It seemed like a relatively normal Monday, though we had just had our much-anticipated presidential elections the day before. I was on my way out the door when my phone rang. It was Skambo Morrison, an organizer for my Hope4Girls foundation, and he had an urgent message: "Are you home? Don't leave. I don't want anything to happen to you!"
Pockets of riots had broken out in northern Nigeria, and one had erupted not too far from my home. I sat there all day, glued to Twitter, Facebook and any online news with up-to-date reports. As the gory details were made public, my heart broke over and over again. Innocent people were dying and fellow NYSC Corp members were being targeted.
Political and religious violence is not uncommon to Nigeria and Africa as a whole. So many times, people have asked what it will take to get all 250-plus ethnic groups and both major religions to finally stand as one. Unfortunately, I don't believe there is one answer for that, but I do think sports can help.
Sports bind all of humanity together, and people of all colors, genders and social classes can participate. The Olympics showcases this perfectly and my experience playing basketball for Nigeria in 2004 will always be one of the most wonderful memories of my life for that reason.
All over the world, sports have made an impact in helping to unite a country divided. Nelson Mandela used rugby to break racial tension in South Africa, while The Elephants national soccer team brought a temporary truce to Cote d'Ivoire during its civil war. More recently, doubles partners Ajsam-ul-Haq Qureshi (Pakistan) and Rohan Bopanna (India) spread a message of peace back to their homelands. Their slogan is "Stop War, Start Tennis!"
And we, as athletes, are (usually) gracious in defeat. We learn to shake hands, to kiss, or even to give our opponent the uniforms off our back. When you teach children to respect their opponent, or bring them together for one common goal, it's impossible not to build an attitude of tolerance as well.
Maybe if our leaders were athletes, they would know how to shake hands when they lose, or even join forces for a greater cause, as I've seen tennis rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer do so many times.
H4G 4 Peace!