By: Jummah Mujeeb
A typical Nigerian knows that the publicity given to any kind of sport depends on the many trophies, gold medals, or winnings it has got. Basketball is not an exception. There is, however, a misconception that the game is meant to be played by a tall person. So if you are taller than our President, Muhammadu Buhari, basketball is preconceived as a natural calling for you.
Let us talk of how popular the sport is in Nigeria. On a comfortable day, try going through a busy street and ask anyone to list as many soccer players in the Super Eagles as they can. You will probably hear names like Victor Moses, Kelechi Iheanacho, John Obi Mikel, Ahmed Musa and so on. Move on to ask about the basketball players and they will definitely go blank, myself inclusive. I must confess that until the time I had to write this piece I knew nothing more than the Nigerian basketball team were commonly called D’tigers (for the men) and D’tigress (for the women).
My decision to pick up my phone and seek Google’s help did the magic. Judging from the result, the Nigerian basketball team was filled with diversity. Bryant Mmbamalu and Ike Iroegbu are names whose origin can be traced to the southeastern and south southern parts of the country. Abdul Yahaya and Akinolu Akingbala, who are also part of the team, could be traced to the north and southwestern parts of Nigeria. Talk of Jaleel Akindele, a Muslim, playing side by side with Diogu Ikechukwu of another faith. The component of D’tigers preaches that Nigeria can be successful if it sticks to the last word of the national anthem; unity.
Moving on, a cursory look at Complete Sports website revealed that D’tigers were the sixth favourite to win the recently concluded Afrobasket tournament in Tunisia. They were favoured behind Angola, Egypt, Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Central African Republic. Analysis of past editions showed that D’tigers had defeated Angola and Senegal in 2015. Central African Republic and Ivory Coast also lost to D’tigers in 2013 and 2011 respectively. It is, thus, clear that D’tigers’ odds in Tunisia was balanced. Since 1972 when the team was ranked last till the present time where they sit at the second best position in Africa, it has been a story of commitment and improvement.
Away from basketball to Nigeria as a whole, the country’s story has been anything and everything other than what has happened to its basketball team. The country’s economy in the 70s was envisioned to become a powerhouse in the world. This was affirmed by our ability to lend money to such an institution as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But that was back then. Today, we sit in the pit of recession with everything seeming to have a bleak future. This, in my view, can be traced to the level of our disunity.
The alternating between oil and agriculture only came to bring out our ugly selves. Oil came and we abandoned agriculture. The wealth that accompanied it suddenly made Biafra want to secede. Greed soon overpowered our conscience and a fight for the oil treasures, otherwise called a civil war, brought us almost to our knees. But enough of that for now; let us move back to basketball and see what more lessons we can learn from it.
In a basketball game, you have five players each working together to ensure their team conquers the other. A basketball team is made up of the point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and centre. So, for a second, imagine that in the middle of a match there was conflict. Let us assume the power forward, known for making rebounds and blocks, suddenly starts competing with the shooting guard for the highest point scored. Or the center player, who normally distributes passes, deems himself fit as the point guard, who is the leader of the group. This, definitely, will result in a horrific disaster. It buttresses the need for teamwork; each player acting his role perfectly in order to ensure victory for the team.
Taking a cue from this and relating it to Nigeria once again, from the highest ranks to the lowest files, the team working system is in distress. It has gotten to a level that once made the President of Zimbabwe make embarrassing comments about Nigeria. He said, “In Nigeria, one will have to bribe a pilot to fly a plane.” It is pertinent that our security operatives take a cue from the power forward, who defends his team from conceding, to make securing lives and properties priority over extorting innocent citizens. Just as the center player does not hold the ball to himself, our legislators need not fight for their pocket and stomach alone. And all leaders, be it the head of a family or an entire nation, should learn to lead just like the point guard does. With each player playing their position well, things will fall into place as they should.
At this juncture, it is pertinent to mention that teamwork is a direct function of unity. This means success can never be achieved when we are stuck separately. History has shown the aftermaths of disunity. Take secession for example, South Sudan’s separation from Sudan is yet to bear fruits of peace for both nations. Also, the inhumane genocide that occurred in Rwanda years ago is enough a lesson. Even the reminiscences of the Nigerian Civil war leave trails of agony and sorrow to those who outlived the experience. Spreading hate, wanting to separate, and clamouring for secession is therefore not the solution to our problems.
Generally, or from a layman’s perspective, northern Nigerians are known for their military might after being able to conquer Biafra. The southerners are known for their green fields and oil treasures. The west can be assumed to have the highest literacy level judging from the fact that one if its tertiary institutions, University of Ibadan, is rated as best in the country. With security from the north, the key to economic buoyancy in the south, and high literacy in the west, it is clear that we can never stand separately and be self-sufficient. Thus, it is paramount that we stick together, work hand in hand, and ensure the success of our country just like the basketball team.
Lest I forget, and before someone comes to accuse me of being gender-biased, did you know that our women basketball team, D’tigress, are the women Afrobasket champions? Unfortunately, the male team was dethroned by Tunisia to finish second. On a lighter note, let’s just agree that what a man can do, a woman can do better.
Jummah Mujeeb is a penultimate student of Arts and Social Sciences Education at the University of Ibadan