Did you follow the FIFA Women World Cup?Did you see the American team? Well if you didn’t, there’s no need to worry. The point however, is that the United States Women Football team successfully defended the FIFA women World Cup.
That is not the end of the story though as the team represents the level of democratic development in the USA to which an average Nigerian can only dream about.
The team is made up of some women who are in direct opposition to President Trump. For example, the co-captain Megan Rapinoe does not sing the national anthem and has vowed never to do so, as long as Donald Trump remains in office.
The footballer has been in collision with the president since he was sworn-in. President Trump has equally expressed his distaste for Rapinoe in several twitter storms labeling her actions as unpatriotic. Rapinoe is reputed to be the first white athlete to ‘take a knee’ during the rendition of the American national anthem before a sporting event, in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick whose protests over racial inequality in the US since the advent of the Trump presidency has become legendary.
Trump has challenged Rapinoe to ‘be proud of the flag that you wear’, claiming that her not singing the national anthem was ‘disrespectful’. Rapinoe has previously referred to President Trump as ‘misogynistic’, ‘small minded’, and ‘racist’.
Alex Morgan was another member of the American women’s team at the World Cup in France with a big off-field personality. She is a women’s rights activist and is currently leading a 28 woman team suing the US Soccer Federation for paying the men’s team more, despite their having played less matches than the women in a calendar year. She has equally fallen foul of Donald Trump in recent times, and is one of those who openly rejected Trumps invitation to the White House after the team’s victory in France.
How come these two women openly feuding with the American president, are still part of the US soccer team, and representing America at international competitions? Who selected them, why did the American Soccer Federation not blacklist them and why have a majority of Americans supported these sports stars in their feud with the president? Is it because the Americans accept that opposition to the president does not necessarily equal a lack of patriotism?
The answer is ‘yes’. The democratic setup in the United States means that only the best can represent America, and as long as you make yourself available for selection and are not barred by any laws you can be selected. It also means that despite the powers vested on the American president, he lacks the ability to influence the selection of players or people who can represent America in sporting or other events. The performance of Megan Rapinoe who ended the tournament as top scorer and Most Valuable Player also highlights her patriotic zeal despite the refusal to sing the national anthem.
It becomes more interesting when you contrast these with our own situation here in Nigeria a supposedly democratic nation. Is it possible for a footballer who has expressed open disdain of the president to be a part of the Super Eagles or the Super Falcons or any other national team for that matter?
The question becomes necessary as our democratic development must compulsorily follow the tenets laid down by our predecessors in democratic practice. Our democracy is modeled after that of the Americans. While we may not copy everything from them wholesale, it is imperative to borrow those aspects which help us to build a society where all citizens can contribute to national development irrespective of creed, religion, ethnicity, language, political affiliation and other forms of societal/political bias.
One of the most prominent black basketballers in recent history LeBron James has equally had his fair share of public spat with President Trump. James openly called Trump ‘a punk’ and the heavens did not fall; he still plays basketball and earns his living as an American citizen. He was a prominent member of the gold winning American basketball team at the Rio Olympics and is on line to be selected for the 2020 Games if he remains injury free.
In our country, the minute you are perceived as a non-supporter of the president, you are doomed; the same scenario is replicated with governors in States. Without being prompted, government officials believe it is a patriotic duty to deprive those who do not support the president an opportunity to contribute to national development. Once you are in opposition to the president, you automatically become an enemy of the state.
This trend is not only manifest in the current administration, but also has been a recurrent feature of our democracy since 1999. It is on record how businesses owned by opposition figures are targeted and all kinds of pretenses used to run them aground. Anti-graft agencies hound mostly those in the opposition, while supposed friends of the president are left to get away with all manner of malfeasance. The manner with which representatives of the president address opposition figures creates the impression that the leadership of Nigeria is a personal property of the president.
Government officials forget that both the opposition and the ruling party are stakeholders in the Nigerian project, and therefore everyone must be given an opportunity to contribute to nation building. While government officials should not be arrogant in addressing the opposition, the opposition must equally address government officials with civility. After all the ultimate target of both sides is the development of Nigeria and the well-being of citizens. A vibrant opposition can actually be of benefit to the ruling party and the citizenry if it does its job with patriotism.
The right of the president to design a style of governance to help him deliver his electoral promises is inalienable, the right of the opposition to challenge that style is equally guaranteed by the constitution. Democracy therefore is a successful balance of these two opposing rights. Both sides must however realize that the president is for all citizens, irrespective of whether they voted for or against him, including those who did not vote at all.
In the final analysis, it becomes very important to realize that opposition to the president does not make one an unpatriotic citizen. We must learn from the Americans and accept alternative voices in the quest to deepen our democracy and make Nigeria a great nation.