By Hassan Gimba
There is nothing more touching than watching fans at the ongoing World Cup shedding tears when their national anthem is being sung, or crying when their national team loses a game or even wins. Such a show of intense emotion comes as a result of substantial love for one’s country. It is a sign of unbridled patriotism. You begin to wonder if a Nigerian would cry on hearing our national anthem or cry if we win or lose a game.
But you must ask yourself whether such love for country has something to do with the anthem or with how a country’s managers manage it.
There was a time when Nigerians were proud of their national anthem – and shed tears on hearing it. I have once written that “we grew up with the national anthem, ‘Nigeria, We Hail Thee’, which was adopted on October 1, 1960. It was our anthem until 1978. Lillian Jean Williams, a Briton who lived here at the time of our independence, wrote the anthem, while Francis Berda composed the music for it. In the first stanza, there was a rallying exhortation. After saluting the greatness of mother country – ‘Nigeria, we hail thee’ – it went on to call us to unity and oneness – ‘Though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand…’”
I further wrote, “a three-stanza anthem designed to whip up our patriotism, the third stanza struck a chord with me. In it, we supposedly beseech the Creator to help us build a nation where no man is left behind. O God of creation, grant us this, our one request, help us build a nation where no man is oppressed…
“In my childish imagination in the early 70s (I was barely ten) I always romanticised that to mean we were imploring God to help us build a real wall of steel, mortar and cement strong enough to withstand external enemies and tall enough that no Nigerian can be thrown over it to the wolves.”
Now, while the first national anthem spoke of Nigeria as a mother, the second spoke of it as a father. The last verse in the first stanza of the earlier anthem was: “Nigerians all are proud to serve our sovereign motherland” while the second verse in the first stanza of the later anthem said, “To serve our fatherland”.
While the mother fiercely loves her brood and can stake her life for them, the father’s love is less sentimental but no less intense. Traditionally, he provides for both the mother and the kids and can break his back so that they can have something. He can move mountains to protect and preserve them. And so, the child sees its father as stronger than Hercules, richer than Mansa Musa.
Therefore, both the old and current national anthems can evoke nationalism in us; each goads us towards being patriotic; perhaps why Nigeria cried in joy when our Olympic Eagles, The Dream Team, won the gold medal in football at Atlanta ‘96. We were with our team throughout the games. Our hearts were in our mouths when they were at the receiving end as well. In unison, we prayed for their (Nigeria’s) success and trooped out in gaiety when they defeated mighty Brazil in the semi-final and Argentina in the final for the gold medal.
Brazil’s squad had stars such as Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, Bebeto and Ronaldo, who had Nigeria trailing by three goals to one in the first half. While there were some Nigerians who, out of sadness, had turned off their television sets, with some shedding tears, not a few hoped and prayed that we would turn the game around.
It was in the 78th minute that Victor Ikpeba shot from 20 metres to score the second goal, thus piling pressure upon Brazil and giving hope to us while making Nigerian players more motivated. King Kanu Nwankwo equalised in the 90th minute, just before the final whistle, when he turned and flipped the ball over Nelson Dida in goal.
Three minutes into extra time, Kanu scored again and because of the Golden Goal Rule, then which stated that the first team to score in extra time won, Nigeria won. The outcome was of epic proportions, and so was the nationwide celebration. That gold medal match against Argentina was a tough and hard-fought one. However, the can-do spirit in the team got from the confidence of beating Brazil steadied it to overcome adversity again and win. The Argentines, led by the likes of Ariel Ortega, Hernan Crespo, Diego Simeone, Javier Zanetti and Juan Veron, twice led but Nigeria clawed its way back each time until just one minute to go when Emmanuel Amuneke nicked in the winner and that was that. Nigeria became the first African team to win Olympic gold in football. The outpouring of national joy and pride was superfluous.
We pray the challenge from Cameroon, Senegal, Ghana and Morocco (who we pray will win the world cup) that played out their hearts for their countries would reawaken our love for Nigeria.
Now, many things have happened that have made a lot of Nigerians want to give up. In the area of football, the Nigerian national team would fail all your hearts even if you have a thousand. And so, to avoid premature death through heart attack, many Nigerians do not want to be as committed as before.
But importantly, the managers of our country have so bastardised our psyche that many of us are afraid to cry for a country those milking it have no sympathy for. Last week, I saw a video clip of a serving minister boasting to his audience that he cannot be defeated in an election because he has “amassed money”! How insensitive can one be!
The welfare of the poor has taken the back seat, and we can see this from two recent monetary policies. If the redesigning of the naira will further drive the rural people who have no access to the banking system into poverty, the cap on daily automated teller machine withdrawals will seal their fate in penury.
Many rural and even urban dwellers that live on less than ₦500 a day will find it difficult to be paid for services rendered because these people do not have accounts. And they cannot even open one if they wanted to because of the paucity of banks and chiefly they live by the amounts ATMs don’t dispense. Take the water vendors, farm labourers, or boiled groundnut or corn sellers, for instance.
We all had hopes for this nation. We still have, and we all want it to be the greatest in the world. However, this hope is fading for some, even as many of us still hold on to the dream of a greater Nigeria because we have no other country to call ours.
You see, a citizen sees his country in the image of a father. Children lose hope in a father who shirks his responsibilities. They see him as the anonymous lover who, heartbroken, wrote: “I am afraid to love you again. But whenever I see you, I just want to hold you in my arms forever. You had promised to protect me forever and never to hurt me for once, but you have broken that promise, just the way you have shattered my heart, too.”
Hassan Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime