I woke up on July 25 to be bombarded with emails and WhatsApp messages telling me the good news of a young Nigerian lady, 25 year old Oluwatobi Amusan breaking the world record in 100 meters women hurdles. This was at the world athletics competition in Portland Oregon, United States. I was immediately infected with the virus of excitement to use a medical idiom. Most of the messages came from my friends in the universities, my old secondary school mates and my family. Surprisingly no messages came from my young friends and former students who always solicited my opinion on budding issues of national importance, perhaps they felt what’s the excitement about? We old people are hankering after when our nation was great but the young ones blame us for our present predicament. This Tobi Amusan’s good news came just about the same time when terrorists were threatening to kidnap our president, Muhammadu Buhari and Nasir el Rufai, the governor of Kaduna State. As a citizen, I was infuriated and angry about the verbal humiliation of our president. With the recent terrorists’ invasion and capture of the Kuje correctional centre in the Federal Capital Territory ( FCT) and the hurried closure of schools in Abuja and security alert in Abuja and Lagos  recently to forestall an imminent countrywide operation of terrorists, I felt really worried about the future of my country, Nigeria.

The questions that came to my mind is why the failure of security architecture in the country despite the huge amount annually budgeted for the military, police and the Department of State Security and other security organizations in Nigeria. Are these bodies subverted from within? Could it be a case of wrong or inadequate personnel? Is it a case of inadequate modern equipment? Or is it a case of lack of morale and mobilization? Whatever it is, it seems we are getting to a point where something has to give. If we can’t sort out our internal security problems, maybe we should, without shame, call on our friends in other parts of the continent or our trading partners outside the continent for assistance. Or if the situation is caused by internal political structure, perhaps it is time to look at this and do something about it. Some have been preaching secessionist options but I honestly don’t think this is the way to go. There is security in numbers!

The consequences of the breakup of the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and nearer home, Ethiopia are not too good to recommend the option. There is no guarantee that this can be done without violence as the relations among the successor states of the dissolved political associations and country cited above have shown. There is no doubt that there are tremendous advantages for Nigerians to remain together under the big umbrella of the most populous country and the biggest economy in Africa if only we can solve our security problems. This is why it is desirable for us to appreciate what we have and to work to preserve it. Our size also attracts hostility and envy to us from Africa and beyond and we must factor this into our politics, ethnic relations and the desire for moderation in our political and economic debates and management of complex issues instead of going for broke all the time we have problems.

Now back to Tobi Amusan putting smiles on our faces. I rejoice with this young lady and the attraction she has brought to Nigeria confirms the well-known fact about the   effectiveness of what is generally referred to as cultural diplomacy. Culture broadly defined will include sports, literature, movies and dramatic arts, cultural artifacts, fashion and all tangible and intangible things that can promote the interest of state by attracting  to it positive attention of the international community. Cultural diplomacy is relatively cheap. This is unlike the traditional diplomacy conducted by governments through the heads of state, their foreign ministries and diplomatic missions and other relevant ministries like defence and finance and in our own case in Nigeria, the ministry responsible for our hydrocarbons. Traditional diplomacy is conservative, routine in nature with developed languages and norms and sometimes not fit for urgency and requirements of the moment. Cultural diplomacy on the other hand is effusive and expressive and instant in operations and results. This is why many countries invest in sports as a way of building respect for one’s country. But for the ping pong tournament between China and the USA in 1972, there would have been no rapprochement between President Nixon and Chairman Mao Zedong and restoration of ties between the USA and the Peoples Republic of China. The point of the effectiveness of cultural diplomacy needs to be made so that our sportsmen and women should be treated like cultural diplomats and be accorded better training and funding and respect and recognition necessary for the effective performance of their duties. We should not wait for the solitary performance and achievements of individual sports men and women before according them respect.

When Tobi Amusan brought joy to all of us, some of us cried with the girl when she started shedding tears of joy and perhaps of sorrows on the podium when our national anthem was played. The sorrow was about what has become the present and future of our country. Those of us old enough agree that our past as a country was much better than this even if not totally glorious. In1961, our prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was given the privilege and opportunity to address the United States Congress in Washington DC. No African president or prime minister has been given that privilege since that time. Rather we have gone down the slippery slope of irrelevance.

Our hope lies in our youth and we should give them the chance and opportunities to play positive roles in our political, economic and cultural lives. We should not tie their legs and hands by the ropes of religion, ethnicity and mediocrity. Tobi  Amusan has proved that without the humbug of national irrational restrictions, a Nigerian citizen can outperform their contemporaries in any part of the world. The people of Ijebu Ode have come forward to claim that Tobi Amusan belongs to them. Yes they are right. She was sired there but she ran for Nigeria and we are justifiably proud of her as J.F. Kennedy said “success has several fathers, failure is an orphan” so it is with the great Tobi and let us hope her achievements will unleash the energy of other young Nigerians to perform outstandingly in their various areas of human endeavors.

We can’t all be sportsmen and women; whatever talent God has deposited in you as young people should be exploited to the limit. We of course know that there are thousands of unsung heroes of young and old Nigerians in academia, business and technology. What is missing is our ability to apply our intellectual intensity in the areas of governance in our country.