Friday, January 1, 2021 2:37 pm
By Chris Anyokwu
Most of us are lovers of the beautiful game, called football in these parts or soccer in the USA and other parts of North America. The puzzle, however, is: Why is it called “the beautiful game?” Why aren’t other forms of sport so called? Are they marred by ugliness or played without any form of rules and regulations; without rhyme or reason? The simple answer to these queries is No, they are called “sport” because they are played in accordance with a set of rules and regulations so that they do not degenerate into “war” or “conflict”. When the players conduct themselves on the field of play, at the end of the match, a winner and a loser emerge, judged according to the stipulated rules and regulations governing the game. But football or soccer is different; it is unique in that the patterns of play are so varied and wonderful, expressive of the so-called “bags of tricks” possessed by individual players.
Whilst there are universal and commonly-accepted ways of playing the game, some footballers go beyond borders, so to speak, go beyond the commonplace and pedestrian technique of play by “wowing” their spectators. These exceptionally-gifted players tend to tilt the scales in their own favour, they determine the eventual outcomes of the matches they participate in; they make the difference. When you thus talk of the masters of the beautiful game, such technically accomplished players come to mind, players like Pele, Maradona, Jay-Jay Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, and Messi, among the coruscating constellation of comparable “avatars”. These great entertainers distinguish themselves from the run-on-the-mill majorities by virtue of what is regarded as “fine margins”.
This is a way of playing which involves such things as accurate passing, a perfect header, a pitch of a goal, a curler, a weighted chip or lob or a stunning-what’s the phrase? “absolutely fantastic” bicycle kick or a howitzer of a drize (or a shot). Fine margins! That’s what separates champions from failures in all walks of life. People talk of “the good old days” and you wonder aloud: Why should the past be longed for? Why should it be considered as beautiful and glorious in comparison with our present times? Why shouldn’t the present out-shine the past in everything? It all comes down to the rule of fine margins. It is a rule, whether we like it or not, which affects every aspect of our daily lives including such diverse and divergent aspects as child training, family life, social relationships, governance or public service, home décor, car maintenance, traffic control, waste disposal/management, urban planning, farming, you name it.
The list is inexhaustible. Fine margins. It is most pronounced in our physical infrastructure and their maintenance: roads, railway, airports and seaports. The other day, the pictures of the national carriers of some African countries trended on the social media. I recall seeing well-kept aircraft belonging to countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana and South Africa. And I also saw those branded “Nigeria Airways” abandoned in a place that looked nothing like a hanger but looked like a wilderness shorn of touristic allure. Rank grass entwined itself around the gaunt and ungainly mental carcasses. And I fought back the tears. Where are my bragging rights, Lord, as a Nigerian? Fine margins! You look everywhere, the story is the same. Ask those who have travelled overseas, they would regale you with breathless stories of how incredibly beautiful the countries of visit are: fine, immaculate, well-paved road networks stretching without eyesores into infinity, underground tubes, “overhead” rail-lines, breath-taking airports with shop-till-you-drop-dead duty-free shops. And you ask yourself: Am I still in this world or in heaven described in the Book of Revelation Chapter 22? All these bling-bling, are they of this earth? Little wonder, the Lagos-Dubai route is the busiest as our people would give life and limb to get on the seven-and-a-half flight on Emirates to the desert paradise. Fine margins! And why not? Just look at our roads, railway lines, airports and, indeed, our urban centres. You would puke!
Take a road, any road for that matter clean and beautiful, right? Give that same road a little time. First, you would see a small crack, then weeks later, that crack would have become a crater and months later, a cemetery – a necropolis into which hapless tripsters fall and perish. Far-fetched, right? But that’s the truth. Nobody, I repeat, nobody cares! And there is no consequence (a story for another day, please be informed!). Fine margins. Go to our schools, it doesn’t matter what level – pre-school, primary, secondary or tertiary – you will weep. It’s either the libraries and laboratories, classrooms and hostels are non-existent or they are in a terrible state of disrepair. The roofs leak in rain-water when it rains and pupils risk snake bite or worse should they venture to relieve themselves in the toilets. The premises are higgledy-piggledy, exacerbated by erosion and disused structures. The environment simply kills the curiosity to know, to learn right from the gate. How about the so-called artisan class? Do they fare any better? In fact, you may talk of the artisian and his discontents. Take the roadside mechanic, for instance, or the vulcanizer or rewirer. Ask him to fix something in your car. He would launch into a long and tiresome tale about how irredeemable your car is; how you have got to part with lots of cash for the car to be rescued and redeemed. And, to cap it all up, he would tell you to give him transport fares to Ladipo, the Mecca for fairly used/stolen car-parts and automobile accessories. Even after you must have obliged him, he still would do a poor job of it, “fixing” the problem and creating more for you.
The shoe-cobbler, the typist at the cybercafé, the carpenter are not exempt. Give the cobbler your shoes, he destroys them for you; the bungling typist would hand you an error-ridden work even with the self-correcting mechanism of the laptop or desktop computer at her disposal; and the carpenter, handsomely paid, would deliver a horribly-assembled furniture-sofa, couches, bed, table to you and would simper and tell you: “oga manage am, abeg” (Please use it that way, I beg of you). The short of it, really, is that finishing is nearly always never finished. Something, either clear and obvious, or more often than not, hidden to the naked eye is always defective! The painful part is that you are always dismissed with the common blackmail: “Oga, manage am”. Thus, the culture of “managing” is the root-cause of our backwardness; the bane of our stagnation, the albatross of our arrested development. To be sure, our global notoriety as an alms-seeking, aid-dependent and borrowing country derives in the main from our ingrained culture of “managing” and our cavalier and carefree attitude to “fine margins”. Hence Nigeria is the world’s dump site, the country-wide dustbin for everything from overseas – from toothpick to reach-me-downs, cast-offs of richer climes – clothing, footwear, generating sets, cars, trucks, airplanes and extremely dangerous and deadly radio-active industrial effluent (remember Koko?).
Besides, we are also the receptacles of alien ideas and exogenous ideologies essentially ill-suited to our way of life, including religious ones. I once stumbled on a book in a London bookshop in which I saw a statement that read: “The black person is incapable of original ideas. Everything he does or say is derivative”. Some racist and ethnocentric sentiment along those lines. More or less. How sad! How gut-wrenchingly sad! How do we give the lie to this kind of racist put-down? It is by paying attention to detail, pure and simple. We must as a people cultivate a patient and painstaking work ethic. Something similar to the Calvinist work ethic-delayed gratification, expropriating the beneficial aspects of capitalism, not capitalism without clothes on, red in tooth and claw; benignant capitalism which prioritises ideals and values of thrift, hard work, self-mastery, thoroughness, investment, self-development, finessing, maximising opportunities, etc. We must jettison the “manage am” mentality. Only the best is good enough! We must, indeed, put in the extra yard, as they say in sport, football or soccer, to be precise. We must strive for the x-factor, the “wow” effect (Psalms 71: 7) while de-emphasising immediate gratification, corner-cutting, using sub-standard or fake products, cheating, or looking for self-praise or instant public accolades or straining for celebrity status or media spectacularity. Those who have so much to give, fulfil themselves in total loneliness, according to Wole Soyinka in The Strong Breed. Finally, shall we go down on our knees and pray to God of Small Things; the Lord of fine margins.
Chris Anyokwu, PhD.
Associate Professor of English
University of Lagos