The Soccer pitch and the Arena of Politics in Nigeria

Type Journal Article - Public Lecture Series
Title The Soccer pitch and the Arena of Politics in Nigeria
Volume 10
Issue 22
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2007
URL M. Ajayi.pdf
Tfor a moment the huge investments- material, financial,
human, physical- often expended on the game of soccer.
Cast your minds back to the beauty, the glamour, the friendship,
the carnival-like atmosphere that characterizes every major soccer
event. Look at the joy that often follow a glorious football outing,
and the bitterness, weeping and at times bloodshed that losers
sometimes unleash on winners. Remember the inhuman
assassination of Escobar in Colombia following an own goal in the
1994 USA World Cup. Compare the ugly scenario to Godwin
Odiye's own goal sixteen years before then in the crucial NigeriaTunisian
derby that eventually cost Nigeria the 1978 world cup
th ticket. Recall also the January 30 2007 bestial attack in Lagos,
Nigeria on a Nigerian fan of Arsenal, Sodiq Folayan Afolayan,
who was stabbed in the head by a fellow citizen and supporter of
rival Bolton Wanderer football club, following a disagreement
over a match involving the two English premiership teams.
(Sunday Vanguard, February 11, 2007:27)
Soccer, another name for football has become a household name
across the globe. It is a game that has defiled all linguistic, tribal,
ethnic, cultural and religious barriers, as it has helped to unite the
world centrifugal forces. Indeed the “god of soccer”, as has been
Public Lecture Series, Volume 10, 22nd February, 2007
widely acknowledged, has taken over the souls of many nations.
Consider for a moment the fanfares that usually follow Brazil to
the pitch and the emotional attachment of the world to that country
and indeed every great team on the field of play. No wonder, as
studies have shown, periods of great soccer competitions are
usually characterized by low crime rate as the streets are not only
unusually empty of human traffic, but even unrepentant criminals
take vacations to watch great soccer moments. Similarly, it has
been discovered that periods of great games are moments of great
conjugal bliss as spouses are temporarily united and hitherto
absentee husbands create the elusive time at home for soccer.
Beyond the glamour, the thriller and the suspense, football
is a well structured game. What with the omnibus presence of
Federated International Football Association (FIFA), European
Football Association (UEFA), Confederation of African Football
(CAF) and other similar continental bodies that have dominated
the football scene as its regulatory bodies at different levels. From
the number of players, the colour and pattern of jerseys, the length
and breadth of the stadium, the position of referees, the size and
position of the goal post, the duration of tournament, and the
general conduct of players, the coaching crew, the spectators and
supporters, there are prescriptions and proscriptions guiding every
football tournament.
How can we forget the nature of rewards and punishment
for each team and the treatment of offenders as spelt out in the code
Public Lecture Series, Volume 10, 22nd February, 2007
guiding the game at every stage? Remember some great penalty
kicks and the suspense that they often generate. What about great
moments of yellow and red cards that have ruined the career of
hitherto brilliant players on the pitch? These are periods in any
soccer event a good follower of the game would hate to forget. But
the question here is how relevant are these painted scenarios to our
discussion and understanding of politics and especially the
political arena in Nigeria?
Our objective in this paper is to look at politics from the
perspective of a game every nation plays. In doing this we take our
bearing from a position that the nature of politics in every nation is
a reflection of three dominant issues: the character of the players,
the nature of the rules governing the game and the configuration of
the field of play. These three elements determine the content,
context and dynamics of politics from one nation to another. The
paper also analyses some critical factors considered as challenges
to the ideal democratic polity in Nigeria, and ends with a set of
prescriptions toward a sustainable democratic project in the

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