The World Cup continues to excite football fans around the world as the globe’s biggest sporting event cruises through the exciting round of 16 and down towards the increasingly anticipated quarterfinals. For some fans, it has been the scintillating pleasure of victory. For others, the crushing agony of defeat. Our Ghanaian brothers and sisters have done a fabulous job representing the continent as other African nations have now all fallen out of the tournament.
Assamoah Gyan and his fellow Black Stars have become national heroes in Ghana on account of the way they have acquitted themselves. Gyan’s magnificent goal in the electrifying match against the United States will be remembered from Cape to Cairo, as it vaulted Ghana and Africa into the quarterfinals for the first time in World Cup history. The night of Saturday June 26 was simply a night for celebration across Ghana.
In Nigeria, it was a different story on Thursday, June 17 when the Super Eagles, unfortunately, failed to emerge from the first round. Eagles midfielder Sani Kaita’s infamous act of indiscipline at the 2010 World Cup clearly catalysed Greece’s win over Nigeria. Kaita’s aggressive behaviour against Greek defender Vasileios Torosidis earned him an instant and well warranted red card, summarily putting paid to the Eagles’ chances of progressing out of the first round of the tournament, and thus sealing Nigeria’s fate in this historic first ever
World Cup on African soil. There is a clear lesson from this for us as Nigerians. The World Cup is arguably the most widely watched and most venerable sporting event on the planet. Any professional footballer worth his salt knows that the stakes are as high as they can possibly get in a World Cup match. It is quite simply that haloed ground in sport where one brings one’s ‘A’ game to the fore, and is at one’s very best – both in play and temperament. It is a competition where spirit of purpose and pride of country come before all else. Sani Kaita obviously forgot or was oblivious to this in the Nigeria game against Greece. His behaviour showed that he clearly lacked the temperament needed to be part of such an elite squad of professionals. How did such an undisciplined player possibly make the cut, was the question I asked through shocked and disbelieving eyes!
The axe that we should have to grind, however, should not singly be with Sani Kaita as an individual, but with the culture of indiscipline that continuously plagues us here at home, and whence his undesirable behaviour stems. What we saw on that football field on June 17 was not just one man’s undisciplined behaviour but the epitome of our comportment at home.
Two years ago, I wrote an op-ed article in the Nigerian Guardian titled ‘Curbing our penchant for indiscipline’. As the title suggests, it was about how we can become a more disciplined society. I highlighted our unruly road use in Nigeria as the microcosm of our aggressive and undisciplined national character. I underscored our continued failure to show courtesy to one another as fellow motorists as an undesirable trait that we need to change. Try slowing down or stopping to let a fellow motorist into your lane in Lagos traffic and see if such an act of courtesy isn’t met with a blare of horns and a hail of abuse from the motorist or motorists behind you.
We’re both undisciplined and intolerant of others behaving in the civic way that we should. Our opinion leaders could help instil a culture of tolerance and discipline, but they themselves often add to the mix as they regularly plough through traffic with oppressive police escorts and screaming sirens, in total disregard for order.
Sani Kaita may just as well have been another Lagos motorist jostling with fellow road users here at home rather than on that football field in South Africa last week. What he did was simply export our penchant for indiscipline and showcase it to the world on a silver platter.
Kaita reportedly broke down and wept for his woes after the act. He has since apologised to the nation for what he did. The more magnanimous among us may be able to dig deep and find it in our hearts to forgive him, acknowledging perhaps that we all have our lapse of insanity moments. Others may be less forgiving and continuously castigate him for letting the country down in the disgraceful way he did.
What we all need to do though is look beyond this as the singular act of an individual but rather, through it, reflect on how we can move away from this culture of indiscipline. By our nature, we are a naturally gregarious people, and that is wonderful. But there is a difference between being gregarious and being undisciplined. Sadly, we often tend to let our wanton disregard for the rule of law overshadow our more positive attributes.
We can do better than this. We can become a far more disciplined people and go about our daily business with less aggression, less anger and more passion for order in society. How nice it would be if we could also project a more favourable perception of ourselves to the outside world on this score – no pun intended.