Nigerians celebrated becoming Africa’s soccer champions from the edge of the Sahara desert to the Atlantic coast on Sunday, enjoying a reprieve from headlines of violence and corruption.
Thousands stormed the streets in towns and villages from the dusty, mostly-Muslim north to the swampy oil-producing Niger Delta in the south, burning tyres and letting off fireworks in a rare show of national celebration.
Stadiums in Nigeria’s capital Abuja and its largest city, Lagos, were filled with fans watching the final on big screens. In villages across Africa’s biggest oil producer, hundreds crowded around tiny, fuzzy television sets to catch a glimpse of their heroes.
“You can see we are united in this victory, both Christian and Muslim,” said Musa Mohammed in Kano, a northern city where two days ago nine health workers administering polio vaccinations were killed.
“How I wish this togetherness would continue.”
Nigeria’s 1-0 win over Burkina Faso in the final ended almost two decades without African Nations Cup success for the continent’s most populous nation.
The country of 160 million people has been hit by an Islamist insurgency in the last two years, and its southern oil region has been ravaged by kidnappings and oil theft. But for one night that was all forgotten.
“Our wounds have been healed,” Sunday Dadiowei said in Yenagoa, the capital of President Goodluck Jonathan’s home state. “Today we are the champions of Africa and for that every Nigerian should be proud.”