“The thing about football: the important thing about football is that, it is not just about football” Terry Pratchet.
Garba Lawal dribbles an Argentine opponent and passes the ball to Victor Ikpeba, Ikpeba makes a solo run and passes to Tijjani Babangida, Babangida passes to the midfield maestro “Jay Jay” Okocha, Okocha dribble one, dribble two, dribble three and passes to Nwankwo Kanu who slots the ball into the net. The stadium erupts in thunderous celebration with cameras synchronizing and amplifying the green white green flag of Nigeria to the world. The entire nation went into jubilation, felicitation and exhilaration irrespective of tribe ethnic group, religion, language and clan.
The aforementioned scenario was what played out in 1996 when Nigeria made history by defeating both Brazil and Argentina, the super powers of world football to clinch the Gold Medal in Atlanta, United State of America.
The thesis, anthesis and the synthesis of the victory was not only in defeating these giant footballing nations, it was the unity, vermont and tranquility commented across Nigeria.
Football is an overwhelming moment of beauty, spirit, unity and pride in Nigeria, the most popular black nation in the world, that passion is palpable.
Gianni Infantino, the current FIFA President on a footballing visit to Lagos, the Commercial nerve centre of Nigeria had this to say about football in Nigeria.
“I was told that in Nigeria, football is passion, but it is a lie because it is more than that. In Nigeria, I was told that football is a religion, but it is a lie because it is more than that, in Nigeria football is Life.”
Nigeria’s love for football has blossomed over the years into an obsessive relationship.
You wont know their much until you obstruct an ongoing football match being watched on TV by fans especially when Nigeria is playing other countries. The obstruct might be lynched by the supporters.
Football’s power as a unifying game was illustrated during the END SARS Protest when Nigerian professional footballers showed solidarity with the protesters by celebrating a goal with the End SARS symbol.
When fans converge at a stadium to support their darling team, they banish tribe, religion, ethic group or clan. They don’t care the tribe of the goal scorer so far the ball ends up in the net.
When in 1994 Finidi George linked up with Daniel Amokechi with the midfielder linking up with goal maestro Rashidi Yekini to score Nigeria’s first ever world Cup goal, it was a thunderous celebration that greeted the goal. No one questioned Rashidi Yekini’s entering of the net and chanting Qur’anic Verses as a style of celebration.
From the aforementioned, it is obvious, apparent, and glaring that if policymakers in Nigeria desire unity, they should organize football competition across ethnic, religion, and clannish lines. This will not only foster unity but improve relationships. It will also vanish mutual suspicions and mitigate against stereotypes.
The supporters will hug each other to celebrate a goal and the significance of the goal is not only for the victorious team but for the promotion of unity in Nigeria using football.
This Article was written and submitted by Bello Lukman, News Director, Unity Radio FM/TV Jos. May 2021.