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Salute to Nigerians Providing Silver Linings in Dark Clouds

Austyn Ogannah Column
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August 07, (THEWILL) – Nation building entails fostering national pride among the populace and improving a country’s standing among other nations, which is obviously a key strategy to entrenching national cohesion and pride at home.

People love to believe they are from a nation that is admired and respected by others. Developing a sense of nationalism is crucial to making a country great and resilient. A nation’s citizens need to feel proud to be citizens of their country.

Recently the accomplishments of several Nigerians who, in their individual capacities are striving for excellence in their chosen spheres of influence and professional careers, have evoked on the country a deep and true sense of pride and patriotism.

As a part of our duty in the expansion of the national conversation on the subject of national cohesion, I believe it is apt to take some time from the negativity that threatens to cloud our grasp of what it means to be Nigerians to turn our gaze to the silver linings of positivity, which these citizens have brought the country in a bid to demonstrate that not only are there inspirational influences to draw from them, but also to give evidence to the fact that it will take every Nigerian doing his or her best in their own area to bring about the type of country we want Nigeria to be.

One recent example of this redeeming sense of pride that the image of the country has enjoyed is tied to the distinguished performance of Oluwatobiloba Ayomide Amusan at the 18th World Athletics Championships in Oregon, USA. As a result of her feat, the month of July 2022 would be remembered as one of the most genuinely unforgettable periods in the history of Nigeria’s involvement in sporting events, both continental and international.

Amusan gave the unquestionably best-ever performance by a Nigerian in a single competition when she set a semi-final World Record time of 12.12 seconds in the 100-metre hurdle event at the recently held event.

Oluwatobiloba overcame previous enormous setbacks to immortalise her name in gold and bathe her nation in glory. Once again, the uniting power of sports streaked through the country like a tidal wave of immense proportions.

The 25-year-old Oluwatobiloba became an emblem of the indomitable Nigerian spirit as she finished off her record-breaking performance with a breath-taking 12.06-second wind-assisted finish in the final to leave the competition in the dust and earn Nigeria’s first-ever gold medal in the Women’s 100m hurdle event at the Championships.

As she shed tears of joy, standing on the top podium with her gold medal shining in the light and the Nigerian national anthem playing in her honour, there was nary a dry Nigerian eye across the world of all those watching and taking in the very essence of what it means to the athlete, to her compatriots and to the glory of the country at large.

There was no more perfect way to capture, in its entirety, the pride of the occasion. Many Nigerians stood a little more proudly as they took to social media to join in the celebration of Oluwatobiloba ‘s achievement. There were no questions about which tribe she belonged to or debates around the religion of the athlete. It was no time for any divisive queries. She had brought pride to all of Nigeria and every Nigerian felt part of the honour in their own way.

Yet, as exciting as Amusan’s accomplishment seemed to be, she was not alone in the limelight of glorious displays that united Nigerians in a sense of patriotic togetherness.

In a time of sporting excellence, especially frontlined by women, Ese Brume also finished the Championships on the podium with a silver medal in the Women’s Long jump event. It was a literal improvement from her bronze finish the last time in the Championships and the Olympian bronze she took home from the delayed XXXII Olympiad that took place in Tokyo, Japan last year.

Brume achieved the second-place finish with a leap of 7.02m to get ahead of Leticia Oro Melo of Brazil, who finished third with a 6.89m jump. She continues to improve in her event because at the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Belgrade in March this year, Brume’s third leap of 6.85m earned her the silver medal behind Serbia’s Ivana Vuleta, who won gold with a 7.06m leap.

Lorraine Ugen of the United Kingdom won bronze with a leap of 6.78m. These are the types of proud accomplishments that place Nigeria in the ranks of some of the best achieving countries out there.

Before the month of July dovetailed into August, another female sportswoman Asisat Oshoala was making the country proud. She set a new African football record by winning her fifth Confederation of African Football (CAF) Women’s Player of the Year honour at the 2022 ceremony on Thursday, July 21, thereby surpassing her fellow countrywoman and former Super Falcons great Perpetua Nkwocha to become the first person to win the African Player of the Year award five times.

It was a recognition of her consistence since she came into the limelight at the 2014 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup where she was named best player of the tournament. Her focused dedication to honing her skill to the maximum is evidenced in the string of awards and accolades that have trailed her progress from some of the best football clubs in Europe and Asia to the continent of Africa. She was awarded Member of the Order of the Niger by President Goodluck Jonathan in September 2014 and was named in the Forbes 30 Under 30 and last season, she won the Pichichi Award at La Liga for the highest goals scored in the 2022/2023 season.

In the ongoing Commonwealth Games, the 23-year-old Goodness Nwachukwu secured Nigeria’s fourth gold medal after breaking the world record twice in the Women’s Discus Throw F42-44/61-64 event for a historic victory. Reigning African champion, Chioma Onyekwere, led the way in the discus event as she won the gold in the event with a season’s best throw of 61.70m. Behind her in third place was another Nigerian, Obiageri Amaechi, who is the current national champion.

Adijat Adenike Olarinoye started the gold-winning streak on Saturday, July 30, when she lifted a combined 203kg in the women’s 55kg weightlifting category to add to the two gold medals she won at the Morocco-hosted African Games of 2019. She was also on a record-breaking mode, wrecking two records in 10 minutes as she hoisted 90kg and 92kg. There are also mixed martial arts champions, Kamaru Usman and Israel Adesanya, who have defended their titles against some of the very best without loss and who proudly point to their Nigerian origins. There is also Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua, OBE, a two-time former unified heavyweight boxing champion, who could regain the titles he lost to Oleksandr Usyk in their upcoming fight on August 20 in Saudi Arabia.

These shining stars bringing slivers of light to the dark times Nigerians are enduring are not limited to the world of sports. Tems, a rising star in the music industry, became the first female Nigerian musician to reach the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 earlier in May, making history for the country’s music industry. A few weeks later, in June, she received the Best International Act honour at the 2022 BET Awards, making history once more by becoming the first female recording artist from Nigeria and Africa to do so. When the trailer for the follow-up to Marvel Studios’ popular Wakanda film, which had an African theme, was released, her electrifying voice transported audiences to the fantastical environment. Also, when the trailer for the sequel to Marvel Studios hit Africa-themed Wakanda movie was released, her scintillating voice opened viewers to the surreal setting.

There is also Burna Boy to reckon with, his eccentricities aside. Not contented with winning the coveted Grammys and three BET Music Awards in a row, Burna Boy took his historic accomplishments to new heights in April when he sold out the storied Madison Square Gardens in New York, becoming the first Nigerian singer to headline the illustrious venue and providing the audience with a one-time, unmatched musical experience.

Nearly 100,000 viewers connected to the online feed via YouTube to join the 20,000 spectators in the arena as the globe watched one of Nigeria’s most famous musicians create history. Likewise, Wizkid’s hugely popular music album “Made In Lagos” was officially named the longest-charting African album and he was named the longest-charting African artist on the Billboard World Album rankings earlier this year, adding more achievements to his already impressive resume. More recently, “Essence”, which included Tems and Justin Bieber, won him Best Collaboration at the BET Awards. Artists like Davido, Tiwa Savage, Omah Lay, Buju, Asa, Adekunle Gold, Ayra Starr, Ladipoe, Joeboy have also been good brand ambassadors for Nigeria.

While this list is by no means exhaustive nor does it claim that all those making Nigeria proud are only in the sports and entertainment sectors, the underlying fact is that these are some positives in a rapidly darkening climate of insecurity, economic decline, inflationary crises and political brigandage.

The angle I have taken is to show that there are examples of Nigerians providing another view of the Nigerian spirit and shedding light on the dark patches of our lived realities. I believe they ought to be celebrated at the local, state and federal levels. Rather than the common practice of seeking political patronage or repaying clandestine favours using national honours as leverage, I recommend that these individuals, who have passed through the crucible to the point of elevating the name of the country be the recipients of national honours to, on the one hand, give them a sense of acknowledgment and recognition and, on the other hand, inspire a new generation of Nigerians, who will aim higher for the country’s sake and theirs.

Finally, it is worth recognising the fact that, for the most part, they took the challenge to make a name for themselves and did not relent until their efforts yielded fruits. Most of them did not wait for the government to act before they began to move in the directions of their current fame and fortune.

While I continuously urge governments at all levels to live up to their responsibilities to the citizens and the country, it is up to each of us, as private individuals, to begin to make the efforts towards our own goals.

Private institutions are also urged to contribute, in every way they can, such as through Corporate Social Responsibility avenues, to improve the ways by which more and more Nigerians can get access to opportunities to excel in their chosen future paths. And, we can, as a country, reap the benefits of their excellence down the line, in the same way we are doing today or even more.