football. That’s my way of lovingly cheering Nigeria on, whether on or off the playing field.

Further Reading

A city divided

Ethnic enclaves are not unusual in many cities and towns across Sudan, but in Port Sudan, this polarized structure instigated and facilitated communal violence.

The imperial forest

Gregg Mitman’s ‘Empire of Rubber’ is less a historical reading of Liberia than a history of America and racial capitalism through the lens of a US corporate giant.

Africa’s next great war

The international community’s limited attention span is laser-focused on jihadism in the Sahel and the imploding Horn of Africa. But interstate war is potentially brewing in the eastern DRC.

The Cape Colony

The campaign to separate South Africa’s Western Cape from the rest of the country is not only a symptom of white privilege, but also of the myth that the province is better run.

Between East Africa and the Gulf

Political encounters between the Arab Gulf and Africa span centuries. Mahmud Traouri’s novel ‘Maymuna’ demonstrates the significant role of a woman’s journey from East Africa to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Āfrīqāyī

It’s not common knowledge that there is Iran in Africa and there is Africa in Iran. But there are commonplace signs of this connection.

It could happen to us

Climate negotiations have repeatedly floundered on the unwillingness of rich countries, but let’s hope their own increasing vulnerability instills greater solidarity.