‘A Moment of Sporting Immortality’
By Olusegun Adeniyi
In a pinned tweet posted six years ago, precisely 7th November 2016, Oluwatobiloba (Tobi) Amusan wrote what has turned out to be prophetic:“Unknown now, but…I will be unforgettable…I will persist until I succeed.” On Sunday night in Oregon, United States, Tobi Amusan wrote her name into ‘sporting immortality’. I took that phrase from Tim Hutchings, a former English athlete who ran the commentary at the World Athletics Championship Oregon22 alongside American athletic legend, Gail Devers. Amusanhas not only become the first Nigerian to win a Gold medal at the World Championship but also the first athlete to break the global record on the track twice within one night!
This perhaps is one of the most depressing periods in the history of our country. Our public universities have been under lock and key for almost six months with marooned students effectively having lost an academic season as a result of the strike by lecturers. The prevailing climate of general insecurity has reached Abuja where school authorities are asking parents to collect their children/wards and soldiers of the Guards Brigade are being ambushed by terrorists who appear to have infiltrated the Federal Capital Territory. The Naira is dancing Buga in the exchange rate market almost every day as prices of goods and services skyrocket. The energy sector has practically collapsed along with the power grids and oil thieves have hijacked the oil and gas sub-sector. Since we now spend far above what we earn as we continue borrowing to stay afloat, the macro-economic indices are, to put it mildly, frightening. Sadly, there is hardly anything to cheer in our country today.
To worsen matters, those who seek to become our next president are busy fighting dirty in the marketplace over inanities. Many of these politicians over whom Nigerians squabble and take sides as Christians and Muslims, according to a Twitter post, actually meet at secret fraternities. In any case, despite our profession of Christianity or Islam, we should all feel a sense of shame as to what Nigeria has become. That of course does not discount the issue of inclusivity in a plural state that a religiously balanced presidential ticket suggests. Or the provocation of some politicians hiring unknown ‘godmen’ almost as if Christianity is about wearing ridiculous regalia. But these are issues that can wait. Today, I want to stand up for the champion, our own Tobi Amusan!
For Nigerians who may not fully understand or appreciate what happened at the World Athletics competition in Oregon, let me take them through the commentary that followed the amazing 100 metre hurdles race. Hutchings started it: “Tobi Amusan looks at the clock. I cannot believe it; she’s done it again. Two world records in one night and she makes history by becoming Nigeria’s first world champion. What a way to do it and what a stage on which to discover sporting immortality! Records can be broken; titles will stand the test of time and tonight she’s done both – two world records: 12.06. Tonight will never, never be forgotten by anyone lucky enough to be here. That was utterly extraordinary. We doubted she could do it again. How dare we? How dare we? Nigeria, a proud African nation, are on top of the world tonight. And Amusan has delivered an evening of unprecedented glory and speed. That was utterly, utterly incredible.”
After describing the line-up of the eight athletes as the fastest in a World Championship final according to records posted by each of the contestants, Hutchings turned to his colleague in the commentary box: “Gail Devers, I know that you have scaled the heights but surely, surely, we never would have expected two world records on one night. Surely, Amusan should have gone tired there, but she was even better.”
Devers, an American two-time Olympic champion in the 100 meters and only the second woman in history to have successfully defended that title (with three Olympics Gold medals to her name), responded: “I am going to tell you what I wrote. I wrote that ‘let me put myself in her shoes’…” Devers then went on to describe the difficulty that faces any athlete who breaks the record in the qualifying heats and the challenge before Amusan barely an hour later when she had to compete for Gold medal in the final: “They are thinking that she cannot repeat (what she just did) but you got to believe in yourself. It’s not what other people believe about you. It’s what you believe about yourself and what you are willing to do. And on this night, she had to execute. And she did!”
Hutchings was back: “That was absolutely incredible. When you think, Gail, how long it took Kendra Harrison to break (Bulgarian Yordanka) Donkova’s world record and she did it by a hundredth of a second. And suddenly, in the space of one evening, the record tumbled by a further 0.14 of a second which, for this event, is a colossal drop.”
Devers took over, again: “I mean, it is unbelievable like you said. I was there (in 1988) when Donkova made that world record and to see it come down twice. This is one of those days when people are going to be like ‘where were you when that happened?’ And I am going to say I was right here watching.” Hutchings interjected: “And so am I. Toby Amusan is making history, the first Nigerian to win a world title and two world records in one evening. Unprecedented!”
My friend, Chris Adetayo who shared one of the screenshots from Amusan’s twitter page believes that the story of Amusan is going to be a subject of attention by many motivational speakers. I feel inclined to join that crowd today. On 18th September 2016 when the (now former) World record holder, Kendal Harrison turned 24, Amusan tweeted a photograph she had taken with her and this message, “Happy birthday @KeniUSATF. 100MHurdles World Record holder…Watch out, I’m gonna break it soon” which she ended with a laughter emoji. And now, she has done it!
The story of Amusan is indeed incredible but there is also an unfortunate Nigerian angle to it. At the Rio Olympics trial in Lagos in June last year, Amusan posted what could have been a new African record of 12.3 seconds, but the timer failed her. “About 80 meters into the race, as I approached the home stretch, from the corner of my eye, I couldn’t help but notice that the display clock stayed at Zero the whole time. I had never experienced that before,” Amusan wrote as she reflected on what might have been. “…the timer not working, happening during one of the biggest races of my career? Hell no! So, it was quite astonishing seeing all that effort come down to an important moment of just simply timing the final…”
That disappointment is now no longer important. When Amosun took the podium on Sunday night and the Nigerian national anthem was being played, she could not hold back her tears of joy. As expected, many have given their own interpretation. I am aware that we live in a country where the whole is less than the sum of its parts and we can spend a whole day lamenting about Nigeria. But the lesson from Amusan is that nothing comes easy and that you must work for your success. And as it is for individuals, so it is for nations. That is one take-away from Amusan’s story. Even with all her past disappointments, she set a goal for herself, put in the shift, and realized her dream. We can say the same for Ese Brume who won bronze at the 2019 championship in Doha but won silver at Oregon. She has already set her sight on an individual Gold medal at the next Olympics and I believe nothing can stop her.
There is a commercial that Globacom used to air of the British World Heavyweight boxing champion, Anthony Joshua speaking about the Nigerian spirit of resilience. Since I have elected to play the role of a motivational speaker, it is most fitting to repeat it here: “There has always been a big piece of my heart as a Nigerian and I do believe that it is that piece that sets me apart. It always says to me, ‘never give up, dream big’! …We have that same tenacity, that Nigerian fighting spirit that makes us game changers! We are relentless. We don’t just face our challenges; we step into the ring to win again and again and again. If you believe in yourself, there is no limit to what you can achieve. Yeah, I used to be a bricklayer in England but now I am heavyweight champion of the world!” he declared before he added: “You need strength? Yeah, that comes from the hard knocks that life throws at us. And we are Nigerians, we know all about that”. And finally: “It’s like when we are up against the rope. You don’t stay down; you’ve got to fight. You have to dig deep to be a world champion”.
So much for motivation. Now to the reality. In many different ways, Tobi Amusan’s breathtaking epic success captures the Nigerian dilemma. Here is a nation imbued with some of the most exceptional citizens with incredible world class talents from aerospace, cutting edge medicine to sports. Yet, despite a lack of preparation for anything, our talented citizens continue winning laurels to the utter astonishment of an embarrassingly incompetent officialdom. Here is a nation defined by a tragic mismatch between Africa’s most enlightened and refined civil society and one of the world’s worst performing states. Caught between the pride and optimism of our citizens and the tragedy of governmental failures, Nigeria is kept alive by the stubborn hope among the majority of our citizens that one day, bad times and atrocious leaders shall pass.
I join millions of Nigerians in offering my congratulations to both Tobi Amusan and Ese Brume.
Another Organised Waste of Time
I don’t understand what point the House of Representatives wants to make with its proposed investigation of the fuel subsidy regime under President Goodluck Jonathan. For me, the so-called ‘Special Ad hoc Committee to Investigate the Petroleum Products Subsidy Regime’ established on 29th June is no more than another organised waste of time. It is an admission that our lawmakers do not read their own reports. If they do, they will realise the futility of another probe of the oil and gas industry, after what they did a decade ago. Except of course there is something they are not telling Nigerians.
In 2012, following the crisis that followed the unsuccessful attempt by President Jonathan to fully deregulate the petroleum sector, the House of Representatives set up a similar ad-hoc committee to probe the subsidy regime. The current Speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila was a prominent leader in that House. Chaired by Hon Farouk Lawan, who would later be jailed for taking a bribe from Mr. Femi Otedola, the committee conducted its sessions in public (beamed live on television) and received memorandum and testimonies from major stakeholders in the oil industry.
With the authority of the then Speaker, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal (current Governor of Sokoto State), Mr Boniface Emenalo (secretary of the committee who would later be a prosecution witness against Lawan in his court case) availed me all reports, audio tapes and raw transcripts from the committee secretariat and provided clarification whenever needed. It took me two years before I eventually completed the work in June 2014 but given the political environment at the time, I deferred its publication till after the 2015 general election.
Principal testimonies include that of the then Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; then Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke; then Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN; two Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Deputy Governors at the time, (Dr Kingsley Moghalu and Mr Tunde Lemo); then Chair of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mrs Ifueko Omougui-Okauru; then Director General, Budget Office of the Federation, Dr Bright Okogu; then Chairman of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, Mr Elias Nban; and the then Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Commission (NNPC), Mr Austin Oniwon.
Also captured in the report were testimonies from 93 oil marketers and importers, heads of relevant institutions (NPA, Customs, PPPRA, PPMC, PEF etc.), senior officials from the Nigerian Navy, auditors appointed by the Ministry of Finance to verify subsidy claims, members of the professional bodies in the downstream oil sector, foreign oil traders, as well as the managing directors of the Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna refineries.
Although I began the effort with a mind to put the resultant book up for sale, the end product was too voluminous. I ended up putting the 857-page book, ‘The Verbatim Report: The Inside Story of the Fuel Subsidy Scam’ on my web portal for free download. So, if our lawmakers are interested in what transpired regarding subsidy payments, especially under President Jonathan, they should access the publication on http://bit.ly/1EY9s80.
Leadership and the Teens
“And let me repeat: You are never too young to lead and never too old to learn. So, I call on the young generation to put its remarkable energy, insight and passion in the service of reconciliation and peace. The path is yours to construct and pursue.”
The foregoing statement by the former United Nations Secretary-General, the late Kofi Annan, is the anchor for the 2022 edition of the annual Teens Career Conference of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), The Everlasting Arms Parish (TEAP). Speakers include Samson Itodo, Executive Director, YIAGA-Africa and member of the Kofi Annan Foundation Board, Linda Ejiofor-Suleiman, an award-winning actress and model, as well as Seun Onigbinde, a social entrepreneur, open data analyst and co-founder/CEO of BudgIT. The conference holds on 20th August, but participation is by online registration at www.rccgteapteens.ng
• You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com