Away from the gloom of “the malady of the infinite”, as Emile Durkheim would once characterise the harsh reality and normlessness of our daily life in Nigeria, there was a bloom recently that ignited global attention. The Nigerian athlete, Tobi Amusan, conquered the world on July 24, 2022 by winning the 100 metres hurdles at the 2022 World Athletics Championship in Oregon, United States. Not only did she spectacularly win, she also set a new world record of 12.12 seconds in the semifinals, which was improved on to become 12.06 at the finals. She is Nigeria’s first ever gold winner at the World Athletics Championship.
Just a few days before then, another Amazon in the person of Nigeria’s Super Falcons star, Asisat Oshoala, won the Player of the Year (Women) at the 2022 edition of the annual Confederation of African Football Awards in Rabat, Morocco. She made history as the only African to win the coveted Best Player Award for five times. She is also a Nigerian!
The two wins at the international stage were a breath of fresh air for many Nigerians who have been tormented by the torrents of negative stories about their country. And, for many Nigerians, not only Tobi Amusan, who could not fight her tears of joy as the Nigerian anthem was being sung in her honour that Sunday, it was an emotional moment about the potential of the country.
Nigerians are capable of great things but Nigeria, no thanks to her successive leaders, has been limiting them. The two occasions in Rabat and Oregon represent a clarion call to Nigerian leaders to seriously address the systemic paralysis that limits Nigerians. Had Amusan not received a scholarship to attend the University of Texas at El Paso, she might not have had the opportunity of being who she is today, a role model and world champion. But that is at the level of the government.
At the individual level, the victory of Tobi Amusan is a wake-up call to the Nigerian youth to exert themselves and conquer their world in their chosen fields of endeavour as if government does not exist. Like the sun that must dare the clouds to shine and like flowers that must flourish in the midst of thorns, Nigerians must continue to fly, like Amusan the hurdler, past their life hurdles, as if the hurdles are not there, and triumph.
Amusan’s winning streak did not just begin with her recent world record, which has taken her career success to a new height. She had won the gold medal at the All-Africa Games in 2015. At Tokyo Olympics too, where she finished fourth, she emerged the first Nigerian to win a Diamond League Trophy. Earlier in the year, she won the 2022 Diamond League in Paris and before now as well, she had won gold in the 100m hurdles at the 2022 African Championship in Mauritius.
But the truth of the matter is that Amusan has not always been about trophies and medals. She endured injury and she was abandoned by those who should see to her wellbeing. She was labeled the “almost girl” as she often fell short of what she deserved. She was not even given a chance at the beginning of her career because her “shanko” (small) stature was not consistent with the general impression of most successful athletes. But what people said to discourage her eventually became her driving force. According to her, “I don’t want to be the ‘almost girl’. I want to be ‘that girl’, the girl that wins every competition.”
The Cherokee are among the indigenous peoples of America that are mistakenly referred to as native Indians. They go by the name because Christopher Columbus thought he arrived India when his ship berthed in America, so it was convenient to assume that the indigenous people he met there were Indians.
The Cherokee prepared their children for the challenges of the world and it was an old Cherokee who once told his grandson: “My son, there is battle between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy and truth.”
The boy thought about it and asked, “Grandpa, which wolf wins”
The old man replied, “The one you feed.”
In line with the wisdom of the sage, regardless of the circumstances we face, we must continue to feed our souls with Good and positive energy. We should allow joy, peace, kindness, truth and hope to bring out the best in us. We should not succumb to the Evil of anger, hatred, greed, lies and resentment that is dominant in the society.
We should be inspired by those like Tóbi Amusan, who by dint of hard work and commitment, are raising the banner of Nigeria to lofty heights, not those who destroy the country. We must also remain hopeful that tomorrow will be better because when hope is lost, everything is lost.