Football Fanaticism in Nigeria Great For Business, Bad for Government?

By Paul Adepoju AFKI Original Published: May 29, 2014, 12:55 pm

Nigerians talk about politics, they are religious about religion and love sports, especially football. The UEFA Champions League final is Nigeria’s version of the Superbowl especially if Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Real Madrid or Barcelona FC is involved.

When Chelsea Football Club won the UEFA Champions League against all odds, all Nigerian newspapers displayed the pictures of the victorious team on their cover pages knowing that fans of the club – projected to be in the millions – would happily buy newspapers adorned in the colors of their respective teams.

Some media companies are already capitalizing on the love for sports in Nigeria by publishing daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly publications on the various football clubs that enjoy great followership in Nigeria.

Furthermore, some popular Nigerian banks and telecoms companies have various endorsement deals with the football clubs in hopes to attract patronage from the fans of the club in Nigeria. Last year, Etisalat Nigeria partnered with Barcelona Football Club in Spain, United Bank for Africa (UBA) launched debit cards in the colors of Arsenal Football Club of London while Globacom Nigeria aired several adverts that featured popular players of Manchester United including Wayne Rooney and Patrick Evra.

Without doubt, football is huge in Nigeria – too huge considering the large influence it often has on almost every facet of life including national security.

Despite recent outbreaks of violence in response to losses —when popular football matches are played, residents in highly polarized regions in Nigeria experience relative peace. Dapo Akanni, a local engineer was residing in Kano, northern Nigeria when Nigeria played in the last World Cup hosted by South Africa.

“Prior to that period, non-indigenes of the state were targeted in what seemed like a subtle ethnic cleansing. But during the tournament, we were all able to watch the football matches together without anybody threatening to kill,” he said.

This is unsurprising because the Nigerian national football team, the Super Eagles of Nigeria, is made of football players from various racial backgrounds working tirelessly together for 90 minutes to bring victory to the country — even when it is battling with bad publicity.

But it’s not all good news for sports fanaticism in Nigeria as many people have been hurt in one way or another for taking sports beyond the game. Two years ago, two fans attacked and stabbed to death a Lagos State hotel manager after they were asked to free up chairs at an English Premier League match. April 30, 2014 a fatal incident occurred when Shaheed Badmus was stabbed to death at a Chelsea —Atlético Madrid viewing party.

During the same match, Peter Okoye from the popular PSquare music group posted on Instagram that he lost a $5,000 bet to Phyno, a rapper. Some fans gamble steeper wagers.

Even though Nigerians love football to the extent of holding feasts and thanksgiving services when their teams win games and trophies, the country’s league is not yet enjoying the same kind of followership and fanaticism.

Coach Akande Femi said the problem is a result of the poor organization of the country’s league, government interference, match fixing, quality of the games and bad pitches.

“Unlike the English Premier League that is well planned and everyone knows when the next season will begin, no one has that information in Nigeria,” he told AFKInsider. The official dates are regularly shifted. Who will take that league seriously?”

According to him, football has grown beyond just a game as real fans personalize the teams they support.

“You will hear conversations like ‘I will beat you any day’ at almost anywhere from the bus station to board meetings. Before fans can take your league to that extent of personalization, they must be sure that there would not be any interference whatsoever from anywhere – be it the FA, government or referee,” he said.

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