“Football and politics do not mix”. Nonsense. The reality is that in this arc of the Earth, they are inter-related to some extent. Both seamlessly combine laughter and entertainment some times, with red faces and high temperaments at other times, both control cult-like followership, and both, money-spinnners . Yes both can shut down twitter when they like too. In Africa’s most populous country today, it won’t be far from the truth, concluding that asides the entertainment industry, hardly does any sector command as much followership as the football and political scenes. It is this abstract marriage that has birthed the body of this piece.
Similarities between football and politics it would seem, also reflects on key players in both sectors. Lagos State is one of the thirty-six states in Nigeria, even though it seems as though it is all the states combined at times. This is attributable in no small measure to its commerciability and the consequent financial edge it commands among its peers. The state witnessed rapid development under the leadership of former governor, and now Minister of Power, Works, and Housing for the Federal Republic, Babatunde Raji Fashola(SAN), or as fondly called, BRF. BRF oversaw the tremendous growth and development of infrastructure in the coastal state and his performance attracted rave reviews from within and outside the state, a goodwill he enjoys till this day. Lagos is currently in transition from those glory days to heights yet unknown, under the leadership of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode.
Manchester United. If you have never heard this name, look carefully around you again, you are probably not on planet Earth. Just as Lagos, among other states in Nigeria, Manchester United stands out for its sky-high value among its rivals in England, such is the strength of the brand worldwide that it could be described as the epitome of the fusion between football and business. Manchester United attained these heights during the age-long reign of Sir Alex Ferguson as boss at the club, when the club dominated England, and at times, Europe. With the retirement of Sir Alex though, the club was left in a dilemma as to how to cope with life without the knighted Scot. After the first experiment with successor, David Moyes, blew up in their faces, Manchester United still find themselves in transition to heights yet unknown, under the leadership of Dutch manager, Louis Van Gaal (LVG).
The similarities do not end there. What has inspired this writing is the reception that has been accorded the transitionists (Ambode and LVG). Since the ushering in of the Ambode government this year, the governor has in six months, managed to dry up a large percentage of his goodwill reserves. A day will not set in Lagos now without Ambode being called out for several issues ranging from traffic problems to insecurity and sometimes even from poor dressing to bad breath. Some criticisms have been completely devoid of fairness seeing as some of these problems have existed since time immemorial, before Ambode was governor, and even worsening due to increasing rates of increase in the human pressure on the metropolis. So one is puzzled, why is Ambode being vilified by many? Is it really because Lagos has degenerated to such a low level from Eldorado status in just six months? Or is there a tinge of sentiment among Lagosians who were enraged that reports that seemingly sought to damage the image of their darling former governor, BRF, were emanating from the Ambode administration? This idea arises because only a few Lagosians will say “Ambode should face his work…” without adding “…and leave Fashola alone”. Was there a witch-hunt of the former governor? Difficult to tell, but the number of “Fashola men” retained by Ambode in his cabinet suggests not. Sentiment however almost always clouds judgement and if you are going to challenge Fashola in Lagos, then you must be able to double his achievements just to get a reprieve from the people. Or how else does one explain how Ambode is being viewed by some despite the renewed high presence of security around the city recently, and the easing of traffic situations only aggravated by intensive road constructions currently ongoing around the state, among various reforms also in the works.
I was getting engrossed in Lagos, permit me to go back to Manchester. Well, you do not need to look far for criticisms of the current United manager, a search on Google for Paul Scholes should capture it well. The United legend has not been in the news for much more business than criticizing the team. “Slow, boring, lethargic” are the words that have been resonated by thousands of supporters around the world when they lose and even when they win games, “they didn’t win it the United way”. Again, one wonders, the United way or the Ferguson way? Is the passion for Sir Alex so deeply ingrained that even while winning games, the Dutch manager must have his team playing like the darling Scot legend used to have his team play? That some conveniently try to disparage his work by claiming recent success is more attributable to transfer spending than managerial tinkering while daring to bring him to the level of David Moyes who had painstakingly managed to take the club from the sky to the underworld in less than a year, is a huge disservice to the man. He was appointed with a target, he met it, and how can that be difficult to credit?
In both Lagos and Manchester, what is observable is a bond so tight to the past that present day realities are dispensed with in the formulation of sentiment-clouded judgements. What is being missed however is that supportive and corrective, rather than dismissive judgements are the needfuls at this point. Ambode was elected for a four-year tenure as LVG was granted a three-year contract and both will admit that they are still on their way, and not there yet.
It is however not an unpleasant situation. In truth, Lagos and Manchester United are lucky to be in such a hole seeing as however unfair it may seem on the persons in charge, what it does is keep them on their feet. One will only claim to have eaten when the food surpasses the appetite and seeing as the appetite in these cases may be limitless, heavy feeding will have to continue almost infinitely. In the end, with such an increase in service to the people, the result is foreseeable; Manchester remains united and Lagos embraces “Itesiwaju”. If the price to pay is to always deny both Akinwunmi Ambode and Louis Van Gaal due credit, maybe it’s not such a bad deal. Call it sacrificing one for all.