By Yusuf Mutiu Olaitan
On Thursday 23rd, September while I was leaving the campus in a shuttle with three of my friends, along with us inside the shuttle were two old women in their sixties while the shuttle driver should be in his fifties. As we were about to make an exit out of the varsity, I decided to tease one of my friends – Zaga – who is a Manchester United fan of their exit in the English Carabao cup [ Manchester United had just been beaten by David Moyes’ Westham United on Wednesday night by a goal to nil].
It is relevant to state that since the shuttle took off from the park till we reached the school gate, no one had spoken to each other. Not even me and my friends, maybe because we were all very tired because of the rigorous activities we had been subjected to during school hours. And there and then, I started a football discussion jocosely with my friends. God so good, like one of the two old women in the bus with us, took the discussion immediately like she was waiting for us. In her comments, she is a Chelsea fan. An ardent Chelsea fan. She rolled out Chelsea’s achievements from last season till this season. I knew the woman loves football and her club so much but what was shocking is the fact that the woman told us that she specifically prays for Chelsea whenever she is having a prayer session. I doubt anything could be more shocking.
While she was making her comment, we were all laughing, at the same time, attentive. The driver also lends his own voice to the discussion. He is a proud Arsenal and he admitted that he could do everything in his capacity to troll Chelsea and Manchester United. Conversely, we all had a nice ten to fifteen minutes of stay inside the shuttle.
Now, here is my takeaway and hope from the shuttle; From Adam, I did not know the two old women nor the driver, but then, a common interest got us interactive and welcoming of one another. From the words and submissions of the two women, both of them are Christians, the driver is a Muslim, so is me. But for that period of time, we all jettisoned our religions, faith and beliefs. And we all got along very well as if we had been associates for forty years. Can one now imagine an atmosphere in this country where sports is prioritized like other sectors? Do you imagine how many people will forget their ethnics, tribes, religion, and faith just because we have good sports organizations – from the government and other private organizations. One moment of unity that is certain since Nigeria has come into being has been whenever any Nigerian team is participating in a sports event. We all know the ecstasy and patriotism from each and every Nigerian whenever we are watching any Super Eagles football match. What of the show of solidarity we give the D’Tigers or D’Tigress whenever they are involved in a Basketball tourney.
I doubt there will ever be a moment when Nigerians will be so United than whenever we watch the Nigerians contingents on television taking on any opponent in the world during the Olympics. I have never seen an Igbo man who wishes Aruna Qodri who is a Yoruba failure during any Table Tennis event. Nor have I seen a Yoruba man who wishes the Super Eagles bad luck because Ahmed Musa who is a Hausa man is the captain of the team. Just at the last Olympics that was held in Tokyo, Ese Brume who is from Delta state from the South South-South region of the county did the country proud by winning the country’s first medal at the event when she won bronze at the long jump event. Every Nigerians from every part of the country celebrated the win. That is what sports are capable of doing to us.
As much as the majority of Nigerians, have over the years, been coming up with solutions on how to maintain our National unity, sports, to my understanding and general assessments of the type of persons we are as a nation, will strengthen to a great extent, the unity we have been clamouring for, for over sixty years. Let me say this, I do not mean that sports will eradicate in totality our differences and abnormalities, but then, it will give us more than a vestige of the unity and love we seek. Like it happened to me and other passengers in the shuttle, from total strangers to people of like minds, we can have such scenarios as Nigerians. We only need to give sports the right atmosphere to live and enjoy together.