The world was all in our backyard. The whole city of Abuja was agog and well lit. The splendour resonated in cities like Kaduna, Maiduguri, Port Harcourt and Lagos.
We were hosting the Commonwealth Games 2014. Nigeria, known for its strong belief in happenstance, coincidence and symbolism, could not miss the chance to showcase itself. It wanted the Commonwealth to know of how beautifully it had carried itself and its affairs for 100 years since the British colonialists amalgamated the Northern and Southern protectorates into a single country in 1914. Hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2014 was part of the country’s centenary celebrations.
Long before 2014, it began the lobby to host the games. No one doubted that Nigeria’s sparkling capital city, Abuja, would easily trounce any other city to host the games. And so, despite stiff competition from the equally beautiful city of Glasgow in Scotland, Abuja nicked it. Like one commentator said then, “it was a choice between the ancient and modern and the modern clinched it”.
The planning for the event was as top class as Nigeria is known to offer. Lessons from the country’s hosting of the 1977 Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC), the 1999 FIFA U-20 World Cup, the 2003 All Africa Games (organised by COJA) and the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup were all brought to bear in the planning for this event. Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, was brought in to re-enact the spectacular performance he produced in the 2003 All Africa Games. The combo of Nollywood and Nigeria’s music industry brought down the roof, same way they combined to increase our economy, moving it to the largest in Africa just a few months ago.
Although the Commonwealth Games, like its older sibling, the Olympics, are deemed hosted by a city, as opposed to a country, Abuja 2014 had a whiff of difference. Nigeria’s unity in diversity was displayed when different cities hosted some of the events based on comparative infrastructural, cultural and topographic advantages. Kano hosted basketball events while Maiduguri hosted shooting events in the famed Sambisa Forest. Lagos hosted the aquatic sports (reminding many of its famed former pride as the ‘State of Aquatic Splendour’) while Port Harcourt, by some strange coincidence, hosted the combat sports, some of which were held in the House of Assembly complex.
The cycling event was particularly interesting. Held in Abuja, it was flagged off by two of Nigeria’s celebrated cyclists, Ojo Maduekwe and his protege, Osita Chidoka, the new Minister of Aviation who made a show of riding their bicycles from their various homes to the flag off event. A request by Charly Boy Oputa to join the duo with his power bike was turned down. Thankfully, Maduekwe didn’t have an accident as he once did while riding to a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting some years back.
Our brilliance was not just with the hosting. The athletes themselves were stellar in performance, snatching medals in various sports, using their local comparative advantages. Prior to the competition, a special team of Niger Deltans, especially those of Ijaw ethnicity, had been polished in swimming. Some youths arrested from Abuja streets by the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) for illegal hawking won us medals in sprints and relays. They had been reformed and trained to put their skills, honed from running to escape arrests, into sprinting to win medals. By the time the games were closing, Nigeria was besting others for the top spot on the medals chart, same way it dusted Africa in grand style to be the largest economy.
Truly, Nigeria never had it so good and everyone called the feat ‘unprecedented’! That was when the political class moved in and our celebration was not the same again. Some people reminded everyone that we won on the basis of good luck, which they intentionally misspelled as ‘Goodluck’. But those on the opposite side of what we now call ‘divide’ said the best description of what happened was that Nigeria had made a clean ‘sweep’ of the medals and they made an effort to put a symbol of a broom in every congratulatory message to show how the medals were swept by Nigerians. In fact, some of the politicians began to remind us that the cities where the medals were won were in states controlled by particular political parties, represented by either the umblerra (sorry umbrella) or the broom. Some even talked about the ‘state of origin’ of these athletes, even when most of them lived in and were ‘discovered’ from their states of residence, often different from the so-called state of origin.
It was in the middle of all these that a blast sound from the exhaust pipe of a rickety taxi on the other lane jolted me from my daydreaming while taking a tiring ride from the airport to my hotel room. Thank goodness, it was not a bomb blast, but checking up news on my phone, I saw breaking news of twin bomb blasts in Kaduna. And there went up all my dreams.
For how long have I been sleeping? Only God knows. But the sleep and dream were sweet.
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