One of the traits the typical Nigerian (and to a larger extent, Africans) adores is humility. We talk about it—actually, we pontificate about it—a lot. We are obsessed with people who appear to have means or recognition yet are self-effacing. And when we come across those who do not care to be particularly modest, we are gutted by their arrogance. We can never fathom why anyone would not deign to make light of their genius or success. It’s entertaining to watch, really. More so when one remembers that Nigerians aren’t exactly famous for a being docile, meek bunch who are contained in their ways.
And so when we encounter people with the personality of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedish football star who’s not only famous for his spectacular goal-scoring skills but also his inimitable confidence, we are stunned at such audacity.
The impetus to declare oneself as the best or the greatest is something the world has never gotten used to. When a person is exceptional at what they do, our expectation is that they allow the rest of us to do the praising. They aren’t supposed to even know they are extraordinary, let alone be self-aware to the point of adulating themselves; it’s an anathema to our culture.
“Be humble! Be humble!!” We scream, even when the subject of our chastisement is only revelling in the result of their hard work. And many times, we succeed in projecting our own insecurities onto those who have earned the right to take pride in themselves, badgering them until they pander to our sentiments.
As things tend to go, there are those who simply refuse to toe the popular path or way of reasoning—rare breeds like Zlatan—who cannot be bothered if their peerless self-belief unsettles the rest of us. People whom we tag arrogant but are only supremely confident in their abilities.
Maverick singer, Burna Boy also comes to mind. When the young man proclaimed himself to be an African giant, Nigerians were miffed and criticised him for his verbal recklessness. Six months later, the musician silenced these critics with his recognition as the Best International Act at the BET Awards.
In his most recent gutsy remark, Zlatan did not hesitate to declare that he would do a better job than any of the current directors at one of his early football clubs, Ajax. This came on the back of his all-time favourite eleven selection where he picked himself for every position in the team; another testament to his penchant for personal glorification.
It may be true that the 6ft 5 inches prolific goalscorer is a bit of a hothead, but maybe even that is excusable considering his uncommon skills and breadth of achievements. Having conquered Holland, Spain, Italy, England and currently doing the same in America at an age when many of his contemporaries have long retired, it’s not hard to admit that the 37-year old is indeed special.
And if one is special, aren’t they allowed to bask in that knowledge a little?
When Zlatan says he has won more titles than the entire Major League Soccer community, isn’t it the truth? When he avers that he is the biggest threat in the American League, has he told a lie? The numbers back-up his assertion—having scored 35 goals in 42 league games—hasn’t he proved that he is indeed one of the biggest threats on the field of play?
The truth is, many of those who berate people like Zlatan and Burna Boy would be worse if they were able to muster half of their achievements. There are only a few people who don’t take pride in their work or attainments especially when they remember their rise from lowly beginnings or the sheer amount of work and drudgery they had to contend with to arrive at success.
I think it’s okay to be a little boastful about one’s accomplishments. I am not convinced it hurts anybody; in fact, it should be motivation for the mediocre or lethargic to switch gears and strive to be more.
Besides, when one considers that we are in a clime where the celebration of bog-standard feats like chieftaincy titles or winning an election marred by irregularities are a thing, it’s laughable to preach humility to those who have risen to the top by their genuine dint of hard work and doggedness.
We throw parties to celebrate the flimsiest things. We display wealth and material possessions in the social space to let our friends know we are doing well. We pepper dem when we are getting married or have a baby without a care as to how our celebration may remind others of their own inadequacies. Yet we are quick to rebuke “the spirit of pride” in the ones who aren’t afraid to call themselves great.
If this isn’t hypocrisy, I don’t know what is.