JJ. Omojuwa: Politicians, Loyalty and Two Football Stories

Between 2005 and 2014, Arsenal Football Club did not win a single trophy in the English Premier League. To its fans, it was nine years of pain and agony! It was a period they saw their team slip to a 2-1 loss to Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League final in 2006, another 2-1 loss to Chelsea in the Carling Cup final the following year and other close shaves but success never came. Throughout this period, most Arsenal fans stuck with the team!

Nottingham Forest may not ring a bell amongst today’s generation of DSTV football fans but they once ruled Europe under club legendary manager, Brian Clough. They won Europe’s prestigious trophy in 1979 and repeated the feat in 1980. They have since faded into oblivion. The club today lies 17th on the 24-club Championship table. That technically places them as the 37th ranked club according to the overall league table of Professional Football in England. As we speak, Nottingham Forest and Arsenal still have fans ready to “die” for the cause. If you look closely amongst those who were young men in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it would not be impossible to find some Nottingham Forest football fans even in Nigeria. I know a couple.

Football fans generally stick with their clubs through the tough times. They complain about their players not doing well, they campaign for managers they perceive as failing to be sacked, but more often than not, genuine football fans stick with their clubs.

This is what politics has become in Nigeria. It is healthy for football; it would be disastrous for politics. Nigerian politicians and the two main political parties now have a sizable number of followers, especially on social media who do not care what the issues are, who is right or who is right, what is best for Nigeria or what is not, they just care about the politician they care about. The outcome of the 2015 elections even made things worse, as far as some are concerned, the elections are still being conducted and President Muhammadu Buhari can still lose.

They actually subconsciously believe that if per chance the Buhari administration fails by 2019, Prof. Attahiru Jega will travel back in time to April 1, 2015 to announce Goodluck Jonathan as president. And everything will be fine again! So then, to these ones, after the wasted years of 2009 to 2015, the country may as well waste another four years as long as they are justified. The justification being that Nigeria should have stuck with the Jonathan administration.

Picture Nigeria in 2019 with the Buhari administration performing just as bad as the Jonathan administration did. Should anyone who supported Buhari feel guilty? The rational answer is No! The country had two choices, one was an incumbent party that had failed woefully and was on the verge of running the country aground. The other was an untested party. Return the incumbent and be guaranteed continued failure, choose a new party and risk two major alternatives, failure like before or success. Logic says to pick the one with a possibility of success. On March 28, 2015, Nigerians did the right thing, that, even if those they voted for fail to deliver.

As for me, so far, nothing has been particularly inspiring about the new government. This is likely, as expected, to be picked by the “we told you so” crowd but the absence of sense in that statement has since been proved. One hopes that the new Buhari government will pick up verve and traction and deliver on the goods for the progress and prosperity of Nigeria. At least, unlike where we just departed from where supporters of the President insisted he was Jesus Christ, he could do no wrong and that he remained the best Nigerian president ever, despite Nigeria’s realities to the contrary, one is particularly impressed that many who supported the Buhari candidacy have not shied away from criticising him. Essentially, the same attitude and intention that were on the ground during the elections remain on the ground today; most of those who voted Buhari did it to save Nigeria, most of those who voted for the then incumbent did it either for “our son” or for interests outside those of the interests of Nigeria’s collective progress.

This explains why when those who supported Buhari criticise him – as they should when he is wrong – instead of the “let’s vote for our own” crowd to join the conversation in the interest of the country and with the issue about the country, they do their best to reduce the whole conversation to the man they prefer had stayed in Aso Rock beyond May 29, 2015.

As football loyalty often lives through emotional and irrational attachments and arguments, the conversation on politics in Nigeria will continue to be about just that. When the Buhari onslaught against corruption effectively gets underway, get ready to see fans of those charged throw up arguments ranging from irrationality to outright absence of sense. This is good for the politicians, because it simply means no matter what crime they commit, they can always bank on their fans to throw up arguments for them, no matter how insensible.

The ball then is in President Buhari’s court. When a team does really well, even opposing fans accept and simply cheer it on, often times subconsciously. The President on his part cannot afford to get carried away by the praises of those around him, those who cannot speak truth to power, those who find their relevance in whether they are allowed to see the President the next day or not. Power is a dangerous environment and in Nigeria, except a leader goes out of his way to seek the truth and absolute truth and nothing but the truth, such a leader will swim in the avalanche of lies and will eventually sink in the flood of his own delusion. We need not look too far for an example, as President Jonathan paid for that. The Edwin Clarks who told him he was God-chosen have since started telling him what they ought to have told him then.

Nigeria is in dire straits and it needs urgent help. The political environment as it is today is not favourable in terms of the conversations taking place. There is so much bad blood and hatred, and little content on progress and development. Those in government must go out of their way to find that environment conducive enough to them to do what they have been voted to do. Frankly speaking, Nigerians will not entertain any excuse when the time comes for proper assessment. It is now the responsibility of our politicians to see beyond their fandom, to put Nigeria first and help unite this country while going about reforming our institutions and building our economy. While at it, nothing should stop the trial of those who depleted the national treasury for their personal good. This is not negotiable under any guise. Until then, those of us who care about Nigeria must place loyalty to our country above every other!

This piece was first published in the PUNCH Newspapers. Republished with permission from the author

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