If you are religious and you love Nigeria, one prayer you must pray for us as a people is that Almighty God should deliver us from a culture of underachievement. I once wrote on this page – I think over the Saraki issue – that we now seem to perpetually punch under our weights. For weeks or months on end, all Nigeria and Nigerians did was pursue Saraki as if once he could be caught or removed from office, all will suddenly be well with Nigeria. As much as I have never personally known the man and he is like any other Nigerian politician to me, I just couldn’t join that wolf pack baying for blood. I saw that, again, we were just trying to underachieve, and to use so much energy and time to achieve next to nothing. Now the Saraki case is quiet; now it is about the boys in the House of Reps. and their ‘padding’ stories. We must pray to God to give us the grace to set great ambitions that are devoid of personal bias, and to pursue such to fruition. That is what great countries do. Right now, our politicians pursue monies they will never spend, through their padding gimmicks, while we the led set tiny targets that get us nowhere. We are only excited about personalities, not issues.
And then we carried our underachieving spirit to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Let us ignore the snafus. Out of our approximately 79-man contingent of athletes, 18 of these constitute the football team that was almost stuck in Atlanta, USA, where they had gone for training. The Minister of Sports was on air to say it wasn’t his business that the boys were there and he didn’t care how they would make it to Rio for their first match against Japan. He would later apologise conditionally over this. But the boys managed to wangle their way into Rio about three hours before their match and through sheer determination, they won that match against Japan, 5-4. To add to their misery before their joy, a wrong national anthem was played for the boys at the beginning of the match. I have a clip of that anthem and the reaction of the players, which the International Olympic Committee got Facebook to take down and send me a warning (because the IOC embarrassed itself). No matter what they do (the IOC), we are now in the social media world and they will have millions of people to chase for all sorts of so-called ‘copyright infringements’ until the games are over. Anyway, our footballers were confused when a wrong anthem was played and as the fake anthem drew to a close, Mikel Obi – the captain of the team shook his head slowly in a gesture that asked ‘why are we so blest/cursed?’.
What is more? Before the games started proper, a number of Nigerian athletes had taken to the internet (gofundme.com), to raise money in order to go and represent Nigeria at the Olympics. Many added this to the funds they raised from family members. Some people will say they were seeking personal glory, and that it is not by force to represent Nigeria, but it is more than embarrassing that Nigeria showed it did not care a hoot about these young talents. There is a video clip on the internet of our 4 by 100 men’s relay team where the boys said that they had never received a call from any official in Nigeria and they found their ways to Rio on empty stomach. This is not to mention almost 10 Nigerian athletes that have been ‘commandeered’ by Bahrain (and all made to change their names in a manner that obliterates their origin at the games), plus over 200 of our sportsmen representing other countries, big and small – from Norway to Portugal to St Kitts and Nevis. Nigerians are just all over the place, just like our economy. Idris Abdulkarim’s song comes to mind; “Nigeria Jagajaga”. Say what you will, but a country where it’s best citizens end up in every other country in the world, is it not jagajaga? Still, Nigeria is our best bet, although we are not treating this country like we value it.
I can only add that not even the fight against corruption justifies our going out there to officially embarrass this country. Yes, the president has issued a stern warning to officials not to pack themselves to Rio in indiscriminate manner as they are used to, but he should be circumspect to ensure that whatever cuts they are making does not affect the real deliverables. He should care, simple. After money, there is dignity. We must rescue whatever is left of the dignity of this country even as we try to save money. If we save money and we lose dignity, and we watch this country sink lower and lower into the abyss of disrespect in the committee of nation, we would have nothing to spend that money on when we are done. It is also debatable whether we are actually saving money, or whether the new kids on the block have devised new ways of gaming the system. No one can be trusted these days; ask the members of the House of Reps.
Anyway, there are 38 different types of sports at this Olympics, and potentially 304 Gold Medals on offer, alongside other medals. Out of the 38 different types of games, Nigeria is sending athletes for about 9 or 10 of them, namely football, athletics, table tennis, weightlifting, boxing, wrestling, swimming (with one athlete after eight years), sculling (self-sponsorship by ‘Coco’ Chierika Ukogu), short put and javelin. Our best hope is however on football, where we are chasing one single medal with 18 athletes out of less than 80, many of who are already dropping out. As I write this, the USA is topping the charts with 26 medals, including eight Gold laurels, with China following behind with 19 medals. Nigeria has exactly none. Lest I forget, at the opening ceremony, our contingent/procession was smaller than that of Montenegro, and their uniforms were promptly forgotten in Nigeria. They came out in embarrassing tracksuits! Even Niger, our neighbour up north, did much better and was far more organised. They came out right in front of us.
Our 2016 Olympic showing also tells some of our story. Very few of the athletes are from the North of Nigeria. In fact, only four boys in the football team look like they originate from the North (Umar Sadiq, Shehu Abdullahi, Aminu Umar and Usman Mohammed). The Olympic football team is even slightly more diverse than what we’ve seen in recent times when 95 percent of the team wass made up of boys from the South-East. There is also a stray Mariam Usman, a lone weightlifter in her category. I went to an Army Secondary School where we interacted with children from all over Nigeria. I am aware that young people from the North of Nigeria are greats sportsmen. People from Jos into Maiduguri are great long-distance runners. So what happened to athletes from the North afterwards? Where did they all disappear to? I suspect it has something to do with the disunity of this country. Are the youths of Nigeria growing together or growing apart? Would they be able to pull together to protect and prosper the nation when their time comes? Some people are either too disillusioned to chip in or they just cannot be bothered. Some people have stopped feeling like they are part of Nigeria. I take the risk to point this out. This is not a call for negative tribalism, but to remind us all that we have a country to run, a country to make great, and we must all cooperate and chip in our best and stand up to be counted; each and every one of us. The fight against corruption cannot sort out this problem of togetherness.
What is the Olympics? It is basically an attempt to shift the focus of the world away from war – albeit unsuccessfully. In doing so, races are meant to come and showcase what they’ve got in human talent and physical prowess. A nation will only ignore the Olympics in futility. Even countries that have had serious ideological differences have had to swallow their spleens and jostle for medals on the Olympics table. The way a country fares at the Olympics says a lot about its present and future. It is the field where countries come to warn others of their prospects. It is a diplomatic tool as well. There is no event that compares to the Olympics, because of its multi-talent focus. It is far bigger than the football World Cup in terms of its import in the comity of nations. This fact should be properly assimilated by Nigerians, especially our leaders. If they have not made appropriate plans to ensure our team excels, they better do so immediately. For the Olympics is where you see the word ‘Race’ activated. Have you ever wondered why different colours, languages and facial arangements are called ‘races’? Racing or running to where? Perhaps we can ignore the rat race for money and concentrate on the races on the tracks and fields, and other sporty ventures that tell of human fitness.
To that extent, preparation for the Olypmics, if all was well, should be like the preparation for a war. That is why the big countries jostle for the top of the table like their existences depend on it. That is why Russia and China always gives the USA tough times up there. That is why Great Britain chooses to come together in Olympics while it splits into England, Wales and the rest for the World Cup. For the Olympics, every talent and strength of a nation – especially its youths – should be pressed into service. It should be an opportunity for a great, much-needed, mass mobilisation.
So, to save you of the research, let me just list here that Nigeria will not feature in Archery, Badminton, Canoe Slalom, Cycling, Diving, Equestrian, Fencing, Field Hockey, Golf, Handball, Gymnastics, and Shooting among others. And those are where the medals are. There are 18 Gold Medals in Cycling, and 10 in Fencing, 14 in Gymnastics, 32 in Swimming, 14 in Rowing and many more. We hope the Change government truly transforms our dreams and actions as the year wears on.