WITH the invectives thrown between different tribes and religions on a daily, magnifying the inter-tribal and inter-religious wars, brewing so much enmity and discord across the country, one often wonders, is this a country? – resonating with Chinua Achebe’s ‘There was a country’! In the east, IPOB is killing Ibos, in the North, Hausas are fighting fulanis, and the Hausas and Beroms are perpetually on a turf war.
Don’t forget the annual Ife/ Modakeke intra-ethnic wars. There’s also the legendary Southern Kaduna religious conflicts that occur more than bi-annually. If you look at the Nigerian landscape as a whole, it is one huge ‘Lord of the rings’ battleground. And just like in most parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, terrorism in the form of religious extremism and banditry run amok.
Notwithstanding, the Nigerian nation has been resilient to this vast landscape of battles, surviving a hugely bloody civil war, and currently a war against terrorism, with its military turned into an anti-crime squad.
Grappling with a melee of economic challenges and a dwindling naira, Nigeria went into the AFCON barely hopeful, with most calling for the sack of the Super Eagles Head Coach, Jose Peseiro for a host of previous lack lustre performances by the national team.
The best, you’d hear of Peseiro is that he is the best friend of Jose Mourinho, one of the world’s best coaches and that was it. But to the nation’s surprise, the Super Eagles put up a good showing, beating the host nation Cote D’ivoire in the group stages. They went on a winning streak, conceding a single goal with a very impressive defensive system, akin to the legendary Mourinho style. The Super Eagles got the attention of the whole world including all of its 200 million population, as they downed huge adversaries like Cameroon and South Africa.
The Super Eagles made everyone sit up in Nigeria, and we became immensely hopeful that they could bring the cup home. The economic crises was long gone. The price of rice disappeared from our minds and no one was bothered anymore, about the 100,000 metric tonnes of grains to be released by the government to curtail the soaring food prices.
Beroms, Hausas, IPobians, Fulanis, Jukuns and all, were united in celebratory and hopeful moods. Even terrorism and kidnapping were on a holiday before the AFCON finals. The Biafran Republic cause too was put on hold as Simon Ekpa danced to the victory of the Super Eagles winning goal to qualify for the finals. Simon Ekpa became Simon Moses, the Super Eagles winger!
All ethnic and religious alignments were jettisoned as Nigerians supported the Super Eagles, as one nation. You wouldn’t believe it if you did not see it for yourself, and you would wonder, are these the same set of people that declared that it was Lord Lugard that forced them to be Nigerians?
The Super Eagles were gallant, and despite the sketchy preparations and the coach’s tactics, they soared high, and reminded the world that we are indeed the undisputed Giant of Africa. Over 2 billion people watched the AFCON finals and infact, because it was Nigeria, the most populous black nation in the world, against the hosts Cote D’ivoire, the final was set up to be the most watched and most epic AFCON final.
The Alassane Ouattara Stadium was filled to capacity with over 60,000 football enthusiasts. The setting was bound to trip the Super Eagles winning streak as the crowd spurred their team on to equalise and finally chip in the winning goal. The Super Eagles mounted a late onslaught on the Ivorians but it was too late and it was just not their day.
Back to reality, and back to Nigeria, the AFCON has revealed quite a number of things about us and about our country. That we do love each other, and can put our differences to fight for the same cause of flying our flag high and singing our Anthem loud enough for the whole world to hear us.
That despite our economic challenges and the desperate times we are going through, we can be spiritedly hopeful, and be optimistic, and believe that our nation can soar. During the AFCON finals, it was Nigeria against the whole of Africa on social media, and the inter-tribal and inter-ethnic invectives simply vanished.
We once again rediscovered our voices, putting away our vices, remembering that we are great and are richly endowed with both human and natural resources to make us one of the best countries in the world.
We now know that Lord Lugard did not actually drag us together, but just like in Deutronomy 7:6, “for thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself above all people that are on the face of the earth”.
We were strung together by the Lord Almighty and our differences do not really matter, when it matters the most. Now that the AFCON is done with, our leadership should make use of the unique situation created by the competition, as suggested by the CAF Chairman, to make a bid for the World Cup. It would be a huge opportunity for investments from all around the world.
It will definitely also give the local economy a boom. Again, it would serve as a national unifier. Lest I forget, kudos to our Vice President, Sen. Kashim Shettima, for the relentless visits to Abidjan to cheer the Super Eagles. They indeed made us proud.
Tahir is Talban Bauchi.