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Tennis Superstars Venus and Serena Williams Visit Nigeria

The Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, were in Nigeria from October 30 to November 2, 2012. Their visit was at the behest of the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club’s Breaking The Mould Initiative (BTM). This gender-driven intervention aims at inspiring Nigerian women to reach greater heights, and the Williams sisters are a personification of the fact that success does not depend so much on gender but on industry.

Babatunde Fashola (Governor of Lagos) with Venus and Serena Williams (Photo Credit: Osun Defender)

Babatunde Fashola (Governor of Lagos) with Venus and Serena Williams (Photo Credit: Osun Defender)

While in Lagos their schedule included a meeting with Mr. Babatunde Fashola, Governor of Lagos State, a tennis clinic at the Ikoyi Club, a visit to a puberty education class for girls and an exhibition match.

Naturally, their arrival stirred debate in the Nigerian blogosphere. Emotan is not a sports blogger but could not ignore this unique visit:

Fresh off her season-ending victory at the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Championship, Serena is in Nigeria with her older sister, Venus who preceded her in the Grand Slam winners’ collectors. No sports personalities have graced my essays – here or before – than the two sisters.

Eko oni ba je! (This literally means: Lagos would not spoil!)

Nigerians are revered for their hospitality. The Williams sisters got a first-hand feel of this from Lagos, the pulse of the country. The reception for the two tennis queens could be described as a hero’s welcome. InformationNigeria reports:

The two most recognizable names in women tennis, Venus and Serena Williams literally grinded Lagos state to a halt yesterday, Wednesday. On their first official day out in Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre, the sisters practically stopped the free flow of traffic along the Ahmadu Bello Way, Osborne Road and some parts of Ikoyi.

Surrounded by stern-looking security details, who went about their job professionally, the Williams sisters, who were accompanied by their mother, Oracene, got a rousing ovation reserved only for royalty at the Federal Palace Hotel and the Ikoyi Club 1938, where all the adjoining streets to the exclusive club, were closed to traffic because of them. At the club, where chants of their names resonated at intervals, the sisters conducted a tennis clinic for about 700 kids who were thrilled by this once in a lifetime opportunity of knocking around tennis balls with the famed duo.

The igniting welcome was infectious and mutually shared as Serena comments:

We are excited to be in Nigeria. My first time was a brief stopover when I travelled to an African country a few years back. It was disappointing that I could not interact with Nigerians back then, that’s why I'm going to cherish every minute I have to spend here now.

It also makes me crazy to know that we have many fans in Nigeria, in fact, I receive thousands of messages everyday on Twitter from Nigerians who were asking if I would come here. Well here I am and it will be an honour to play against my sister for Nigerians and we will give you a good show… I hope that our presence and what we do would help to change Nigerian tennis. I hope that these players will be inspired to become the best.

Sorry, We Are Not Nigerians!

The Williams sisters debunked the claim that they are Nigerians in the most sensational part of their visit. Austin Naija asserts:

The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena Wednesday put an end to insinuations that they were from Nigeria, when they said that they were proud to be American citizens. Speaking at the Federal Palace Hotel, Venus, in a response to a question on their true origin, said that while they love Nigeria, the fact was that they were from the United States of America.

“This is another country that we would love to come from but we are from the United States and are proud to be from there as well”, said Venus. On their mother’s decision to name their late sister, Yetunde, after a Nigerian, Venus said that it was because of the mum’s love for Africa.

“My mum named my late sister after an Africa name because she loves Africa and that is all to it”, she said.

Naija! una too dey form familiarity sef [Nigerians! You always like to pretend to be on familiar terms].

This got netizens on Nairaland Forum talking. Ileke-IdI writes:

Nigerians are very silly people. When will you embarrassing ppl [people] stop trying to claim people who don't want to be claimed or trying to claim another heritage? How did some ppl arrived [sic] at the assumption that they're Nigerians? My goodness!

Royalty says Nigerians are not trying to claim the two sisters:

We are not trying to claim them. Journalists only asked the obvious question. Their mum used a popular Yoruba name which means she was trying to associate with Nigeria. Too bad the sisters are claiming contrary. Who cares anyway? Not like they will help reducing the price of fuel or anything. Abeg! [Please!] Naija [Nigeria] has enough stars in the making. Fingers crossed joor [an exclamation used to plead; most commonly to be left alone]. They should just keep up with their good game.

Mr. Globe said the question was merely a sign of poverty:

Smh, what a disgrace. Who even asked them the question? I remember people saying they were from Badagry. lmao. It’s just the poverty in Nigeria, rather than creating your own to a standard level, you wish every successful black man is Nigerian.

Cashmentor wonders why their mother chose a Nigerian name for their late sister:

Well, I love this earth, I’d have love to be here forever, but I'm from Mars! Rubbbbish…. Who'd want to be identified with the roots of terrorists, thieves, scammers and drug lords after all? No one wants to be related to a mad man…. We don hear una [we've heard you], ok, take your money and go back to the land of milk and hard knocks! Why didn't your mum name your late sis (may her soul rest in peace) a South African or Ghanaian name, of all countries, she choose a Nigerian name and u telling me about loving Africa, I don't know your roots, but, with your own excuse, something tells me you gals are lying and hiding something! I still love you girls though, keep making me proud!

Afam4eva writes:

It's good they cleared the air just like NAS did when he came to Nigeria. I don't know what it is with Nigerians and claiming people. How can a nation with over 150 million people are looking for more citizens when it has not taken care of the people it has.

Abujafood asks:

How are they supposed to be Nigerians? Just because they “Williams Sisters Visit Lagos”. Even Barrack Obama doesn't accept his Kenyan! Them too like better thing!

50caliber wants to know if every black person is a Nigerian:

When Naija go stop to dry fall my hand? Every black person is Nigerian, Nas is Nigerian, chamillionaire is Nigerian, Lil Wayne is Nigerian, Wale is Nigerian even people who don't wish to be associated with Nigeria?  We need to build our own and stop looking for ready-mades. Although these girls forgot that every black person has roots in Africa.

But it does not really matter. Emotan explains using a proverb:

Wherever on the continent is their roots, they are ours, Omowale - children return home – as the Yoruba would say, and we all welcome them. Welcome to Lagos, one of the most vibrant cities in the world though not my fave among Nigerian cities – and welcome to Nigeria.  I'm sure this will not be your first and last visit as it happens with all “returnees”.  You will find Nigeria, especially Lagos, additive!! [sic]

The two sisters ended their Nigerian tour with a friendly match on Friday, October 20 in the Nigerian commercial capital, Lagos.

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