THOUGHTS ON SYLVA NZE IFEDIGBO’S NINETY MINUTES
Title: Ninety Minutes
Writer: Sylva Nze Ifedigbo
Publisher: Swale Life
Thinker: Su’eddie Agema
Nze’s Ninety Minutes is a tale that revolves around a football match told by an unemployed graduate who has gone to the new Abuja stadium to watch it. The match is the finals of the African Cup between Nigeria and Cameroon. In very vivid descriptions, the writer narrates the whole experience of the match starting from the experience of arriving with the rush, to the discussions. Just before the match starts, the narrator talks a little on some issues to while away time.
Not surprisingly, this before match gist is something we know – the complaints of the African writer on issues that peepits head slowly. For instance, there is a constant mention of the narrator’s ordeal in search of a job. It is first mentioned as the reason why he reads papers to check for openings ‘vacancies.’ After his explanation of how he uses words he learnt in the University, the narrator chips in again that he had spent four years in the university ‘Four years that now couldn’t fetch me a job’
This time though, there is an edge to it. We find complaints on a group that had been mercifully been spared before – the Super Eagles, Nigeria’s senior football team. ‘They don’t have attack….they don’t have defense. The midfield is zero.’ This is done mainly through a character called Papa Ngozi. The team is also called such derogatory names as ‘Rubbish Super Chickens’ which would suggest that they are so bad that they have been changed from wild daring Eagles to harmless Chickens. And if you think that is insult enough, you get an addition from the same Papa Ngozi:
Super nonsense. Can you compare this team with the 1980 team? Haba if it was in those days, the days of the mathematical Segun Odegbami and Chairman Christian Chukwu my mind would have been at rest. I would have been drinking pami by now certain that the cup was in the kitty. But not this team that plays like six pregnant women combined with five men with arthritis
But the story is more than mockery of current situations in the country and insulting the Super Eagles. It is a tale that tries to capture the best loved game of the country that fills everyone with so much passion. The magic of football in Nigeria is amazing. It has the power to heal and destroy, create enemies and do a lot. Notably though, it unites and creates bonds. Nze explores this a bit when he tells of how it stops a potential riot. There is trouble between the police and some spectators. A fight is about to become tough when a shout is heard and it is discovered that the Eagles number 9 player has lost a chance to score a goal. The result is that
‘Both the Policemen and the crowd who were no more fighting joined in the second shout. The fight was over. All eyes were now on the pitch’
It unites the country as the writer states
Everyone is chanting in unison. Policemen and spectators. Christians and Muslims. Bachelors and Married women. Igbos and Kanuris. Yoruba and Hausas. Employed and unemployed. Rich and the poor. The song is the same; All we are saying, give us more Goals.
On the family level, we are told of how a stern father can soften at a match. Victory could mean several pleasant things including sharing a bottle of Star beer with one’s 12 year old son while the total reverse is the case when the Eagles lost. The children would have to ‘vanish from the sitting room as soon as the match was over to avoid bearing the wrath of his disappointment.’
Allusions are made to other matches e.g. Nigeria vs Italy during the world cup in USA. The match between Nigeria and Angola. With these allusions, one is tempted to think that the match is a retelling of an old match. On a personal note, a knowledgeable soccer fan might try to go into the archives of his/her mind to relive the match and see how it really ended so that the person can beat the suspense that Nze Sylva puts into one’s heart. Like the narrator, the person would find the person’s self rooting for Nigeria and feeling very excited wondering which turn the game would take – praying at half time like the players and the narrator that the game end well. Then the person discovers that the writer is narrating a football match that he creates from the richness of his thoughts and so would remain content, reading on only to discover… The story ends unexpectedly for both the characters and perhaps, the conventional reader too.
There are a few typographical and grammatical errors in the story. While some of them are glaring, a few are worth thinking about. One of such, set of ‘Teethes’ is dubious but is allowed considering that the writer might have meant to say that the dental formula of the Papa Ngozi, who he describes, is so horrible it looks as if they are in separate sets. In the narration, there is a mixture of present continuous tense and past perfect tense in the same flow. All these leave a very sour taste in the mouth and doesn’t speak well of the author and to a larger extent, the publishers – Swale Life. It is amazing and to the writer’s credit though, that these do not disrupt his flow or the attendant excitement that he captures in his tale.
In all, one can say that Sylva Nze Ifedigbo’s ‘Ninety Minutes’ is a tale that revolves around a football match while analysing some other factors in society that are disturbing. He highlights the beauty of the game as an opium that lasts for the course of a game. It is told with intensity and passion that makes one feel as if the person was present in the game. His narrative prowess invites readers to join the spectators to join in the match, flow with the passion of the narrative persona, and support his every aspiration. We see vividly through his eyes and soon begin to feel as if we are him. More than that, Ifedigbo tells us of some of the troubles that bedevil Nigeria not directly in a boring manner through discourse and dialouge – showing not telling. After the whole game though, we get a lull and are left to go home remembering our hunger… Sha, Naija still de! Up Eagles!
For soccer fans, particularly Nigerians, and even those who become so by the writer’s quiet forceful invitation, this is a story worth reading. Indeed, a solid piece – worth cheering and blowing one’s vuvuzela about.