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Mikel Obi and FESTAC – An unusual connection!

By Segun Odegbami
08 February 2020   |   4:18 am
Please, read to the end of this write-up in order to appreciate the headline above.


Please, read to the end of this write-up in order to appreciate the headline above.

This is a fantastic illustration of the scope, relationship and influence of sports to the rest of life.

Mikel is Nigeria’s immediate past captain of the Super Eagles. Since 2005, he has been leading one or more of Nigeria’s national football teams to several football ‘battles’ all over the world.

He played for several clubs all over Europe and China before finally settling down in Turkey to enjoy the final lap of an illustrious career.

He has been a complete gentleman, off and on the field of play, aloof sometimes to the point where some people wrongly think he is arrogant. But what is not in dispute is that he is a great leader, cool, always calm and collected.

In his long sojourn on planet football he has never been known to be violent, or anything near it.

Yet that is the story that would have made global news headlines had he not been restrained by his teammates after a match last week in Turkey.

For the first time in his career, Mikel was so enraged he was going to throw punches at a fellow player, the captain of Fernebahce FC in a Turkish Super Lig match last week for calling him racial names on the field of play. After the match, Mikel and his family also received thousands of hate mails on social media from fans of Fernebahce club racially abusing them! Mikel broke down in exasperation whilst reporting the incidents at a press briefing.

Only a few weeks ago, late basketball legend, Kobe Bryant, in a famous quote that has gone viral on social media, drew the attention of the world to racial abuse in sports and called for its cessation.

Racism in sports, particularly football, is on the increase around the world, outside Africa. It is a continuation of the mental and physical siege the black person has been under in different shapes, guises and sizes, for over 600 years and still ongoing.

The incident with Mikel last week further draws serious attention to it.

The Nigerian media have shockingly not played it up as they should.

What could have brought Mikel within seconds of ‘throwing away’ the reputation he had built up for over 15 years at the top of football in the world for a minute of provoked ‘madness’? What can be done to halt it permanently? The answers can be found in FESTAC.

FESTAC is the acronym for the World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, a pan-African festival introduced in the mid-1960s by the Organisation of African Unity, OAU, to promote black culture and civilisation, to bring together blacks and Africans from around the world to celebrate their common patrimony, and to design a roadmap for their race in a world that is not designed for them to succeed and be equal partners. In short, FESTAC was as a ‘weapon’ conceived and established to fight racism against blacks in the world.

The festival concept, a no-brainer, was designed by President Leopold Senghor of Senegal and some others to promote Black unity, culture and civilisation, and to drive a fundamental, but unwritten (if it were written the festival would never find daylight), anti-racism agenda.

The first edition held in Dakar, Senegal, in 1966.

The second edition, bigger and better organised, was held Nigeria in 1977 after a long 11-years hiatus created by political upheavals in Nigeria – changes of governments through military coups, the death of a Nigerian military head of State, the Nigerian Civil War, and non-completion of the magnificent edifices and infrastructure being put in place by a very buoyant Nigerian government led by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

A whole town was built to accommodate the 17,000 black artists, writers, dancers, musicians, actors, cinematographers, and black scholars drawn from all over the world. That’s how FESTAC Village (now a town with over one million inhabitants) was built, alongside the magnificent National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, a network of new roads, Tafawa Balewa Square and so on.

What is instructive about FESTAC is that 43 years after the last festival was held in Nigeria, the event and its original vision have been ‘extinguished’. The western world saw the threat that can be posed by an intellectual and cultural assembly of blacks such as was witnessed in Lagos in 1977, and the power that can be unleashed on the world. France and few other western organisations withdrew their initial support for the festival to avoid shooting themselves in the foot by aiding the establishment of a movement that will halt a well-established over-600 years of global suppression, oppression, and exploitation of the black race.

After 1977, FESTAC, the only global ‘army’ ever established to fight for the cause of the black person on earth had to be killed, mentally and physically. That is why the fight against racism in the world has been futile, and the scourge has been on an unfettered rampage.

That is the link between Mikel Obi and FESTAC.

Last week, Mikel, the quiet, unassuming football captain and legend, that hardly ever raised his voice beyond a whisper for 15 years, was verbally abused with racial slurs by Emre Belozoglu, the frustrated captain of the Fernebahce FC club that had just lost a home match to Mikel’s team, on the field of play, and by thousands of Fernebahce FC fans after the match.

Mikel could not stand the abuse and disrespect and wanted to engage Emre in a fisticuff on the field but was restrained by his teammates.

Racial abuse is always a reminder to the black person of his story, particularly since the abolition of slavery over 200 years ago, that the mentality that blacks are intellectually inferior has not gone away. So, the black person continues to suffer indignity and abuse, without any repercussion to the perpetrators that are treated, as usual, with kid gloves.

So, all over Europe, the scourge is increasing. No serious steps are taken by the white-dominated international bodies responsible for football to stamp out an unacceptable treatment that takes the black person to the pits of anger and depression.

Mikel’s incident is another reminder that ‘mental slavery’, described by Bob Marley and Fela Anikulapo Kuti in two of their songs, continues to sustain unabated in the world till this day. To deal with it decisively, would require a coming together of the entire global Black race in a common front and assembly to discuss a common plan of action.

That was what FESTAC did. And that’s the connection between Mikel Obi’s incident and FESTAC.

To deal with the scourge of racism, even in football, the matter must be taken to the level of the original FESTAC vision and mission. The World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, FESTAC, project must be revived. It is the only weapon that can take on the rest of the world and fight racism to a standstill and promote the cause of the Black person on earth.

Football, along with all sports, is an integral part of the cultural promotion that is needed to fight racism. Isolated the way things have been since 1977, the Black race is a sitting duck for racists, White supremacists and their imperialist collaborators.

African leaders must bring back the concept of FESTAC! It is the most powerful force that can win the war against racism and create a new black culture, consciousness and civilisation!

From the unfortunate circumstances of Mikel in Turkey last week we can take away a useful lesson for the entire black race.