Nigeria’s problems are reflected in their football: New Frame

The ugly reaction to Nigeria’s failure to qualify for the FIFA World Cup has exposed the nation’s frustrations that go beyond the disappointment of losing a football match. The response to their elimination by great West African rivals Ghana was immediate as home fans at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja flooded the pitch full time.

In a bid to create as hostile and intimidating an atmosphere as possible for Ghana, tens of thousands of free tickets were given out. Businesses had been instructed to close early and free transport was made available from various parts of the city. As a result, the 60,000 capacity arena was packed to the rafters, and then some, well beyond the available seats.

With so little access control and messy ticketing procedures, it was clear that it would only take the tiniest spark to ignite chaos. And it is so.

The angry crowd left chaos and destruction in its wake, ripping through goal posts, benches and seats and hurling plastic projectiles at the tunnel area as players from both teams returned to the dressing rooms. Vehicles parked outside the stadium had their windows, mirrors and headlights smashed. Local media also reported attacks off the ground, with some fans having their cellphones and wallets stolen.

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The pitch invasion and acts of vandalism, which have been reported around the world, are best understood in a broader context than football. While the disappointment was overwhelming, the reaction was more a manifestation of frustrations with various socio-economic and political realities in Nigeria, with the outcome of the game serving as a lightning rod.

“Vandalising and destroying the sports infrastructure of the National Stadium is not acceptable, no matter how unfortunate. Nigerians who have done this must be condemned,” Youth and Sports Development Minister Sunday Dare said.

“When I watched the clips and after inspecting the damage, knowing the work and the amount of effort and resources that have gone into resuscitating the building, both from the private and public sectors, it was just very sad.

“In one day I was overwhelmed by our absence from the World Cup and then by vandalism, a very sad development. I saw several young people destroying valuables in the stadium. Obviously, as a Nigerians, they have a right to be disappointed. But they have no right to destroy the public assets in which taxpayers’ money and patriotic private individuals’ money have been invested. No excuse can be given for destroying infrastructure put in place to address infrastructure gaps.

Escalation of violence

On the day of the Super Eagles elimination, March 29, Nigerians woke up to tragic news. The previous night, a train from Idu, a satellite town of Abuja, the national capital, had been attacked by armed insurgents as it headed for nearby Kaduna. Reports said the attackers blew explosives on the tracks to immobilize the train before opening fire for more than an hour, killing at least eight people and injuring dozens more. The fate of dozens of passengers who were abducted is still unknown.

The attack stunned the country not just because of its scale and audacity, but because it was the latest in a long line of insurgent activity stretching back a decade. With the general elections just over a year away, the violence has escalated noticeably.

In January, gunmen killed more than 200 people in Zamfara state, in the northwest, in retaliation for a military raid on their land. In the northeast, Boko Haram holds strongholds, and in the center-north of the country, clashes with herders have resulted in loss of lives, land and livelihoods for local farmers.

This is the reality that Nigerians have had to live with, even though the current administration came to power on the promise of ending the insurgency and improving the security situation. Unsurprisingly, this has simmered fear and resentment among citizens, and this has been compounded by rising unemployment, fuel shortages and an economic downturn.

March 29, 2022: Ghana players celebrate securing their ticket to the 2022 FIFA World Cup by beating Nigeria in Abuja. (Photograph by Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP)

Double-digit inflation has sent food and basic commodity prices skyrocketing, adding further pressure on a population of at least 216 million, more than 90 million of whom live below the poverty line. poverty. The World Bank predicts that figure will rise to 95 million by the end of 2022.

In this context, it should be noted that support for the national team is probably the one thing that brings Nigerians together, regardless of their ethnic, religious or political affiliation. “This game against Ghana came a day after one of the worst terrorist attacks in living memory took place on Nigerian soil,” said Cheta Nwanze, head of research at risk consultancy SBM Intelligence. in Lagos.

“This is an attack that hit people at the top of society, for lack of a better word. And for the first time in my life, I didn’t bother to watch the game and I wished the Super Eagles would lose as we have more important things to focus on Nigeria is in a security breakdown I work in an organization that tracks security incidents in the country and I can tell you without fear of contradictions that things are really bad.

Football as entertainment

Nwanze said football is too often used to cover up political fissures in the country. “We saw it during the last CAN [Africa Cup of Nations]. Nigeria are perennial semi-finalists in the tournament, but the moment they qualified for the second round, all sorts of government officials, including the central bank governor, started trying to use the Super Eagles. to do politics. They try to use them to distract from the problems we face at home.

“A World Cup in Qatar would have seen the same as they would have kept trying to use the football team to distract from their political failures. For me that’s a no-no. Let the Super Eagles stay home so we can focus on what is really important which is the life and safety of the average Nigerian.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, largest economy and largest oil producer. But many citizens live in poverty, especially in the predominantly Muslim north, where the insurgency is also worsening. Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari’s government is plagued by allegations of mismanagement. In addition to rising public debt, inflation and unemployment, the country is struggling to deal with violent unrest, killings and kidnappings in the southeast.

Elsewhere, growing middle-class frustration is pushing people to emigrate. Seven out of 10 Nigerians are willing to leave their country if given the chance, according to a 2021 report by the Africa Polling Institute in Abuja. In 2019, the same poll showed that only 32% of Nigerians wanted to leave.

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The unrest in the stands and on the pitch before and after the match in the capital tells the story of public discontent. “General dissatisfaction with the abysmal quality of governance in the country has certainly played a part,” said African football journalist and commentator Osasu Obayiuwana.

“It wasn’t just about the defeat, however painful and unnecessary it was. It’s a mix of crime, vandalism and anger at the government. People are upset and football is generally seen as the opium of the masses.

“Africa’s richest businessman, [Aliko] Dangote, just renovated this pitch, so for the first major game that ends in disaster, it’s awful. There are many unanswered questions. Where were the match commissioners? Why were people admitted to the stadium for free, even after the tickets were issued? Why was there overcrowding in the stadium?

Broken promise

Undoubtedly, Nigeria is one of the biggest and most successful footballing nations in Africa. As a three-time African champion, the first African nation to win football gold at the Olympics and, with five titles, the most successful country at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, it has supporting trophies. Add to that their 11 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations titles and nine African U-20 Youth Championship titles, and you get a picture of a nation that has always been at the forefront of the African soccer.

Beyond Africa, the Super Eagles have played in six of the last seven World Cups since first qualifying in 1994, only missing the 2006 edition in Germany. Yet the country’s football has been undermined by the failures of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).

After a decade of drought on the continent, few Nigerians had pinned much hope on the team comprising Victor Osimhen, Moses Simon and Kelechi Iheanacho. But this heartbreaking loss has hurt a lot.

“I quit my job to come here, and that’s the nonsense they can do against a small country like Ghana,” angrily said Yunus Maruf, who attended the game. “We are already facing too many problems in this country, and the only thing that gives us joy now is to make us sad. These players are not mature enough. Our coach [Augustine Eguavoen] should never come near the team again and the NFF people should all quit and start over.

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There have been some changes since the Super Eagles’ failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. Eguavoen resigned as Nigeria manager and a juicy two-and-a-half-year contract offer was withdrawn, according to reports. NFF terms. The other Super Eagles coaches – Emmanuel Amuneke, Joseph Yobo, Salisu Yusuf and goalkeeping coach Aloysius Agu – have all been dismissed.

The NFF also issued an apology in press releases, while its ambitious and vocal president, Amaju Pinnick, announced his intention not to seek a third term in September. But this posture means little.

“Meaningful change needs to happen and the NFF President must not back down on his promise not to seek a third term at the helm after his term expires,” said Biola Kazeem, sports media and marketing entrepreneur. . “They let Nigerians and themselves down. The failure to understand their role in Nigeria is shocking.

Eradicating the problems plaguing Nigerian football today will certainly require a will and resolve that is far from evident in any of the current NFF leaders, according to sports enthusiast Anthony Craig. “If the NFF were honestly accountable to the public, I think some of the officials would have honorably left their positions a long time ago. Nigeria needs new leadership, and I don’t think these guys can take the nation forward. said Craig.

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