What’s the deal with Nigeria’s suspended soccer team?

Ok, so Nigeria did badly at the World Cup. Really badly, actually. But talk about a rough punishment: Yesterday, the country’s President Goodluck Jonathan banned the team from competing for two years. Wait, really? You’re thinking: There’s gotta be a backstory here. And there is — actually a pretty interesting one: Think of the Nigerian ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Ok, so Nigeria did badly at the World Cup. Really badly, actually. But talk about a rough punishment: Yesterday, the country's President Goodluck Jonathan banned the team from competing for two years.

Wait, really? You're thinking: There's gotta be a backstory here. And there is -- actually a pretty interesting one: Think of the Nigerian soccer team as a metaphor for the entire country's woes. "The performance of the Super Eagles team is a symptom and reflection of the administrative problems bedeviling Nigeria as a whole," one fiesty piece in the diaspora-run Sahara Reporters puts it. "Their performance reflects the performance of the entire country." It's corrupt; it's badly run; its players are too old because training systems are dilapidated to recruit young talent. That's why Nigeria's Super Eagles are getting no love from fans, many of which think the team well deserves the ban. 

As for Jonathan, he's trying to make a pretty serious political point. In his short time in office, he's rounded up and ousted some of the country's most despised and corrupt politicians. This is just one more signal that's ready to give Nigeria a clean sweep. Deep, isn't it?

Ok, so Nigeria did badly at the World Cup. Really badly, actually. But talk about a rough punishment: Yesterday, the country’s President Goodluck Jonathan banned the team from competing for two years.

Wait, really? You’re thinking: There’s gotta be a backstory here. And there is — actually a pretty interesting one: Think of the Nigerian soccer team as a metaphor for the entire country’s woes. "The performance of the Super Eagles team is a symptom and reflection of the administrative problems bedeviling Nigeria as a whole," one fiesty piece in the diaspora-run Sahara Reporters puts it. "Their performance reflects the performance of the entire country." It’s corrupt; it’s badly run; its players are too old because training systems are dilapidated to recruit young talent. That’s why Nigeria’s Super Eagles are getting no love from fans, many of which think the team well deserves the ban. 

As for Jonathan, he’s trying to make a pretty serious political point. In his short time in office, he’s rounded up and ousted some of the country’s most despised and corrupt politicians. This is just one more signal that’s ready to give Nigeria a clean sweep. Deep, isn’t it?

Of course, the big question is how much of that turns out to be a trick play. Sahara Reporters at least gives him no credit there: 

"The shocking part of the decision is that the person making this decision is the president. This is the same president who brought 140 people to Canada for a needless jamboree only a few days ago. A president who is presiding over an oil producing country that is wallowing in darkness. A president who does not have the courage to arrest and prosecute his friends and political godfathers who have been indicted for accepting bribes from Halliburton and Siemens. … A president who is presiding over a country in which the National Assembly dominated by members of his party are basically looting the treasury through dubious constituency allowances. In light of his failures, will the president withdraw himself from office for two years as he has done to the Super Eagles? If there is a World Cup for good governance, would Goodluck Jonathan make the tenth eleven? Your guess is as good as mine."

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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