A few weeks ago, when Nigerian sprinter, Tobi Amusan, shed tears as she mounted the rostrum to received World Athletics Championship gold medal and “Arise, O Compatriots” was being played, I could not help than conclude that there is a spirit that goes with the National Anthem. This Nigerian track record-breaker did shed tears at a moment of joy when the sovereignty of her nation was being amplified. It was a confirmation that there is always this good feeling in Nigerians whenever the National Anthem is played. One Nigerian summed it up by saying that the National Anthem makes his “head to swell.” It is usually a feeling of pride and nationalism.

This was the same feeling I saw in my daughter five years ago at the London underground. We were riding in a London tube that faithful afternoon when the spirit of Nigeria figuratively overwhelmed her. Three years old at that time, this little girl lifted Nigeria by singing the National Anthem. As she sang, from line to line, her voice rose and reached a crescendo when she declared: “To serve with heart and might, one nation bound in freedom…”

As my daughter sang the National Anthem, she never minded that she may have been disturbing other passengers from other countries who cared less about Nigeria, whose perception of the country may be unfavourable. She did not give a damn as she sang with gusto, certainly oblivious of the challenges and complexities of Nigeria, not aware that the country’s leaders have squandered the commonwealth. I observed one of the passengers, a black man, perhaps, a Nigerian, smiling at her. The man saw the joy of this little girl who was happy singing her country’s National Anthem when nobody asked her to. He said nothing whatsoever, but his countenance betrayed his joy in seeing and hearing a little African girl affirming her Nigerianness.

Looking back at October 1, 1960, when Nigeria attained independence and the then National Anthem, “Nigeria, We Hail Thee,” was played, I could imagine the joy and pride of Nigerian citizens. For a people who had been under British colonialism for years to attain self-rule, it was something to celebrate. It was a feat, a remarkable accomplishment. When one remembers what South Africa suffered under prolonged colonialism and apartheid, one would understand what it means to be independent and free.

Sadly, 62 years after attaining independence, that pride and joy that enveloped Nigeria’s founding fathers and the citizenry appears to have given way to melancholy. From what is on ground, it is becoming apparent that the country we have today is not the Nigeria of the dream of the founding fathers. The surviving nationalists and those who witnessed the unity of purpose among Nigerians in fighting for independence and the expectations thereafter are certainly sad and disappointed. They weep for Nigeria owing to the idiosyncrasy of latter-day Nigerians. They have every reason to be sad.

At 62 years, Nigeria is plagued by too much hatred among the citizenry. The country is utterly divided, with cracks as wide as the most devastated erosion site. The people see themselves more from the tribe they come from, as Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Ibibio, etcetera, than as citizens of Nigeria. From all indications, Nigeria is just a country, not a nation.

Years back, when Nigeria was Nigeria and not “a mere geographical expression,” as the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo later described the country, Nigeria was the pride of all Nigerians and pride of all blacks. Nigeria was a rich country, with abundant resources and potential. Nigeria was a country where peace reigned, where merit was a cardinal principle, where regions developed at their pace and competed favourably. It was then that the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo man, won election in Lagos and might have become the Premier of predominantly Yoruba Western Region, with the majority seats in the assembly won by his National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC). It was at that time a Fulani man, Mallam Umaru, from Sokoto, won election as mayor of Enugu twice, even when his Hausa/Fulani kinsmen were in the minority in the Igbo city. It was a time when Eyo Ita, from Cross River, was good enough to be the Premier of the Eastern Region, as a chieftain of the party with a great number of Igbo supporters in the region.

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Those were the good old days, when Nigerians felt at home wherever they lived, when Nigerians were embraced by all, owing to their contributions, and not judged primarily by the accident of their birth. Unfortunately, the bad and the ugly have overwhelmed Nigeria. We now have a situation where the Igbo, for instance, are constantly reminded that they are visitors in a state like Lagos, despite their contributions to its socio-economic and political development. Now, we have a situation where the cattle dealer from the North, who previously lived together with the Igbo in Eastern Nigeria peacefully, is seen as an enemy because of mutual suspicion. Now, we have a Nigeria where things have fallen apart so badly and the centre is no longer holding.

As Nigeria celebrates its 62nd independence anniversary as a country, this calls for retrospect, for Nigerians to know what went wrong. Why is it that a country that fought together for independence has become a “Tower of Babel”? Why is it that Nigerians cannot even pretend to be their brother’s keeper? Why is it that the love of Nigerians for each other is waxing cold and tribesmen are now lovers of themselves (as men are lovers of themselves, according to the Bible)?

At 62 and in an election year, Nigerians should decide that this is the time to make a paradigm shift from parochialism to nationalism. Nigerians, in going to the polls, should do away with tribalism and support only candidates who have the interest of the country and the people, who would work conscientiously for the good of all.

Next year’s election is an auspicious opportunity for Nigerians to not only actively participate in the electoral process but also ensure that the country gets it right in the choice of leaders. Nigerians must wisely affirm the Universal Adult Suffrage and vote for people who would cause a positive turnaround in the country.

At a time when the country is plagued by insecurity, when self-determination agitation is widespread, when injustice is a national malaise, when illiteracy and hunger are rife, when strife and religious acrimony are embedded in national life, Nigeria needs a selfless and visionary leader whose mission is to bring about development, right the wrongs and bring about equity and fairness.

With this in mind, the coming general election should, therefore, bring Nigerians together to make a choice that would bring the evolution of a new Nigeria, a Nigeria where everybody has a sense of belonging, where merit plays a greater role than mediocrity. A Nigeria where the good overwhelms the bad. A Nigeria where “the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain.” That is the Nigeria we need at 62.