Peter Obi’s visit to Abdijan at the Super Eagles’ win over Angola raises eyebrows. Was he politicising football, or was he just a patriotic Nigerian?
FIFA has enshrined in its policy the depoliticisation of football. However, Nigerian politicians have often had an indifferent approach to either. If football were a religion, Nigerians would have peace forever because nothing unites them more than football. The religion of football takes Nigerians across its northern neighbouring continent, where national leagues are some of the most competitive and expensive sporting contests in the world. European football clubs like Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United have the highest fan base in Nigeria.
FIFA’s policy of depoliticising football falls flat in Nigeria. Nigerians don’t do religion halfway; football is a religion; therefore, politics, ethnicity, and secessionists all share the same table, singing praises like siblings cheering their parents, The Super Eagles. However, there is a nuance: the political elite use football as a strategic tool to gain popularity or mask underperformance.
M.K.O. Abiola, who allegedly won the 1993 general elections, was an ardent football fan. His love for the game led to the creation of a football club called the Abiola Babes. Orji Uzor Kalu achieved remarkable success with Enyimba FC, while Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyawu significantly contributed to Iwuanyawu Nationale. Furthermore, Ifeanyi Ubah showed commendable leadership with his football club. In Nigeria, sports and politics are often intertwined. This brings us to the polarised reaction displayed by Nigerians over Obi’s presence at the Angola match.
Nevertheless, it is undeniable that a significant number of his six million voters in the last general election were ecstatic to see him wearing the national team’s t-shirt on television and singing alongside Nigerian fans who have found a legitimate cause for temporary happiness. However, as the Super Eagles go to the semi-finals with the sight of a possible fourth AfCon trophy, which would equal Ghana’s, the question remains unanswered: Was Peter Obi politicising football, or was his intention genuine?