AFCON 2023: Sports, a sustainable route to peace and unity — Our Security, Our Peace By Prof. O.E Bassey

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“Sports, indeed and as seen with 2023 AFCON, has the capacity to promote peace, tolerance, and understanding, bringing people together across, cultures, religions and ethnic divides. Its principles of teamwork, fairness, discipline, and respect are compelling in the advancement of solidarity and social cohesion.”

For 30 days, the biggest football event in Africa brought the continent together as never matched. 24 nations jostled for a trophy in Cote D’Ivoire, producing entertainment, funfare and joy across the continent.
In Nigeria, we saw no discrimination as people from the North, South, East and West came together, forgetting where they are from, and united in one purpose: Nigeria.
Though the Super Eagles weren’t triumphant at the end, but their participation in the tournament and their run to the final of the competition showed how much unity, joy, and peace can be harnessed from sports, not only football.
Recall the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development centers sports as an important enabler of sustainable development while establishing the need to contribute to sports for development and peace.
Sports, indeed and as seen with 2023 AFCON, has the capacity to promote peace, tolerance, and understanding, bringing people together across, cultures, religions and ethnic divides. Its principles of teamwork, fairness, discipline, and respect are compelling in the advancement of solidarity and social cohesion.
Once in South Africa, Sports was leveraged to heal national wounds and rise above differences. After being elected South Africa’s first post-Apartheid president, Nelson Mandela latched on to the Rugby World Cup to help foster the country’s healing process and prevent a civil war that many feared was inevitable.
In Cote D’Ivoire, who hosted the just concluded AFCON, they owe it to football the end of their five year civil war from 2002 to 2007. Ivorian football legend Didier Drogba had appealed to the authorities to have their AFCON qualifier against Mozambique played in Bouko, a stronghold of the rebels. There were tensions and anxiety just ahead of the match knowing that the two warring sides needed to come together in one stadium to watch a football game involving Cote D’Ivoire. But on this fateful day, as the national anthem was sung, the joy and unity in the stadium was overwhelming with the two opposing leaders holding hands to the shock of almost everyone.
For Drogba, being from the south himself, it was an attempt to bring the nation – Cote D’Ivoire – back together. It was very successful at the time, with a 5-0 victory capped by Drogba scoring the final goal to cause celebrations across the whole country.
After the match, the warring sides decided to drop their arms and unite for the sake of the country, with football having thought them deeply the power of unity and love for the only country they all share in common.
This is why in Africa and Nigeria, we must hold sports firm, knowing it is one of the few tools we have — proven and tested — in our quest of reaching development and peace. Credit must go to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for putting together one of the best organized AFCON tournaments in history. This is a trail other sporting federations must follow to ensure the continent continues to derive the maximum benefits of sports to the development of the continent and the promotion of peace.
Bringing it home to Nigeria, our leaders need to start looking at sports beyond being just a mere physical activity but a social and economic wheel to accelerate the growth and development of the country and continent at large.
The talents to indulge in this sports is no challenge of ours. Where we are yet missing it for years has been in the administration of our domestic sports.
Right from the football league, to youth games, inter-school sports competition, we need to revive the culture of sports, invest rightly into it, and get driven by its power to change the lives of its citizens while fostering unity, promoting peace and enabling development. We’ve been ‘sleeping’ for a long time on the value of sports towards contributing to a better society. It is in my hope that the AFCON has taught us more lessons to jolt us into significant actions that we start to see Sports beyond just running around or an easy sector to milk.
This call is not only to the government but also the religious and corporate organisations. In Lagos for instance, a particular tech firm owns a clubside, Sporting Lagos in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL). The club has been a delight to Lagosians, with fans from every part of Lagos trooping to Onikan stadium on matchday with the fine jerseys of the club to support the team. The firm’s involvement in sports has not only contributed to promoting the joy and peace of Lagosians but also putting food on the table of many involved with the club.
There is also Mountain of Fire Ministries Football Club that has continued to run for years and a testament to the fact that religious organisations can also contribute their quota to the promotion of sports to achieve a better society. If we must achieve this, then all hands must be on deck because sports is for all.
Congratulations once again to the Super Eagles. Though might have missed out on the trophy at the end, but they are winners because for a long time, they made Nigerians forget their problems, abandon discrimination, and come together in excitement, love and unity for one purpose: Nigeria. They are the real heroes and must be celebrated as one!
1 Timothy 4:8: “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
Meanwhile, I am delighted to inform you that come October, 1, 2024, we at NISSI Safety Management Institute: An Institute famous for Peace Leadership will be celebrating our 20th Anniversary.
To this end is our campaign to expand the knowledge of peace leadership to both the old as young, women and children in various places from corporate organisations, to political organizations, worship centers, educational institutions, markets and communities.
It is in our belief that the more educated the people are in respect to peace leadership, the more peaceful our country will become.
So this is a call-to-action, to hop on our Peace campaign train, to arm yourself, your friends, your colleagues, your employees, your congregation with contemporary peace leadership knowledge that makes for a happier and more fulfilled life, personally and collectively.
Kindly call or send a message on Whatsapp to +2347065828892, to be a beneficiary of this.
Prof. Ofonime Emmanuel Bassey is a Leadership, Security, Peace and Conflict Resolution Coach with decades of experience in the practice and promotion of Law Enforcement, Peace and Security through the Nigeria Police and the United Nations.
He has served and interacted at the top level management of the Nigeria Police as well as internationally as a United Nation’s Monitor/Mentor in Kosovo, Europe.
A professor of Peace Advocacy and Conflict Resolution with Charismatic International University, Cameroon www.charismaticuniversity.org and professor  of Leadership, Peace and Conflict Resolution, ICOF Global University, USA /Zambia. www.icofglobal.net
Ofonime is a certified United Nation’s Trainer. With his marks well-established in Peace Leadership both in Nigeria and Africa. He is the President, NISSI Safety Management Institute: An Institute famous for Peace Leadership Mastery.
Presently, he is spearheading a campaign tagged “The Next Peace Leaders”, a campaign that is billed to run from 2022-2030 with a target of training 37,000 young peace leaders.
For leadership, conflict, peace and security consultations and trainings, reach him via:
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