These days whenever you walk into a bar, you are almost always certain people will be watching or arguing football, European. The debate on the soccercolonisation of Nigerian youth consciousness is more or less foregone. But the tragic thing is that virtually all informal discursive space has been insidiously compromised because of this collective hysteria for European football. I mean when was the last time you witnessed a serious socio-political debate at a bar, a vendor’s stand, a bus stop? Yet these are a useful, national culture of street parliamentary: vibrant, moveable confabs enriched with diverse imagination and admixed on highly informed commentary, shrill sentimentalities, uneducated but sometimes imaginative conjectures and sometimes near- accurate mythologizing. These forums, reserved largely for those who do not usually have access to avenues of discourse like the newspaper and the internet, are now been endangered by a tenacity of ‘a single story’- the European football.
Even when the president has been absent- some say missing- for more than 50 days; even when the legislature seems grounded in timid idiocy; even when the Federal Cabinet is hushed in cultic embrace of criminality watching, as the nation is reduced to aspirations of 4 or 5 individuals led by the First Lady but cheer-led by the ever consociated minister of justice, we stick to our foreign passion. And you would have thought the attempted bombing by citizen Farouk of a plane over the USA would have caused a solemn break, however brief, from soccer frenzy, to ruminate on human elements of our systemic collapse. No. On 26th of December, the day after the incident that shocked the whole world, my people were still seen at the bar and other places discussing stale victories and losses of foreign leagues .Maybe they could not be bothered. Maybe football offers a kind of therapy, an escape, from the sordid realities around them. What more, it is better to lavish your emotive resources on a thrilling, sensually pleasing spectacle of football than waste them on impassioned commentary on the polity, which will not reduce the subscription fee of the cable networks. Even an a-soccer cynic like me allows a glance or two, once in a while, for the kinetic spectacle of the round leather game.
That was what I was thinking, nursing a lone bottle, last night at a bar in Ilorin, Kwara State, when someone shouted at someone else, amidst a rather frenzied football argument, to shut up and stop behaving like Mutallab. There was a momentary cessation of the babelling, I supposed a lot of people had not heard what preceded the mentioning of the name, and within like 20 seconds ,eyes passed from face to face until all heads turned to the owner of the voice; he apologetically shrugged and said quietly, I mean fanatic. I could have sworn I saw a momentary fear in his eyes, a moment before voices rose again. I took a good look at this guy, he looked like a banker that had come to the bar straight from work- tie and all. Probably not a Muslim in a town preponderantly Muslim, he could have realised at that suspended moment, that there was no way to gauge what people in Ilorin thought of Mutallab and his action.
Yes, we know a larger section of world Muslims frown at terrorism and that many governments in Arab world are participating in the global effort to rid the world of Islamic terrorism, but when we have a respected local opinion shaper like Mohammed Haruna reminding us why Abdulmutallab was possible in the context of American hegemony and murderous interference in the political economy of many a Arab country, we could not be sure that we, as a nation, collectively condemn Mutallab’s idiotic adventure. Haruna, writing in The Nation, reminded us that US’s self-serving foreign policies, powered by her interests in Big Oil in the Arab nations, which have seen criminal invasions of Arab countries and killing of thousands in the process made, global terrorism possible. This is not a new argument, yet Haruna dedicated two columns, two weeks, to tell us how American economic imperialism in the Middle East has continued to criminalise Islamic beliefs and practices, therefore making people like Mutallab take to terror as a weapon of protest. One would have thought, killing of innocent passengers on board, some of whom might be muslims, would not have led to evacuation of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. But then, the statement would have been made, wouldn’t it? And if other Muslims had perished in that plane, one cannot be too sure of their chances in the after-life, even if one conceded Mutallab his eternal bliss of multiple virgins, as they might not think of themselves as fighting any holy war.
But Haruna was right; and he would have been more so if it had happened that Mutallab had taken Yemeni citizenship before his misadventure. His misadventure would have been a mere shock to us rather than the catastrophic dimension it has now taken, if he had renounced his Nigerian citizenship before boarding that plane. Nigerians are not all Muslims and we might not all share in the Islamist romanticism and sense of injustice that inspired young Mutallab, but now we are all going to be told to step out of line and be strip-searched at airports all over the world; we are all going to be punished for politico-religious convictions of an impressionable young man. There is nothing sensible for any Nigerian, even if muslim, to fight an Arab war at our collective expense.
These are things we expect public commentators like Mallam Haruna to address. Many enlightened Nigerians- muslim or Christian (like the enlightened American commentators that Haruna copiously quoted)- are aware of and sympathetic with the colossal injustice going on in the Middle East for instance, but we still object to these things erupting unwarranted violence in our country. So we expect public commentators, when they question America’s reason for including Nigeria in the list, to remember that we have always lived with such extremist tendencies in Nigeria. America overreacted, yes, but we are also known to have overreacted more than once when we decided to slaughter people for holding different religious views. Terrorism need not be targeted at the US, need not be global, to be deemed so; the routine massacres that occur in Kano and Kaduna and a lot more northern cities in the name of religion and ethnicity are terrorism. Remember the recent Bokom Haram atavism. Yet unlike global terrorism, there is nobody to be held responsible, to be prosecuted, no country to be bombed- a case of unknown Yankaba, I guess. And do we really think the little Jihads that dotted home landscape did not contribute to Mutallab profound ignorance and his fantasy of Islamic millennium?
Let us not be so bothered in locating Mutallab geography and psychology of influences in his foreign education, his existential loneliness, his background of privilege. Let us be bothered more by the ruination of Nigerian body politic. As Princeton Lyman pointed out, Nigerian has been deconstructed by its internal contradictions. Corruption and bad leadership have continually made project Nigeria a still birth; our sullied international profile has taken another feather of ignominy- thanks to Mutallab: we are done f or. Let’s not even start to wonder if Mutallab was Ghanaian, would American include Ghana in the terrorism list. No!, they would not: Ghana, despite her sizable muslim population is not known for violent extremism. Ghana has shown commitment to sustainable democracy, forward-looking economic planning and leadership that is ready to work with people in mind. Besides, Ghanaian president would have contacted President Obama immediately for resolution after the failed terrorist attempt, but we don’t even have a government in place. So how much different are we from Somalia that we object to sharing pride of place with on that list? When we get our acts together and resolve the avoidable implosions of our national structure through good governance, we might not need to shout ourselves hoarse before Nigeria, as an international brand, becomes credible again.
Back to my bar moment: There could be a justification in the tag of Mutallab that the gentleman put on his overzealous interlocutor. Football is a game of extreme passion, fierce faith, dogmatic commitment, irrational belief. Have I described a religious temper? Yes, football can take on religious experience and it has recorded its own bloody history all over the world, hasn’t it? And if Mohammed Haruna can deploy Mutallab’s action as metaphor for liberating impulses, why couldn’t our man equally see the zealousness of this fanatic fan of an English team in such terms? My thoughts couldn’t have been more beer-sodden, could they?