By Paul Bassey
My son Enobong meant it as a joke. At the airport, I received a text from him that said “ if Jonathan catches a prominent Nigerian like you travelling out when preparations are in top gear for the Independence celebration, you will be in soup…..”

I feigned ignorance and replied “ Jo who ?” of course I knew the jonathan he was talking about, I knew that it was every Nigerian’s dream to toast to 50 years of Nationhood. Did I say every Nigerian?

Over two weeks ago, Onochie wanted me to do him a piece on fifty years of Nigerian sports. I said it was ok by me. Three days later he called to find out how far I had gone and suggested that I did not need to be straight jacketed. That I should just flow. Satire….appreciation….whatever. I said “ ok “.

A week to publicationdateline, he touched base again, this time to say that the editor was on his neck that the deadline was expiring, yet I did not have the courage to tell Onochie that for the first time in over five years I could not put down anything.

Call it a mental block, call it whatever you like, every time I sat in front of the computer, my fingers could not move. Once I attempted something and it came out so bad that I wondered whether it was really that bad.

I said I could be accused of bellyaching. I said I needed to find something to celebrate, that it was Nigeria’s jubilee after all and was I expected to sow sour grapes? It was this attempt at searching for positives in a system devoid of such that made me disappoint Onochie for the first time ever.

Back to my son’s message. Yes, independence, did I really figure in any of those? my culture medium, sports lay comatose. There was nothing we were doing to remind us of the labours of our heroes past.

No seminars, no dinners no award ceremonies, nothing. Rather the sports family was at war, torn apart, from the football federation to the Olympic committee. Nothing to celebrate.

This, was quite evident when I accepted CAF’S challenge to move to Lubumbashi and coordinate the first leg semi final match of the CAF Orange Champions league match between defending champions TP Mazembe of Congo DR and JSK of Algeria.

Call for us to board threw me out of my confused thoughts and as I approached the impressive Kenya Airways airbus emblazoned THE PRIDE OF AFRICA, a different thought ran through my mind. Where was Nigeria Airways? Yes where was the National carrier, that big elephant who from inception revolted against technology insisting that the law of gravity had to be obeyed?

Not only did our elephant go up and come down, it came down in a crash and has never risen ever since. I wonder whether the man who chose the elephant as symbol of our air carrier is still alive.

Why was I travelling on the eve ofour independence day? Some tinge of guilt as I settled down for the nearly five hour flight to Nairobi en route Lubumbashi.

The airline “s in flight magazine Msafiri caught my fancy and as I flipped, my eyes rested on an article entitled “KENYA GOLD_the country, the people”. The introduction to the piece will interest you.

It reads : “What comes to mind when you think of Kenya? What are the country’s national treasures, its iconic features, how do you capture the essence of a country in just a few words?”

That is the challenge of a board, the Brand Kenya Board  that has been set up to identify and refine all the things that contribute to the country’s positive image. So far it has been smooth, trying to identify what it means to be Kenyan in the year 2010.

As I was meandering through the above article, I tried to substitute Kenya with Nigeria and most times found this to be a very laborious assignment.

This brings me to the journey I made to Algeria two weeks ago and how I picked up a copy of AFRIQUE MAGAZINE, a special edition on LES INDEPENDANCES, 50 ANS DEJA. Independences, 50 years already!

In it, the magazine took  countries one by one and tried to define its emotions, industry, politics, dreams, aspirations and failures. When it got to Nigeria, the headline was: UN GEANT DU PETROLE ( ET DU CINEMA ) Yes.

“A petroleum giant ( and of cinema too ) Yes that is how a serious magazine sees us. A geant of cinema, nollywood. Make believe, unserious.

Whereas other countries were treated with serious political and economic data, we were heralded as leading Africa in Play acting. Perhaps they are right because when I woke up Friday in Lubumbashi. It was the Africa Magic Channel on DSTV that reminded me that the day was Nigeria’s Independence day.

Quietly, personally, I celebrate the heroes of our sports. I also laud those who have smuggled in the names of some sportsmen and women in the list of 50 Nigerians to be honoured on the day.

Ordinarily one would say four slots for sports out of fifty was okay. But how do you mention a Dick Tiger without immediately adding Hogan Kid Bassey ? a classic case of Aki and Pawpaw.

Chioma Ajunwa I can understand and I bow. I also respect Kanu Nwankwo, but can the Nigerian football prodigy be mentioned ahead of Thunder Balogun, Christian Chukwu and Stephen Keshi? Then the surprise. Daniel Igali. Who is he?

The Canadian? Where is Akeem Olajuwon, Mary Onyali,…….?  Maybe I should just thank God for little mercies.

Nigeria at fifty, a country where a colleague Aisha Falode woke up one morning to read that she came out of a meeting in Cairo to say that Nigeria’s football warring parties should settle out of court.? Here is Aisha who was nowhere near Cairo, not to talk of talking to any journalist.

Nigeria sports at fifty, a country where a list was said to have emanated from CAF shortlisting the names of Africa’s footballer of the year only for CAF to issue a rejoinder disowning the list.

Nigeria’s sports at fifty a country where the country’s under 17 team will be disgracefully knocked out of an African qualifier for the second year running and nobody is raising any eye brow.

Nigeria sports at fifty, where two referees will drop dead under mysterious circumstances and life goes on.

All hail Nigeria sports, at fifty.

For Brian and Kyle

I dedicate this week’s column to Brian and Kyle the twin sons of my very good friend and brother Godwin Udoji who two Sunday’s ago decided to host friends and well wishers to a thanksgiving and dedication of the twins at the church of Assumption, Falomo.

This miracle is one further proof that the Lord is good and all those who wait on him, though they mourn at night will have cause to rejoice in the morning.

For Papa
This is also for my son Daniel who last Saturday at the Redeemer’s University joined the list of Graduates. Congrats Son. The lord is good. Always.

See you next week


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.