Rethinking the emerging football mentality politics in Nigeria

April 8, 2015 § Leave a comment

Kenneth Amaeshi

The beautiful game of football, as most other sports, is entrenched in a win-lose mentality. And the more the loser feels the pain of loss, the sweeter the victory. The pain of loss and the sweetness of victory are so powerful, and make the game what it is. The English Premier League is a typical example of the all-consuming power of football. The chants, the binge drinking, the comradery, and the adrenalin rush, all present the necessary ingredients upon which this passion is built. The passion is entangled in and expressed as an emotive force, which readily transforms football (or footie – as it is called by some fans) into a cult of some sort. Football cultism, in most parts of Europe, is becoming a new religion. In the UK for instance, football cultism draws more people on a typical Sunday than all the churches combined.

Despite its win-lose mentality, football is not necessarily evil. It is a good game, which provides some sense of community, nurtures identity and talents, and offers huge exportable commercial opportunities to many actors – from club managers, players, fans, to investors. In that regard, football acquires a rare trinitarian essence of being a game, a religion, and a business. One of the quintessential characteristics of this game-religion-business triad is that it has become a global phenomenon and a poster child of globalisation consumed in season and out of season by many in the world today. Nigeria is a football loving nation. It is no surprise that the footie mentality can sometimes be glimpsed from other spheres of our lives as Nigerians, especially in politics.

For instance, I saw this footie mentality expressed through the recently concluded presidential elections. There were passionate fans on both sides of the divide. There were campaign managers and spin doctors. There were also commercial pundits, who make a living out of gambling. The pre-election campaigns were littered with promises, threats, and in some instance, raw and obnoxious lies. In truth, they looked more like boxing campaigns than footie. The shouting bouts of boxers making outrageous and intimidating claims weeks before their matches are both entertaining and exhilarating. They exude physical and animalistic power couched and framed in the benign language of sports.

Nonetheless, when the elections arrived, they were more like footie: there were players, fans, referees and others. The context was fierce and each group bit their nails as the results started rolling in and were counted. There were also dramas – some of them rude and extreme.  It was a battle between two titans – i.e. the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), as the ruling party, and the All Progressives Congress (APC), as the opposition. The other parties did not count much. Even if they had superior arguments, here and there, to the titan parties, they merely attracted “wasted votes” at best. The social media was enthused – it has gradually become a cyber-world of fantasies, where grand wishes easily become realities. It created its own estimated results based on the intuition of its nouveau pundits who created a whole new science and art of numbers.

At the end, the real results were in and out, and there were winners and losers.  In other words, some Nigerians won and some Nigerians lost. Unsurprisingly, the victories and losses came in different shades and shapes. Some claim victory because their preferred candidate won, while others claim victory because they thought they had better intuition and insights as to how the elections would go. The latter group almost now assume to be the new sage who can see the unseen in the distant future – something close to being magical soothsayers. While these come across as signs of active citizenship engagement in politics, there are some pressing questions begging for deeper answers and careful scrutiny: what is a victory and what is a loss, in this case? Can a loss be a victory, and can a victory be a curse?

Upon reflection, this footie politics mentality reflects some deeper fault lines in our polity, which are often wished away by many. These are bold fault lines characterised by insiders and outsiders; winner and losers. These fault lines can be ethnic, religious, or “economic” (in every sense of it). Beneath the footie politics mentality are some (un)conscious selfish interests masquerading as patriotism, which are reinforced by such trending comments as: “We won, you lost, deal with it!”. For the undiscerning minds who are truly patriotic, this can become a dangerous trap. In their naivety, they inadvertently become victims of organised ploys and footie politics. For those who are aware of these fault lines and speak out, they run the danger of being labelled. Either way, the fault lines win and become deeper. What is missed, unfortunately, is that the more these fault lines are entrenched, the farther away we are from our dreams of a prosperous, equitable, and sustainable society. Any win that does not prioritise the interests of Nigerians, as a whole, is not healthy for our democracy.

Finally, despite our unconditional love of the beautiful game, we must eschew the dangers of football politics and its lope-sided sweetness and pains. We shall be better off with a win-win mentality, no matter how unsavoury this may sound. At the end, we win and lose together, as the struggle continues in many ways.

Amaeshi is a member of Thought Leadership Forum, Nigeria, and a visiting professor at the Lagos Business School.



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