I did not choose Nigeria; I had no say in the matter of my nationality. If my opinion had been sought, I would definitely have left nothing to chance. My decision would have been based on the most thorough research and meticulous investigation. I would have perused all that leading minds had to say about all the nations of the world
—including Nigeria of course— even though I fear that on Nigeria, the verdict would have been harsh and unflattering. I can only imagine the screaming headlines that would doubtless have greeted me: ‘A dawdling giant’, ‘a giant toddler’, ‘a British contraption’, ‘a metaphor par excellence of a failed development experience’. So if the choice was mine to make, I probably would not have chosen Nigeria. But then the deed was done, and I was born a Nigerian; there is not another fact in the world that would ever make me prouder or happier.
The Nigerian national fabric is woven with colourful threads —a unique culture, abundant resources, unity in diversity and an inimitable people. Of all these, the latter fills me with the most patriotic fervour. The Nigerian people are warm and sacrificial, smart and innovative, steadfast and determined. The Nigerian spirit is a can-do spirit, we do not say die. It can be seen in the eyes of the struggling mother who would never give up on the future of her kids; in the wobbly relationships that brave the odds, defy the threatening storms and prevail; in the unflinching resolve by most Nigerians to see the Nigerian structure endure. It can be seen in the game of football.
Football, that most cherished of all sports, taught me the most important lesson on the quality of the Nigerian: The Nigerian, while seldom admitting it, believes in his ‘Nigerianess’ and is proud of it too. Despite our notoriety for ill-preparedness, the Nigerian watches every soccer match with hope and ridiculous optimism. He believes that on a ‘good day’ we can beat anyone. The fact that the opposition spent more in preparations means little or nothing to him; the fact that some are rated higher than us fills the Nigerian with a righteous resolve to prove the bookmakers wrong. He refuses to give up on our soccer stars even though the ‘good days’ come less often. He gets disappointed for a fleeting second only to get set to cheer them on the next time with renewed hope and more ridiculous optimism. On the face of it, this does not seem like much but it tells me that Nigeria is not finished yet. It tells me that just as it happens sometimes in football, Nigeria and Nigerians have what it takes to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. We have hope. We have ourselves. We have Nigeria.
Some might consider me a naive romantic. Far from that, I am not ignorant of the odds against the Nigerian. The abject poverty, sky-rocketing unemployment, perennial black-outs, unyielding cabals and endemic corruption are enough to make any man give up in exasperation —but the Nigerian is not just any man. My optimism in the future of the Nigerian stems from the rise of the people power in Nigeria’s recent history. The Nigerian people are making their voices heard above the raucous noise bent on stifling them. They are taking the battle to every frontier from politics to civil society.
True, it is happening in drops and trickles, but soon it would be in torrents and downpours. Gradually, a critical mass is building and soon we would reach tipping point, one that would ensure the next fifty years of nationhood is better than the last. No matter what obstacles confront us, I have confidence and faith that we can overcome. “After all,” in the words of the late Nigerian leader, Umaru Musa Yaradua, “We are Nigerians! We are a resourceful and
enterprising people, and we have it within us to make our country a better place.” I totally agree. That’s why like many other young Nigerians who did not, could not and probably would not have chosen Nigeria, I am glad to be Nigerian. I am glad because I believe in ‘the Nigerian’; I believe Nigeria offers me an opportunity unparalleled elsewhere —the opportunity to etch my name in gold, to be a part of the solution, to be much more than just another statistic
in the national database. And believe me when I say that I am determined to grab it with both hands; this also is the Nigerian way.