Between Muhammad Ali And Nelson Mandela
One of the most charismatic personalities to ever traverse this universe in the last hundred years passed on to the great beyond in the early hours of last Saturday. His name was Muhammad Ali, born in the southern American city of Louisville, Kentucky – the same town that also gave the world ‘Colonel’ Harland Sanders and the Kentucky Fried chicken – in 1942. He was 74 years old.
Muhammad Ali was primarily an athlete, a boxer to be precise, but that is precisely were all conventional description of the sport in the same breathe with this unique human being ended. By his own account, and indeed that of millions of sports enthusiasts across the entire world, Muhammad Ali was simply the best fighter that ever lived.
Quite incredibly, only a few hours after his demise, we also now know that even George Foreman, who, along with the late Sony Liston, and George Frazier – equally deceased- was one of the most formidable foes Ali ever confronted in the boxing ring, shared the same view.
And Foreman should know: in the tropical heat of Mobutu’s Zaire in 1974, it was he who fell for Ali’s “Rope a dope” – the lexicon he used to describe the intricate exhibition of deception in pugilism that even the ancient Chinese Sun Tsu, author of one of the earliest thesis on strategy called “The Art of War”, would have been proud of!
That spectacular encounter with Foreman is presently known in boxing legend as “The Rumble in the Jungle”. In many respects, Muhammad Ali created his own myth in the manner he dispensed with boxers like Liston and Foreman, both of whom were previously considered invisible by boxing experts.
In most instances he even predicted the rounds in which his opponents would kiss the canvas. Ali, along with Foreman, and the late Joe Frazier, completed the trio that supremely romanticized the heavyweight division in a manner never before experienced in the boxing profession.
Even among the three, Ali was easily the bearer of the torch. He floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. He turned boxing into an art instead of the slugfest which previously defined the division. In the process, he undoubtedly inspired a generation of future legends in the sport such as Sugar Ray Leonard and others.
But Muhammad Ali is mourned and remembered across the world today for much of what he did outside the boxing ring, far more than what he did inside it. His refusal to be drafted by American authorities to fight in the discredited Vietnam War at the zenith of his career, was a significant milestone in the creation of his legend.
His principled stance in the campaign for Civil Rights in America was another. Ali was a poet, and, in his own unique way, pioneered rap music in the many lyrics he composed before some of his major fights together with the late Bundini Brown. He meant so many things to the world.
In one of the final definitive jabs he threw, Muhammad Ali left no one in any doubt about his impression of Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s presumptive candidate in the American presidential election scheduled for November. Despite his frail condition, Ali said in reaction to the intention of Trump to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the United States if he wins: “I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world.
In a crushing uppercut directed at Trump, he concluded: “I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people’s views on what Islam really is. They have alienated many from learning about Islam. True Muslims know or should know that it goes against our religion to try and force Islam on anybody.”
That explains why, as the tributes to Muhammad Ali came flowing in, and the social media became awash with factual accounts of what he meant to so many people across the world, I couldn’t help but compare his legacy to that of another late black icon Nelson Mandela, who fittingly, was also an amateur boxer in his youth. Mandela, like Ali, worked against exclusion and xenophobic impulses.
In my opinion, Muhammad Ali, and Nelson Mandela were united in the strength of their courage in upholding what they believed in, and in doing so, they were never afraid to swim against the strong currents of negativism. Both nurtured overwhelming conviction in the ideals and the causes they fought for and where prepared to make the ultimate sacrifices to sustain them.
If Mandela rotted for 27 years in jail to prove a point; Muhammad Ali easily sacrificed a glittering boxing career at the age of 25 to go to prison and also forfeited millions of dollars in earnings and endorsements for what he believed in.
Muhammad Ali and Nelson Mandela left their marks on humanity by daring to be different from the crowd. Now, the biggest challenge for the black race that produced them is to ensure that their sacrifices and personal examples worthwhile. Back here, in Nigeria, our elite can do so by always embracing the big picture, instead of retreating into their miserable little closets of endless spite, and bigotry, which not only arrested our development since independence, but also threatens our collective future.
The ultimate legacies Mandela and Ali bequeathed to us all resides in their personal examples. They showed through the largeness of their hearts, and the quality of their inner constitution, that with dignity, and recourse to higher ideals, it is possible to break down barriers of hate and disunity. And if we uphold the higher ideals they exemplified, which undoubtedly made them such universal icons in their lifetimes, we can collectively reach for the sky and greatness. And when we are able to achieve that, the word "impossible" will really count for nothing.
I am both shocked and embarrassed at the somewhat muted reactions of Nigerians to the recovery of funds allegedly looted from our commonwealth over the weekend. Are Nigerians truly sane people? Where are the administrators of the Guinness Book of World Records? We are talking of an unprecedented theft of public funds of the type never previously experienced in humanity.
Less than 100 Nigerians and their accomplices; out of a population of nearly 200 million, stole approximately three trillion Naira or almost half of the nation’s 2016 annual budget between them, and we have simply plodded on as if they snatched a bar of candy from an unsuspecting school boy! What is wrong with us for God's sake?
I am now convinced more than ever before that the near-daily reports of graft in the media has done irreparable damage to our collective national psyche. Nigerians have lost their senses of shock and disbelief. We now all desperately require psychiatric help. It is all too obvious that we suffer from various forms of amnesia of some other form of mental disease. We are all sick and the tragedy is that we don't even know it!