If there is one thing that is synonymous with Nigeria, it is how we have lurched from crisis to crisis and seem to constantly stand on the precipice of breaking up or an all-out conflict. Our cleavages run deep – ethnic, religious and regional, and it has caused every single event or decision that has not been politicized along those lines, with very heated debates.
Issues such as the zoning of the presidency, or Islamic banking so much overheated the polity (for the lack of a better phrase) that many times, I feared, they would lead to fighting and violence.
However, there is, surprisingly, one topic in Nigeria that has remained immune to being politicized – sports, generally, and specifically, football.
The ardent fervor and passion with which Nigerians follow football has turned into a religion, ahead of both Christianity and Islam. Many Nigerians follow the major European leagues, and have adopted one club or the other as their favorite, memorizing the players and analyzing matches with so much passion that you would mistake them for managers.
This passionate support is, expectedly, transferred to the Nigerian national teams whenever they are playing other countries. But the most beautiful thing is how once Nigeria is playing, all differences, usually pronounced on a daily basis, are forgotten and only thing matters: that we are Nigerian.
It is the only time when no one talks about the religion, ethnicity or place of origin of our players; when there are no heated debates on zoning or federal character; when, for once, we act, think and respond truly as one nation.
Irrespective of where a player is from and where a match is being watched, the fans love or loathe him entirely based on his performance, and with completely no reference to where he is from, what language he speaks, or how and who he worships.
I believe that our love for football binds us strongly as a nation that a goal by an Ahmed Musa makes militants in the Niger-Delta erupt with joy in the same way as a beautiful performance by a Victor Moses brings Boko Haram fundamentalists in the North to cheers.
But more than that, the sense of unity we exhibit during football matches involving Nigerian national teams feeds the hope in me that a true and lasting national unity is possible; that one day, Nigerians will agree, celebrate, promote and accept each other no matter the religious, ethnic and regional differences we have.
It confirms the belief I have that above and over all our ethnic, religious and regional differences, there is one overriding and overpowering binding force: that we are Nigerians and that is one thing that we cannot wish away.
While we console ourselves over the sudden end to our Confederations Cup campaign, let us be consoled by the fact that every match involving our Eagles is a confirmation of our belief that we can have a Nigeria that is as strong and united in all situations as it is in football matches.
Thank you, Super Eagles, for rekindling in me the fire of hope for an indivisible and united Nigeria.
It is possible.
God bless Nigeria.