The Pursuit of Happiness, Mediated By Football


SportsThe Muse

“Odion Ighalo scored twice to dismiss Cameroon, the defending champions. Then in the quarterfinal match that followed, we smothered South Africa who had beat hosts and pre-tournament favorites Egypt. We didn’t win Algeria but Ighalo finished off Tunisia for our bronze medal and his golden boot!!”

It’s June 2062. A fifty-seven year old woman serenades her eight-year old son as they approach the brand new forty-billion-eco, ecologically air-conditioned Nwokocha-Yekini Stadium. Abuja is rocking, ready for the opening day of the 32nd FIFA World Cup. Reality has been defied, expectations exceeded. Editorials by Mundo Deportivo and Futbol Ubuntu hail the capital city’s Mayor, Hadiza Idah-Nnamani. She has pulled off a miracle by organising this, despite a global credit crunch owing to East African presidents’ threat to withdraw from the so-far revolutionary Africa Continental Free Trade agreement signed four decades ago. “Do you know how monumentally brilliant this is, darling?”, the woman says to her happy boy. She’s staring in awe across the opposite end inside the main bowl. A hundred and twenty thousand people wave colourful green-and-white souvenir, making the loudest noise. “I now live in a country that not only loves football, but where we can afford to splash on it for a global party”

I’m imagining things, you say. But the Beautiful Game is arguably the most effective inspiration for envisioning a different Nigeria. If you agree Atlanta ’96 is the closest bounds-breaking, extra-national article of pride we have to the moon landing, whose 50th anniversary America commemorates today, then you know why football carries more attention than national elections. After the high of two knock-out games, Riyad Mahrez’s gorgeous freekick the other evening was such a bummer. Those young men with whom I watched that game may not have reason, in a long time, to dance about Nigeria as exuberantly as they did before and after Ighalo’s penalty. Of the two men on my table (who seemed to be settling differences; one supposedly tried to usurp the other’s babe via Facebook), the more ecstatic one after the equaliser (he had shouted ‘Escobar’ following Ekong’s own-goal) dared me, in a fit of gyration, to bet against a Nigerian win. We all left sorrowfully away, eventually.

The pursuit of happiness in Nigeria correlates well with escaping your daily realities. Whether you battle mysterious traffic jams on Sundays or monthly data subscriptions that run out in days, to survive is to pretend away the present and bet on something better appearing soon. The hope for social salvation is ever near. Transitions from “Change” to “Next Level”, while without much substance, mean we are sha moving. In every traffic jam, that’s all that matters. Tomorrow never dies.

For twelve-to-sixteen year olds who watched this nation’s cup enthusiastically, third place isn’t so bad. After all, there were twenty-four teams this time. Finishing on a medals position like the last time we competed shows that when we choose to, we play and slay. Today’s twenty-six to thirty-year olds who witnessed four third-place finishes in five tournaments a decade-or-so ago are not as giddy any more. But they don’t mind being reminded how hopeful they had been. In those days, after the pain of Drogba’s “fluke, off-side” goal, they still celebrated Garba Lawal’s winner against Senegal, sighing “if only that South African referee had been fair in the last match!”. Later that year, a man named Goodluck rose to national prominence and it seemed things would only get better.

The year is 2019. They are now adults of the poverty capital of the world.

But thank you Super Eagles, for temporarily uniting and lifting aspirations once again. Thank you Nnaemeka Anozie, for your timely, life-saving intervention. Mikel John Obi: enjoy the best of retirement for your exemplary commitment through fifteen years of national service. We now return to our daily realities, alternative pastimes and online bickering. Till the next international football competition beckons,

The pursuit continues, to Vision 2062 and beyond.


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