Saturday, 9th December 2023

Nigeria’s Stories Of Cultural Exchange, Sporting Triumph

By Ayobami Okerinde
24 September 2023   |   6:00 am
Nigeria's history as a nation with a rich cultural, entertainment, and sports heritage is undeniable. For decades, Nigerian superstars have gone on to rule the world. Most recently, the spread of Afrobeats has become a powerful force in the world, such that the MTV Video Music Awards added an Afrobeats category. In the annals of…

Nigeria’s history as a nation with a rich cultural, entertainment, and sports heritage is undeniable. For decades, Nigerian superstars have gone on to rule the world. Most recently, the spread of Afrobeats has become a powerful force in the world, such that the MTV Video Music Awards added an Afrobeats category.

In the annals of global history, Nigeria’s role as a host has always been laced with beautiful stories, from entertainment to the adrenaline-charged spectacles of FIFA World Cup events. It has proven that beyond the country’s export to the world, there have been moments in Nigeria’s over six decades of history where the nation welcomed the world in open arms to enjoy and witness the rich tradition, culture, and accommodating nature of its people.

In this article, we will explore the distinct nature of Nigeria’s ability to not just welcome everyone from around the globe but also the country’s ability to create lifetime memories and moments of unforgettable significance.

The Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) is one of the most populous cultural festivals ever held in the world. Also known as the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, the weeks-long event saw over 15,000 participants from over 70 countries across the globe gather in Lagos, Nigeria, to exhibit and showcase the beauty of their culture.

The aims of the festival were to revive and promote black African cultural values and civilization and also to illustrate the various contributions black and African peoples have made across the world. Most notable was to foster better international and interracial understanding and to give black artistes, writers, and performers the feeling of belonging to a common root despite their cultural differences.

The opening ceremony at the National Stadium in Surulere attracted over 100,000 people, with beautiful displays from countries like Ethiopia, South Africa, and Ghana.

A plethora of artistes from around the world, including Stevie Wonder, Miriam Makeba, Bembeya Jazz Nation, The Mighty Sparrow, Gilberto Gil, Sun Ra, Donald Byrd, and Archie Shepp, performed. In addition, 50 plays, 150 music and dance shows, 80 films, 40 art exhibitions, and 200 poetry and dance sessions were performed.

Beyond the festival, FESTAC ’77 has served as an educational reference, with various studies done on the festival. With an edition before and after, FESTAC’77 remains arguably the largest gathering of individuals of black descent in the world.

One of the indelible legacies of the event birthed the famous FESTAC TOWN, located around Mile 2 along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway. The residential area was built to house participants during the event.

All Africa Games
Now known as the African Games, the multi-sports event could be described as the ‘African Olympics’ where athletes from the continent participate in different sporting events.

In 2003, under former president Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria hosted the 8th All Africa Games between October 5 and 17. The event was held across different stadiums across the country, one of which saw the opening of the Moshood Abiola Stadium in Abuja.

The opening ceremony features over 5000 performers from across the country displaying the vastness and richness of the Nigerian culture, one of which showcases “the theme of rebirth and regeneration. The opening ceremony was an exploration of African history—and its darkest days—but also a tribute to the resilience and dynamism of the African people.”

FIFA U-20 World Cup
Against some popular beliefs that Nigeria has never hosted any major sporting event, Nigeria hosted the 1999 FIFA U-20 World Cup and became the first African country to host any FIFA World Cup tournaments.

At the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Nigeria stunned the world by winning the men’s football Olympic games, beating Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina to become the first African men’s team to win gold in football.

Matches were played at the Liberty Stadium, National Stadium, Sani Abacha Stadium, Ahmadu Bello Stadium, and U. J. Esuene Stadium, among others.

Rafael Marquez, Robbie Keane, Seydou Keita, Diego Forlan, Carlos Kameni, Ashley Cole, Julio Cesar, Ronaldinho, Xavi, and Iker Casillas all played on Nigerian soil and would go on to have great careers, winning tournaments including the ‘senior’ World Cup.

Beyond the sporting allure, one thing that remains memorable in the hearts of Nigerians who were old enough at the time was the official theme song for the tournament. The song displayed the richness and harmony of Nigeria’s major languages.

“This is the land so rich in culture; this is the land hosting all nations” was the opening line as superstar artistes such as Becky Williki, Mike Okri, Pupa Orits Williki, Shina Peters, Soultan Abdul, and Harry Mosco offered a beautiful rendition to welcome different countries.

FIFA U-17 World Cup
A decade after hosting her first tournament, Nigeria won the right to host the U-17 World Cup in 2009, two years after winning the tournament in South Korea, led by the late Yemi Tella.
During the tournament, football officials, journalists, and fans were treated to various side attractions, which included the rich cultural history of Nigeria.

Andre ter Stergen, Philippe Coutinho, Neymar, Casemiro, Granit Xhaka, Alvaro Morata, and Son Heung Min all played at the tournament.
Nigeria has hosted numerous international meetings that have all left a lasting impression on the country’s image, from the bustling metropolis of Lagos to the tranquil surroundings of Abuja.

It becomes obvious that the genuine richness of these experiences goes beyond the numbers, statistics, and economic rewards as we consider Nigeria’s path as a host of international events.

It can be found in the accounts of people who gathered beneath the Nigerian sun to celebrate their common history, discuss important world issues, or engage in heated competition in sports. These are the tales that live on, handed down through the ages, igniting hopes and fostering pride.

From FESTAC’77 to hosting sporting events, one thing that’s most consistent is the accommodating nature of the average Nigerian, void of ethnic bias.

Nigeria’s history as a venue for worldwide gatherings stands as a symbol of optimism and a reminder that, despite the difficulties we face as a nation, there are still times of joy, festivities, and innovation that bring the country as a whole together. It is a heritage that will live on and radiate brilliantly for future generations, pointing the way to a healthier and more peaceful nation.