April 13, 2024

Is ‘EMILOKAN’ finding its way into sports? By Muyiwa Adetiba

Is ‘EMILOKAN’ finding its way into sports? By Muyiwa Adetiba

Muyiwa Adetiba

The social media had since the elections, and probably even before that, been a sad place. For as long as I can remember, negative and unpalatable stories about Nigeria spewed fortheveryday, like lava from a volcano, staining and corrupting whatever they came in contact with. But last month, something beautiful and refreshing happened and the social media smiled. It became, albeit for a while, a happy place for Nigerians.

This pause, this transformation from bad to good, took place because Ghana was hosting a major African competition where Nigeria was pulling more than its weight in gold, silver and bronze medals.The competition taking place outside on the track and field among other international athletes, was more than matched by the competitive spirit within the Nigerian athletes inside their camp. Every Nigerian athlete wanted to make a difference and many did. Many pushed themselves into achieving a personal best.

This competitive spirit, this willingness to push themselves to the limit,known variously as the Nigerian spirit, was exemplified at the finals of the 400-meter relay where Nigeria’s third leg performed an almost inhuman feat to close an impossible100 meter gap thereby making it possible for the anchor to breast the tape. The joy that broke out in our collective homes at this feat, echoed the euphoria at the camp.

Those athletes did themselves proud and they could leave the venue with their heads high. But more importantly, they did Nigeria proud where it mattered most. I have always believed that there is a relationship between a country’s sporting prowess and its economic strength and the medal table again proved this. It was no coincidence that the three largest economies in Africa were the top three on the medal table. Just as it is no coincidence that the US tops most medal tables or that China has now climbed the medal tables at most sporting events.

They say success has many fathers while failure is often an orphan. Nigeria is an example of this. Nigerians who often disclaim their country,basked in unison at the success of our boys and girls during the recently concluded All Africa Games just as they did at the exploits ofour footballers during AFCON. It is instructive however to note that those youths who represented us as elite athletes worked as a team to achieve the success they had.

They would not have been that successful if the camp was divided; the baton exchange would not have been that seamless, the passes on the football pitch would reveal the rancor if any existed. Besides, the display of camaraderie at the success of one athlete was effusive enough to be seen and interpreted as the success of all. They were Nigerian youths striving for self-actualization on behalf of the green and white jersey of the country. If people noticed that the athletes were largely from the south, it was not voiced anywhere outside their homes except on some bigoted platforms.

One of the peculiarities of sports is that standards are set and whoever meets the standards is given a chance to perform. Competitors know that whoever breasts the tape first gets the gold medal. They also know that the road to getting medals is through training and hardwork. It is not by colour or race or tribe. An athlete can perform as long as they are competitive. There is no rotation, there is no tribal or racial inclusion. In short, ‘Emilokan’ has no place in sports. Our inclination to adhere to this aspect of sports where we try to put our best boys and girls forward has brought us the success we have had so far.

There is no glaring preference over tribe or geographical location. There is no preference over home based athletes. There is no putting an obvious square peg in a round hole and expecting a medal. Many of the people in camp believed they were the best in their sport irrespective of age, gender or geography. That gave way to mutual respect, that gave way to bonding. And the more medals they won, the stronger the bond of affection and greater the unity of purpose.

This is the aspect we should imbibe in our national endeavors. We should put facilities in place in sports and other vocations which will train our youths irrespective of religion, tribe and gender – our goal should be on how to capture the energy of youth and channel it to positive rather than negativecauses. We should then deploy the best in those facilities to represent us in various aspects of our national life. We would be surprised at how our institutions would respond to competence and the knowledge that round pegs are filling round holes.

We would be surprised at the bond of unity and comradeship that would evolve when people become increasing blind to religion and tribe but sensitive to merit and competence. We have had too many ‘Emilokans’ (turn by turn) in our national life under the guise of Federal Character, quota system, ethnic and religious balancing, and zonal representations. As important as these can be in our diverse and imperfect world, they can be abused. We have severally abused ours, using these various forms of ‘Emilokan’ as excuses to put cronies and undeserving kinsmen above technically gifted people. The result has been there for all to see in virtually every aspect of our national life.

The only thing that unites Nigerians and brings them joy is sports, particularly football. You can therefore imagine how I felt when a call for a Northern coach for the Green Eagles was credited to an otherwise respected Northern media. Football has become such a global phenomenon that countries no longer look at the passports of individuals in selecting the best personnel to handle their national teams. It is at such a time that a conservative newspaper based in the North is resorting to ethnicity. The next thing we would hear would be that all zones in the country should be represented in our national team!

 We have had great footballers from the North who have become soccer icons in their own right. Great coaches can come from there too.But they must evolve through the process of merit, competence and antecedence. It is the only way to earn the respect of players who are plying their trade all over the world, and the trust of the rest of us. Otherwise, our football, the major source of joy and unity so far for Nigerians, would be destroyed the same way the “Emilokan” syndrome has destroyed or debased everything it has touched.