On a personal level the choice for writing a World Cup preview for Nigeria is immense. I could set-adrift-on-memory-bliss about 1994, when England’s failure to qualify and the pre-tournament optimism of Nigerian classmates meant I supported the Super Eagles (the memory of Roberto Baggio’s late equalizer for Italy still stings). I could look at the troubling shift from the pre-teen innocence of simply supporting the team of your peers to the grim adult (self-)awareness of our racist and ironic society. I could even risk the vortex of Hornby-esque mundanity by over-sharing with you how my first heterosexual experience coincided with Sunday Oliseh’s stunning winner against Spain in the 1998 tournament.
However, thanks to western media’s pick’n’mix attitude to newsworthiness and the universalism of human rights, ever since I accepted this writing task there has been a growing clamor to view anything to do with Nigeria through the prism of kidnapped schoolgirls. Halfway between a moral panic and a blundering guilt panic, but one which seemed too dominating to ignore. I was considering dispensing with the editor’s 500 words altogether. A3 card and black magic marker in hand, I was quite simply on the verge of having to plumb the depths of Cameron-style empty gestures…
…Until a bloke on the bus intervened. I was travelling home on the Lewisham-wards 47 last week after a nightshift, a guy slumped asleep a few seats ahead of me. Suddenly, violently, he jumped up, wide-awake, spinning round to me (the only other person on the top-deck). He started ranting about the housing crisis.
“What is wrong with people in England?! Why are you so happy for the authorities to knock down council housing and replace it with inferior housing? Council housing is some of the best quality building in London, and yet you are knocking it down, to be replaced by more expensive smaller flats. Very greedy people are getting very rich.” I was amazed, not least as it is usually me that starts shouting about radical urban matters. I voiced my agreement. He shook my hand. “I’m pleased. White people normally don’t agree. They believe the lies. English people love to criticize my home country, Nigeria. They think we are savages. They think everyone is like Boko Haram. But at least we don’t knock down good houses with…” [he really belted this bit out] “…LIES ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS!! You understand?” Yes, I understood.
The moral of the story here is surely too obvious for me to insult you by spelling it out. But Christopher (for that was his name), as with the whole of this article, did the job for me. As the bus stopped outside Lewisham Police Station, he said, “They tell me this is the biggest police station in Europe… Full of racists.”
Posted by Robert MV