Of prophecies, football and the Nigerian condition

October 13, 2011
6 mins read

LIKE most Nigerian followers of the beautiful game, I was very sad and angry at the way our national team exited from qualification for the 2012 African Cup of Nations.

Our over-rated ‘Super Eagles’ showed no passion nor a patriotic will to win. In a most unforgivable expression of incompetence, Samson Siasia fielded players without métier for success and made incomprehensible changes which ended in failure.

The team could not even defend a slim lead and Guinea equalized with about the last kick of the game. Nigeria’s hope, busted like soap bubble, in the hot afternoon of an Abuja weekend. Samson Siasia was demystified and the team, for the umpteenth time, disappointed their compatriots. That disappointment reflected the worst of our country; left it belly up and like Nigeria itself, exposed the horrors of existential life in the land today.

Metaphysical and spiritual entrapment

But there was a sting to the weekend’s bitter disappointment which should alarm patriots. Nigeria suffers not just a complex cocktail of material problems, but we are sinking under a huge metaphysical baggage and spiritual entrapment! The NATION newspaper of Sunday, October 9, 2011, reported Super Eagles striker, Osaze Odemwingie (one of the worst players on the field of play on Saturday), as having “blamed the prediction of Prophet TB Joshua for Nigeria’s failure to qualify for next year’s Nations Cup”.

Osaze agreed he did not play well, “but the prediction of Prophet TB Joshua really affected us. We thought we could see him and see how he could overturn the negative prediction but the officials came with another prophet who prayed for us and told us that all was well. But in all we did not do our own bit of the job…” So even in football, we lapse into metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, to try to win a football match: not for us a tactical nous or adequate preparations. The prediction of the so-called prophet became self-fulfilling!

Not too long ago, Coach James Peters, former head of the Technical Department of the NFA, spoke on the experience of Nigeria’s under-20 girls’ team, which played in a FIFA tournament. The team was faring badly against the team which eventually kicked them out of the championship.

Loss of goals

After losing some goals, Coach Peters said he saw the faulty tactics our coach employed and thought there was a need to make substitutions and change the pattern of play. He was not going to interfere, but looked to the Nigerian coach who called his assistant and so Peters felt relieved, assuming that changes were in the offing.

They did not come. But what followed was that coach and assistant started chanting “The devil is a liar. The devil is a liar”!! Ad nauseaum! The opposing team scored more goals, as our backward coaches got stuck in their ridiculous chants, instead of a rational reading of events on the field of play.

This surrender to pseudo-religious and extremely backward fatalism haunts practically every aspect of our national life. My younger brother is a consultant in spine surgery and was the first person to alert me to the NATION’s story early on Sunday morning. He reminded me that even in hospitals, surgeons value their religious prowess, much more than their competence with the scalpel!

They pray heartily and call Holy Ghost Fire against imaginary enemies who might negatively affect surgery, rather than being meticulous in their knowledge or preparation. I experienced that when I went through two surgeries after a horrible road accident. Many civil servants have Malams or prayer warriors on retainership, while governors travel around West Africa, to Egypt or India, in search of the most potent miracles; juju or laya to fortify them against imaginary enemies, or to ensure their looting of their states are not detected.

There was a SGF, that I was assured wore clothes of particular colours for each day of the week, at the behest of his Malam. Government functionaries keep under their clothes, “protective charms or amulets”, as I discovered recently with a top government functionary. I was invited to present a paper, and had tapped the gentleman’s arm to ask a question; my hand touched an amulet, to my and I guess, his utter embarrassment. During the administration of Chief Adefaras in in Ondo State, between 1999 and 2003, traditional rulers were invited to a meeting with the governor.

Frisked by security operatives, many were found to be carrying on their bodies different types of juju, including live tortoises, which they assured, were not to harm the governor, but to protect the Kabiyesis! Tortoises protecting rulers! Well, as a growing kid, I heard many tales of the wily abilities of the tortoise/turtle, until sometime at the age of eight, by the bank of the River Niger, at Jebba, I saw a turtle tethered to a post and looking absolutely helpless! I lost my belief in those stories. In the world of the Twenty-First Century, leading chiefs in a Nigerian state found protection wearing live tortoises on their bodies!

Tales of absurdity

If you think the absurdity cannot stretch any further, please give a thought to the poor sheep that was actually arrested by the Nigeria Police in Ilorin, early in 2009 and put in custody, allegedly because a thief somehow, transformed into the sheep. The burlesque extended to television crews visiting the police station not only to film but thrusting microphones at the sheep, with reporters asking whether it was originally human! Backward societies go through these cycles.

That is the condition which aided the appalling torture and killing of children in Akwa Ibom State, by religious leaders, who allege these children were witches. Our backward societies acquiesce in these tortures, often willfully participating in the killing of children. Many women who suffer from post-natal depression have been lynched as witches; just as the press reports on almost a daily basis, people taken through horror after being accused as having “spiritually” chained others. Wasn’t it in Nigeria that a retired Ambassador was taken to dance naked in a cemetery late in the night, while millions of naira burnt? His reason was that he allegedly wanted power to squeeze contracts out of a governor!

Predictions by fake pastors

In the lead to the Russian Revolution of 1917, a priest called Grigori Rasputin held Russia in thrall with miraculous powers, just as Nigerian miracle priests of today. He exploited those ‘powers’ to cream advantages; had undue influence on the Russian Queen and was accused of having raped a nun. He exploited the gullibility of his flock; took advantage of societal insecurity, just as they do today in our country.

The charlatan was eventually killed! De-industrialization has closed many industrial estates and the premises taken over by the new churches, brewing spiritual booze and exploiting contemporary material crises that are reflected spiritually in people’s lives. Rational explanations of these phenomena give way to the pseudo-religious which deepen spiritual enslavement. Of course, people’s spirituality must be tendered and respected, but not at the ridiculous level of surrender to metaphysical nonsense that we have reached in Nigeria.

Method of enquiry

No nation can be built that way! Modernity can be attained only by a rigorous application of science and the rational and scientific method of inquiry into the phenomena of social existence. Our football fortune was reduced to predictions by fake pastors and prophets who litter our country. They grow rich just as their flock reel in poverty; thereby feeling spiritually vulnerable and in constant search for the succour they in turn exploit. Some followers of these “men of God” even steal to propitiate their priests or sell off their earthly possessions, while members of religious groups are sexually exploited by leaders who seem to suffer severe sexual repression or ravenous libidos!

But our rulers also believe these ridiculous miracles and prophesies, just as they believe in cults and juju as the revelations of the past few years from the Okija shrine have shown; including a well-advertised nude pictures of a governor at that shrine or the member of a House of Assembly in one of the states of Western Nigeria, swearing to an oath of loyalty to his governor, naked! It has become part of the ruling class tradition in Nigeria, to don the toga of religion and pretend a spirituality which does not hinder them stealing the country blind!

This is the tragic state of spiritual confusion in Nigeria today; but I am philosophically materialist enough to understand that the spiritual actually reflects the deep material crisis and insecurity which holds our country in a bear hug. We will not play football to win, because a certain ‘prophet’ so predicted and that became self-fulfilling. Well didn’t many Nigerians vote a Goodluck Jonathan, because he is allegedly a “lucky” individual? We have to do better than an abject surrender to absurd metaphysics, because it will not take us anywhere!

 Re: Moshood Olarewaju Jaji: Good football was local

LAST week, I committed the ulti mate faux pas: I wrote the obituary of Moshood Olanrewaju Jaji. It took a telephone call to the man, after a prompting by Ilorin-based sports consultant, Bayoor Isah, to confirm that he is REALLY alive!

I had been informed of his alleged passing by a journalist who comes from the same neighbourhood of Ilorin as Jaji, so had no reason to doubt the veracity of his story.

Even the Sultan of Sokoto called me, asking to convey sympathy to the family after reading my piece. Thankfully, I spent more than an hour with Jaji this weekend and the Sultan also spoke with him. I sincerely apologize for my mistake.

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