By Steve Alabi
Is it true that African professional footballer players use juju to boost their performances and help medical conditions, as alleged by one of Nigeria’s most accomplished World Cup stars, Osaze Odemwingie? Does juju help players’ performance? Can a player improve his delivery through the instrumentality of juju? Can results of football games be determined by the use of juju? Can defeats be turned into victories through the instrumentality of juju? Conversely, can victories be turned into defeats?
These questions have become pertinent in view of the incredible declaration by Odemwingie that 70% of African professional footballer players use juju to boost their performances and help medical conditions. It is easy to understand the allegation of the use of juju in medical conditions. Even this must be understood in the light of the application of traditional methods of healing to football injuries. I can, from my personal experience as a club manager, confirm the efficacy of the traditional method of healing broken bones, for example. There is hardly a football manager, coach or player who has passed through Akure who does not know of the Arogun bone setters in the city.
It is a well known fact that players with broken bones come from far and near to Akure to get themselves treated and restored to pristine conditions. How these Arogun native healers do it is not all that mysterious but, as with the rest of traditional medical means, it is steeped in mystery. It is said that the method can only be done by members of the family which owns the knowledge from the beginning of time. It is also said that they break the particular bone the patient is suffering from in a fowl and start tending the bird. As the fowl heals, the patient heals to the degree it heals. How true this is is left to conjecture but we all know that things of this nature are mystified to elevate them to the realm of belief.
Maybe what Odemwingie experienced made him to say that juju helps performance. Hear him: “In training, I rolled my own two legs, I left the rolled-up roll, but in the fall I also hurt my shoulder and broke my arm. Mom was afraid to tell, so they took me to the local shamans. They poured hot water to relax their muscles. Somehow they returned the hand to the place, while I yelled, they twisted some small sticks. They conjured something else to grow better. Some local affairs. Something was connected with the chicken, some kind of rite. I come home, my mother saw the hand: “Broke?”. I answer: “Aha.” They were taken to a regular hospital, anesthesia was done, they put the plaster on. All is well in the end.”
However, healing we can see and verify but juju as a performance enhancer is simply outrageous. More unbelievable is the assumption that juju can be used to determine results of football games. As secondary school students, many of us experienced the use of juju, usually goaded by overzealous Games Masters or school bus drivers. Many still carry marks of incisions done for crucial games on our bodies till today, especially if such games involved rival schools. With the benefit of hindsight, many now know that the incisions never worked, that they merely suffered at the hands of the juju grandmasters making quick bucks from gullible victory seekers.
We must concede that there is a strong feeling among players in Nigeria that juju helps but football managers have a responsibility to wean them off such balderdash. If that feeling is not strong, why would a player of immense international exposure like Osaze Odemwingie open up as he has done? In reality, players are products of their society. We cannot expect them to live above the sentiments and nuances that shape the society in which they are. The average Nigerian is sold on the esoteric. Education has really not developed the mind of many of us beyond the primitive attachment to the supernatural. Where the average Nigerian has weaned himself from juju, he usually does a complete swing to the other extreme of depending on prayer as a means of attaining success.
Pentecostalism has not helped matters. The Christian missionaries who brought the beautiful game to Nigeria did not introduce prayer as a strategy. Ask old boys of mission schools. The secret of the exploits of those old days was simple: the priests took their wards through rigorous drills and provided special motivations to prepare them for victories. Players slept in special dormitories, ate special meals and were exempted from manual labour. This was the secret, not the recitation of the Holy Rosary nor any novena. If not, missionary schools should still be winning. The late Chief Adebayo Adefarati followed the same principles, the reason he recorded huge successes wherever he went as a principal.
Juju or prayer is no more than a matter of belief. Neither has anything to do with performance. To expect that juju will help you put the ball in the net or prevent your opponent from scoring is the height of idiocy. Football is not determined in the realm of spirituality but in physical terms. As I argued recently, we must resist the attraction to seek, by means of prayer, what can be achieved by thought and sweat, particularly in sports. Only the indolent take matters that their hands are capable of doing to God in prayer. The Almighty has already done His part, by providing us with brain and strength. The rest is in our hands. Do you imagine that angels, in all their holy rigour, are busy watching and determining who wins a mere game somewhere on earth?