#EndSARS: How can Nigerian footballers use their platform to affect change?

In light of the recent tragic events in Nigeria, Tosin Holmes penned this piece on the debacle facing Nigerian footballers. It is exactly 666 words. Make of it what you will. Find Tosin on twitter here.

Football is a unifying sport, a get-out of jail card from misery for many. The simplicity in complexity is a mystery in itself. The sport prides itself on nobility, aesthetics, bravery and all things saintly. However, it can also be at great odds with itself, dividing families, friends. It is a case of the tie that binds also being the one that breaks.

It is why this oddity prevails in a football mad country like Nigeria. After all, in the world today, sportswashing exists. Football has become a tool or leverage for peace and unity. South Africa’s AFCON triumph in 1996, Iraq’s Asian Cup success in 2007, Japan’s FIFA Women’s World Cup triumph in 2011, all examples of the power of the sport. It helped convey a powerful message of renewed hope.

Nigeria needs that now, after the recent incidents in the country. Widespread protests for an end to police brutality and good governance have led to more brutality from those sought to protect the citizenry. All had come to a head on Monday October 20, with a massacre in Lekki, Lagos with nobody to hold accountable. While videos littered social media of the gruesome acts, the nation mourned and wailed, and as everyone condemned the act, an AFCON bronze medalist tweeted; “The Politicians should ask their children to go and represent Nigeria in the next @NGSuperEagles @thenff upcoming games.” Ogu may no longer be in the Eagles squad, last featuring at the AFCON in a 2-0 loss against Madagascar, however, his influence on some of those he called brothers cannot be erased.

The tweet generated massive traction, with many alluding that the players called up for the November internationals turn down the invitation. It is a dicey scenario in reality and it is quite evident that politics and football are like hand and glove. Nigeria could face prospective action from CAF should they fail to honour the fixture. The axe has fallen before, with their non-appearance at the 1996 AFCON followed swiftly with a ban from the 1998 edition. The belief is that in hindsight, Nigeria’s golden generation were wasted watching teams they would have beaten, conquer Africa. The taste? Bitter. Fast forward 26 years and Nigeria are experiencing what is close to a golden generation, with politicking of CAF well documented, the less said. However, with that said, a statement must be made, hitherto by the players, in solidarity and acknowledgment of the happenings in the nation.

A total boycott would be drastic. The footballers are not oblivious to their environment, and they would be in the nation inevitably in November for the first leg of the qualifiers. It is their window to make a statement. As seen in the friendly against Tunisia, they didn’t hesitate in showing solidarity, with the entire team marking Kelechi Iheanacho’s strike with the “struggle sign”. They have carried it to their European teams, with shirts showing the #EndPoliceBrutality a constant theme for those who scored at the weekend. Their platforms are key, as shown by athletes across the world during the “Justice for George Floyd” campaign.

Service to fatherland is privilege, but what happens when the fatherland is being murdered by those charged with protecting its citizenry’s interests? Posterity does judge, and while many, including myself would rather have the players boycott; it would be a martyrdom of reason. Careers would be affected and it would be nothing but an act of self-pleasure for those who want to see the nation on its knees.

The chain of command does exist from the players to the presidency, and the message can be relayed in another way. Pre-match warm up attire calling for action would be a statement, as would a tribute to those who lost their lives, or jerseys carrying the demands of the people on their back. Should their terms not be accepted, perhaps then humanity has been lost by those in the corridors of power. After all, this is a country where the labours of heroes are an antithesis of its anthem. Maybe then, boycott…