When I was in secondary school, I had a pen pal— one of my numerous pen pals—who was an undergraduate. I shared him with two other friends of mine. I loved receiving mails as much as I loved writing them, and I’d write to all my pen pals detailing my day, nothing too mundane to be left out: Saturday morning inspections, inter-house sports, tests. I used to spend a fortune on stamps and writing sheets back then, and enjoyed seeing my investment returned in the form of the many letters I received every week.
Anyway, this pen pal was the only one of my pen pals in Nigeria, and the only one in university, and I believe the only guy too. He was fun to write to but even though it was customary to exchange pictures with your pen pals, I refused to send him a picture when he asked. My mother would have been apoplectic if she discovered I’d sent a picture to a boy. It wasn’t what “good girls” did. I wrote back and politely apologised that I couldn’t send a photo. Maybe he wasn’t used to being told no, but my refusal was enough for this pen pal to drop me. He never responded to that mail. In fact, he stopped writing to me completely and concentrated his letter writing efforts on my two schoolmates who didn’t mind sending him their photographs. I decided to stick to pen pals my age after then. About a year or so later, I won 2nd prize in a national essay contest organised by the Ministry of Health and my name was in the papers, along with the names of the other winners. This guy recognised my name and that was enough for him to perform a Lazarus on himself. He resurrected and sent me a letter that was both a congratulatory one and an apology. It began with “Everyone loves a winner.” I never responded to that mail, but that phrase came back to me in the wake of Tobi Amusan’s success at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon.
Messages of congratulations have been pouring in for our Tobi from all corners of Naija. If you still haven’t heard, (and why wouldn’t you have?) she took gold in the 100m hurdles and set a world record. On social media, Naijans have been recounting how emotional they felt hearing the national anthem played at a global athletic event, how proud they felt and how they cried – along with Amusan – as they sang along to this anthem they’d rarely ever given much thought to. Even President Buhari, per his congratulatory tweet, joined “millions of Nigerians in celebrating Tobi Amusan and her stellar performance, at the World Athletics Championships 2022. Her new World Record and gold medal have brought excitement and joy and hope to all of us, and made our national anthem resonate on a global stage.” He also joined us to… celebrate Ese Brume for her long jump silver medal.”
On a forum where I’ve often been shocked by how vile we can be, how sharply polarised along ethnic lines Nigerians can get, it has been all sweetness and light, no one is asking which ethnic group Amusan belongs to. We all love her and everyone- regardless of religion or cultural group- is proud of her. No ugly stereotypes are being pulled out, no invectives thrown around about her “people.” Mba, her win is for us all. We are all her people. Everyone loves a winner! Thank you, Tobi Amusan and Ese Brume for being winners, for making us love you, and in loving you, uniting us.
Moments like this illustrate for us (yet again) that really, Nigerians believe in one, united front, that we love to shine and that we have the ability to shine. Naija no dey carry last no be for mouth. I am going to bask in the euphoria of this win, I am going to be insufferable in the way I can be when I am celebrating Naija wins. Nothing will still my joy today, and I shall float on it for as long as I can, so I am pretending not to see the text that’s just popped up on the Old Girls Association WhatsApp group of my school letting us know that reports in the news indicate that Federal Government Colleges in the FCT have been asked to evacuate due to insecurity. I will face the reality later of all that is wrong with our beloved Naija later, but for today, I will revel in our triumphs.