National Team — 24 July 2012
Obasohan and Ibekwe with Nigerian fans in Venezuela

On the 8th of July 2012, the Nigerian basketball team put their names in the record books as they qualified for the Olympic basketball event for the first time in their history. With that level of success comes with it a level of criticism. In the past weeks, critics have labelled the Nigerian team as “second rate Americans “ “Americans playing for Nigeria” and even SB Nation editor Tom Ziller wrote the following “Nigeria is a part of the wave of teams who have heavily recruited NCAA and NBA players with ties to the nation. Instead of focusing on homegrown talents,Nigeria and other nations have “recruited” players who never lived in the country or played in their youth teams in international competition”. Even more disheartening is the fact that a minority of Nigerians have also criticized the team stating that majority of the players in the current squad do not speak any Nigerian language, have never been to the country, do not eat the food, and are only Nigerian by name.

USA sensation Jahlil Okafor
With all that said, I think it is only right that we address the issue with the correct  facts. The first question that we need to ask ourselves is, what or who is a Nigerian? In the context of this article, this is not a straight forward question when you take into account the continuous exodus of Nigerians from the continent starting in the mid 70’s and throughout the 90’s due to political and economical issues. Nigerians now form one of the largest group of people living in Diaspora, it is even said that one out of five Africans is a Nigerian. In America and England especially, Nigerians form one of the largest foreign communities living in that region thanks to the common language and history that they share. It then should not be a surprise that we now find second and even third generation Nigerians living abroad, examples are sports personalities like Andre Iguodala, Jahlil Okafor and Nneka Ogwumike for the US, and Anthony Joshua, Phillips Idowu and Christine Ohurougu for England.
Prince Amukamara in 2011 NFL draft
A rule of survival tells us that when you live in a foreign land, it is only natural that you absorb yourself into the lifestyles and behaviours of the society, hence most Nigerian kids born in Diaspora often go through conflicts with their parents who had more of a Nigerian upbringing. This issue often ends up with two different results; either accepting the Nigerian culture and carrying on with the various traditions such as food, name, customs etc, or disengaging with the tradition completely, as they feel more comfortable with their present surrounding and are not able to blend the native and foreign culture together, sometimes even going as far as resenting their parents culture and seeing it as backwards.
So my question to the critics is; what do you call the group of people that choose to identify with their Nigerian culture and traditions even though they have never been to Nigeria? Take for example a few members f my family, who were born and raised in Germany, yet speak the Yoruba language with the highest of diction, even better than some that live in Nigeria today, would you consider them German or Nigerian?
Oguchi in 2005
Back to the current Nigerian basketball team or so called “Nigerian-Americans”, it has been said that only three members of the squad were born in Nigeria, which is correct, those three are Tony Skinn, Ejike Ugboaja and Olumide Oyedeji. With that being said, it should also be noted that Solomon Alabi, Michael Eric and Festus Ezeli, all Nigerian born and raised players were invited to the team but could not accept the invitation because of NBA commitments. Additionally, three members of the current team, Derrick Obasohan, Chamberlain Oguchi and Ekene Ibekwe have all been with the Nigerian team since 2005, that’s seven years ago when they were in their early 20’s. Two other players Ade Dagunuro and Ike Diogu have given interviews recently where they spoke about being brought up within the Nigerian way of life even though they lived in America, Dagunduro who was raised in Inglewood California even stated that he loves pounded yam, drinks gari for breakfast and enjoys his rice and stew. Sounds very “Nigerian” to me.
The Dream in 1992
Going back to 1992, a certain Hakeem Olajuwon who was born and raised in the inner parts of Lagos, and still speaks with a distinct Yoruba accent chose to represent the USA in that year’s Summer Olympic games. I do not recall him being criticized heavily from any part of the media for his decision. Additionally, Great Britain, Portugal and Spain accepted the likes of Tiffany Ofili Porter, Francis Obikwelu and Glory Alozie with open arms even though they have no blood relation to the country or never grew up there.The point I am trying to make is this, with the growing number of Nigerian-born kids living abroad, we are going to get more and more kids opting to represent the country of their fatherland, and who are we to judge or criticize them if that option is available. After all, if not for a Nigerian, who took the sacrifice to leave their homeland and make a new one in a foreign land, and sometimes holding two jobs and going to school at the same time, they will not be where they are, or who they are today.  I’m sure most Nigerian kids living abroad have gone through enough beatings, attended various Church sermons and stuffed themselves with plenty of jollof rice for them not to be accepted as Nigerian.
Talib Zanna of Pittsburgh
For me I think the only issue we should be concerned about is how the infusion of foreign-based players in the basketball team will help develop our local talent (which coincidentally is the same issue the Nigerian football team is facing as well).  Currently we still have a lot of local talent coming through the ranks, the likes of Talib Zanna, Festus Ezeli, Michael Eric, Chu Maduabum, Maurice Aniefiok, Chris  Obekpa and God’s Gift Achiuwa were all born and raised in Nigeria, but are now playing basketball at the highest level in America after being spoted by scouts in local camps. What we really need to do is put more pressure on our Sports Ministry to allocate more funds to the development of our local league, youth teams and sporting facilities. There is just too much talent in Nigerian basketball for us not to be ranked amongst the best in the World.
Finally, I don’t know about you but I will be supporting the Nigerian team regardless of if they came from the back streets of Iyana-Ipaja or the suburbs of South-side Chicago, If you cannot do it for the players, you need to do it for their parents, who made the sacrifice for their kids. Names like Diogu, Dagunduro, Oludewa, Oguchi, Obasohan, Aminu and Oruche all sound very Nigerian to me, and they worked their butt off to put Nigeria back on the sporting map. This is a proud moment, and folks need to realise that the country Nigeria has evolved and its bigger that just the land mass, A certain Nigeria proverbs states, “However far the stream flows, it never forgets its source” It’s time for everyone to embrace the Nigerian basketball team whether your are living in Nigeria or leaving abroad..

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(4) Readers Comments

  1. You have already stated it that minority of Nigerians were against the selection of our Olympians due to the fact that, they were not born in Nigeria. There is no way you wont see such a critics in life due to difference opinion in every individual, trust me most Nigerians love good, dynamic, dedicated and energetic players to represent the country. Look at the case of Osaze being loved by most Nigerians despite the fact he is half Nigerian, they love him wholeheartedly due to his commitment before those things started getting to his head (that is Nigeria spirit for u).

    People dont really care but our main problem is corruption from the government that is killing every sport in Nigeria and Gov only focus of Football.

    I heard sometimes ago that Olumide (Up Loyolan) was the one spending his money to sponsor the team and it was also the reason why Idoka did not feel like taking part in FIBA Qual. for Olympics. Corruption is the bane of Nigerian society and it is really affecting us in all ramification and it is when we start to correct things by our action (not on the PC) and make those people in Goverment believes that we voted for them to represent us, not thier pocket.

  2. I agree, seems like corruption in Nigeria is like Aids, very hard to find a cure. I know that there are a lot of good Nigerians out there, and when they get the chance, they will make a positive difference.

  3. I want to commend the owner of this website as a patriotic Nigerian. I’m impressed! I just don’t know, I support anything good from Nigerians esp in sports, definitely supporting the Nigerian basketball team in the Olympics cos i’m rather proud of them. I was born and raised in Nigeria but currently studying in Sri Lanka, Colombo. You’re right Nigerians are almost everywhere!:) God bless you, God bless Nigeria! Amen!

  4. I love this blog. Keep up the good work.

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