Muhammad Ali: A tribute

Muhammad Ali, heavyweight champion, buttons his lip as he appears before Illinois Athletic Commission in Chicago, Feb. 25, 1966. Previously, he?d said imminent army induction was unfair - touching off series of events leading to the commission reconsidering its sanction of Clay?s scheduled title defense later this month. (AP Photo)

Muhammad Ali, heavyweight champion, buttons his lip as he appears before Illinois Athletic Commission in Chicago, Feb. 25, 1966. Previously, he?d said imminent army induction was unfair – touching off series of events leading to the commission reconsidering its sanction of Clay?s scheduled title defense later this month. (AP Photo)

Let me add my two-kobo worth to the outpouring of tributes to the boxing legend and icon, Muhammad Ali. The tributes are necessarily eclectic because we view his life and time and what he stood for as a boxer and as a man of principle, almost uniformly. And so, we resort to the same words and phrases with legend and icon being the most intrusive of these words and phrases. So, pardon me if you have read these words and phrases before as they applied to Ali.

Muhammad Ali, like all mortals, submitted to the superior fire power of death through the wasting disease called Parkinson’s disease a couple of weeks ago. He could not float out of its way like a butterfly and he could not sting it like the bee. The disease had had him in its grip for such a long time that when the end came, the shock of his passing was effectively moderated by the fact that we knew that his permanent absence had become inevitable, sooner or later.

It bears repeating: there was no one like Ali before him and there has been none like him. He was a unique individual. People like him come once in almost a millennium. He made boxing in his own image by taking it out of the ring and using it to fight a cause. Ali was the most political sportsman in the world. Boxing was his platform for sounding off. He did more for boxing than any other man before him or since. He brought glamour and panache to one of the most brutal competitive sports invented by man. His string of successes in the ring brought him fame but he looked beyond fame. The fame was not the end; it was the means to an end. I think he made that clear when he refused to be drafted into the war in Vietnam.

He couched his conscious objection in a disarmingly simple sentence: “I ain’t got nothing against them Viet Cong (because) they never called me nigger.” In other words, his enemies were his fellow Americans who treated him less than a human; and not the smallish yellow men in the primitive jungles of South-East Asia. His ill-treatment in the hands of his fellow white Americans sat painfully on his memory. Restaurants would not serve him because his eternal crime was that he was a nigger. It follows, that if he needed to kill any enemies, his white fellow Americans would be in his cross hairs.

But he bore no grudges and simply went on to prove that being a nigger took nothing away from his immense talents and his humanity. Racism did not stop him and a poor childhood with limited opportunities, did not stop him. He gave black people everywhere a sense of pride and pointed all of us to the inescapable fact: being a nigger is not a curse. It offers us its own challenges. We have no reasons to hide behind the colour bar, moaning and cursing the day the almighty took his brush and painted us black. God had his reasons. Although he is credited with omniscience, he failed to foresee white Americans would make of the black colour into. The turned niggers into a species of human beings than human beings. The American constitution defined black people as being three quarters of a human being. God made a grievous mistake somewhere.

In his conscientious objection, Ali disputed the right of governments to tell their citizens who their enemies are. And like all men who fight and stand by their principles, he paid dearly for his principled stand. You can always trust the American system to exact its own revenge; huge pounds of flesh, no less. Ali was stripped of his box title, banned from title fights and virtually cast out and thrown to pasture that had turned brown. He faced the herculean challenge of surviving in a national environment that had become hostile to him. But he bore it all with grace and pulled through. But he never quite again reached the height from which he was pulled down by the vengeful American system.

The impression must never be created that Ali was all virtue, no vice. We cannot elevate him to the pantheon of the gods. For all he did for boxing and American politics, he was wholly human. He made his own mistakes. But his self-discipline prevented him from walking down the dangerous path that has ruined many a successful black man in American. He never succumbed to the temptation to be the white ladies’ man.

Ali must have been saddened by the fact that he lived to see the non-emergence of great boxers. He must have been saddened too by the fact that boxing has more or less fallen off the radar. There are minions trying hard to make something of their lives in Ali’s beloved sport but it seems to me that the glory days of boxing are effectively over. Even boxing buffs have drifted to soccer.

Perhaps, it would be unwise at this stage to write the obituary of boxing. Perhaps it makes more sense to read the handwriting on the wall. It might tell us something about the future of boxing.
The Song Of The Naira

Remember the glory days of our national currency, the Naira?

Remember when it was so strong it made the almighty US dollar serve it as a lesser currency?

Remember when the naira exchanged at one to US $2.5?

Remember when a $500 basic travelling allowance made the Nigerian so rich he was the most beloved shopper and spender in New York City and London?

Remember when Davis of London worked hard to please the sartorial interests and demands of fashion-conscious, well-heeled Nigerian men?

Remember when the Naira was hawked in New York and some European capitals?

Remember when the IMF and the World Bank crept into our country to begin the process of putting the naira in its place?

Remember when the Bretton Woods institutions put up the persuasive argument that the naira was too strong for its own good and the good of economy?

Remember when our leaders put the fate of the naira squarely in the hands of market forces?

Remember when the market forces began the systemic process of crushing the naira?

Remember when the naira exchanged places with the US dollar, exchanging at N3.5 to one green back?

Remember that from that day forward, nothing has been the same for the naira?

Take note that Nigerians are no longer known for their shopping sprees in London and New York.

Take note that Nigerians can no longer afford to show off the latest safari suits from Davis of London.

Take note that the naira is now a weak currency?

Take note that you need a lorry load of Naira to get one US dollar.

Take note that at 278 to the dollar, the naira cannot even play catch up with other currencies.

Take note that the economic management prescriptions of the IMF and the World Bank cannot take the entire blame for what has been to our national currency.

Take note that the glory days of the naira will never come back. Those days have become the stuff of nostalgia.

This, then is the song of the naira.

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