The gym is the last place to look for an impassioned discussion of global politics in Nigeria, a country that is currently pre-occupied with gasoline scarcity, rising political and ethnic violence, and anxiety over the April general elections. But early on March 20, a fitness center in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital, was transformed into a venue for strongly expressed views. The lone television set in the cramped gym was tuned to Sky News, a British cable news network, beaming footage of the bombardment that confirmed that the US-led war against Iraq had started. Dripping with sweat, a group of mostly middle-class fitness buffs gravitated toward the TV and worked up the heat in the room. Except for a lone voice that was soon crowded out, the consensus was that there was no justification for this war. "I don't understand this war. This is American terrorism," one said.
The war started at 3:30 am Nigerian time. Caller after caller to the early morning call-in radio programs railed about America's disdain for the rest of the world, its arrogance and its desperation for oil. In homes, buses and offices, the war upstaged Nigeria's myriad problems as the topic of discussion of choice. Most Nigerians are angry at the United States, even while they unabashedly covet the American way of life. Some are so angry they don't want to hear any news on the war. A leading politician asked that all the TV sets in his house be turned off.
But the Nigerian media continue to buzz with the story of the moment. Television stations flash updates. Even radio disc jockeys talk about the war. Four national dailies delayed their presses by at least four hours in order to include the story on Thursday morning. Punch, This Day, the …