24th August, 2016
By Okey Ndibe
Nigeria went to Rio, Brazil and, as the world looked on, gave a thoroughly embarrassing account of itself.
Don’t get me wrong: this swipe is not targeted at the heroic men and women who represented us in a variety of events. They, above all, were the primary victims of their country’s show of shame. No right thinking person would knock the competitors who represented the rest of us in Rio. In fact, for agreeing at all to wear Nigeria’s colors and hoist the country’s flag, these athletes deserve our collective gratitude.
Thank goodness that Nigeria’s exquisite soccer team played a (mostly) scintillating game against Honduras—and earned a bronze medal in the Rio Olympics. That bronze—Nigeria’s sole medal in the 2016 Olympics—marked a rare triumph in our country’s otherwise disastrous outing in Rio.
Those who run Nigeria are notorious for failing at basic tasks, but easily excelling at those affairs that should demand a whole lot of work. The Olympics are held every four years; there is no surprise there. Nigeria’s sports officials had four years to ensure that their country’s athletes and sports ambassadors received sound training and the best equipment. They had four years to book flights for these athletes and to make arrangements for their hotels or other accommodation.
Guess what? Nigerian officials made a mess of every elementary expectation. At the opening ceremony, members of the Nigerian contingent had to wear their tracksuits because their official attire—which was meant to showcase something of their country’s identity—did not make it in Brazil in time.
It got worse. Nigeria’s football players were stranded in Atlanta, back in the US, for more than two days. These gallant players finally made it into Brazil a few hours before their first game against the Japanese team. Failed by their country, they nevertheless mustered the grit and determination to beat their first opponents.
You’d think that one inexcusable mishap would be the last. Not with Nigerian officials, whose commitment to dereliction is singular. It’s as if these officials were in a race for a Nobel Prize in Ineptitude. So: once the football team made it to Rio, they found out—when they were locked out of their rooms—that their government had not paid their hotel bills.
Olympic Games are distinct from other competitive fiestas. They showcase and celebrate the best in a variety of sporting events. Every four years, these games offer countries the platform to gather their top talent and bring them to one venue. Each athlete’s victory or outstanding feat is both a moment of personal triumph and national prestige. The Olympics offer the stage for individuals and the countries they represent to choreograph transcendental performance or—in the case of Nigeria—to exhibit a culture of mediocrity.
Countries that take themselves seriously don’t wait for the curtains to be drawn on one Olympics before they start to prepare for the next one. Serious countries are constantly looking for, recruiting and grooming talent. Too many Nigerian officials constantly look for, steal and pocket the funds that should be used to vitalize every sector of their country, including sports.
The BBC reported that a Japanese plastic surgeon was so dismayed by the Nigerian players’ woes that he pledged to write them a $200,000 cheque. Dr. Katsuya Takasu told the BBC that he was “incredibly passionate” about the Nigerian players’ plight. “I am deeply determined to motivate this indomitable and strong Nigerian team. I don’t want to distract them but to push them further to their target—the gold in Brazil. I hope to see them win gold. They’ve sacrificed a lot to get to Brazil and reach the semi-finals. Humans with such a strong spirit should be encouraged to perform beyond their own imagination.”
Dr. Takasu does not own an oil block in the Niger Delta. He does not collect any security vote. He does not belong in the rank of those morally stinky men and women we call “stake/steakholders” or political “chieftains/thieftains.” He is, quite simply, a hard working doctor who felt moved—by how Nigerian officials had ridiculed players they should have been out to spoil—to invest in our players’ spirits.
His largesse should put everybody involved in the mass betrayal of our best and brightest sportsmen and women to shame. But count on this: no shame will be felt by anybody in the Federal Ministry of Sports or the Presidency. Shame is a scarce, often non-existent, commodity in Nigeria. You only feel shame in Nigeria if you missed an opportunity to steal public funds on a grand, obscene scale.
Don’t imagine for a moment that the travail that befell Nigeria’s football players was the end of our country’s chronicle of embarrassment in Rio. Late last week, a mere three days before the finale of the 2016 Olympics, Nigerian officials finally freighted into Brazil the kits their sports representatives needed for more than two weeks of competition. In effect, our sports officials had compelled our athletes to compete shorthanded—or to fend for themselves.
I wager that no Nigerian government official experience a flight hiccup or got locked out of their hotels. They take care of themselves, down to the last dollar of estacode. I won’t be surprised if some among them secured tickets for their lovers or family members. They’d take care of themselves, even though they’re tangential to the games, but leave the competitors bereft.
Of course, the narrative of Nigeria’s lack of seriousness was beamed to the whole world. The BBC, Yahoo News and other international media reported the news of the absurd timing of the kits’ arrival in Rio.
No wonder that some football players mulled walking off the team, a symbolic act of rejection of the country that had made a mockery of their sacrifice. Other athletes reportedly swore never to wear Nigeria’s colors ever again.
I ask: why doesn’t this bumbling, clay-footed giant quit the Olympics—and spare the world the agony of watching it model failure?
The whole fiasco that was Nigeria’s outing in Rio sparked profound outrage among Nigerians. On a listserv, one member wrote, “For some reason, the news almost made me weep. It encapsulates or symbolizes all that is wrong with our country, Nigeria. This kind of inefficiency and national disgrace leaves me very sad. It is not rocket science to just do simple things in the name of the country. When will Nigerian governments (national and state levels) stop embarrassing its citizens, the whole of the black race, and humankind as a whole? If we cannot show excellence and hold our heads high in a simple matter of buying Olympics kits and transporting them to Rio in time, why then are we pretending that we are running or governing a country? I am sorry, but this is just too much for me to bear. It is like we are forced to watch a people destroy themselves and their future, compete in making fools of themselves, and fart in the faces of all human beings and God. Is someone going to pay a price for this?”
His question is pertinent, but the answer strikes me as predictable. Odds are, there won’t be any consequences. Sports officials will continue to keep their posts, seeking other opportunities to fatten their bank accounts precisely by exposing their country to global ridicule.
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