The Death of Nigerian Sports And A Walk Down Memory Lane

No Comments » August 22nd, 2009 posted by // Categories: Sports



As the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Berlin come to an end, I would like to moan (again) about the demise of Nigerian sports. With the ascent and domination of Jamaica in world athletics, especially in track and field events, it is sad that Nigeria went to this major definitive world sports event and will return with not a single medal, whatever the colour.

 

There we are glued in front of our television sets shouting Usain Bolt, Debbie Ferguson, Shelley-Ann Fraser, etc on, but not a Nigerian name to shout on in any of the finals. (Sorry, we did hear Nigerian names like Phillips Idowu, Marilyn Okoro and Christine Ohuruogu, but sadly they are not running for Nigeria)  Another wasteful trip; another exercise in futility; another disappointment. I bet there will be more Nigerian sports officials than athletes themselves, and the plane home will be full of luxurious goods for the officials, while months later, athletes will start crying that they have not been paid their allowances. The story of our life!

 

 

Of course, we have long known that sports in Nigeria is long moribund, fuelled by corrupt, visionless and inept officials. In fact Nigerian sport died with the late Isaac Akioye, the last Director-General of the National Sports Commission of note to be worthy of the title. The moment that epitome of corruption and ineptitude, Dr Amos Adamu clambered abroad the gravy train that was the sports ministry; it was a downward spiral for Nigerian sports. The sports fell like a lead weight thrown from a 40-storey building. Nothing, nobody could stop its fall, because the people in charge do not care, except their own pockets and will not allow those who do care to try and change it.

 

Olukayode Thomas (Playthegame.com of 09.08.07) in his article, The Sorry State of Nigerian Sports, wrote“It is shocking that officials of NSC are not concerned that about a decade ago, for every eight lanes in the women 400m at either the European circuit or the IAAF Grand Prix, it was certain that four of the athlete would be Nigerians.Then we had three consistent 49.00 secs runners in Falilat Ogunkoya-Omotayo, Charity Opara and Fatimah Yusuf. The last of the four, Bisi Afolabi was then a consistent 50.00 secs runner. But officials of NSC are not bothered by any of the above. Nor are they bothered that a few years ago, Nigerian female sprinters like Mary Onyali, Gloria Alozie, Christy Okpara, Beatrice Utondu, Ajunwa, Mary Tombiri etc. rivalled the likes of Gwen Torrence, Gail Devers and others for honours in major games and championships.

 

They have forgotten that not too long ago Olapade Adeniken, the Ezinwa twin brothers, Davidson and Osmond, Daniel Effiong. Francis Obikwelu, Seun Ogunkoya, Sunday Bada, Clement Chukwu, etc. were among the best sprinters and quarter-milers in the world. They also don’t seem to remember that apart from the Americans, Nigeria’s relay teams were the most dreaded in the world not too long ago. NSC officials do not realise that unless they go back to organising monthly classics and other developmental programmes and the American school system, we will never get back to where we were before, talk less of surpassing it.

 

It was local developmental programmes that led to the discovery of such phenomenal talents like Ajunwa, Bada, Afolabi, Ogunkoya, Obikwelu, Alozie, Nduka Awazie, Angela Atede, Rosa Collins, Innocent Asonze, Opara, Deji Aliu and others too numerous to mention, while the American school system gave as the likes of Ogunkoya-Omotayo, Onyali, Chidi, Imoh, the Ezinwa Brothers, Pat Itanyi, Fatimah Yusuf, Innocent Egbunike, Adewale Olukoju, Chima Ugwu, Vivian Chukwuemeka and others.

 

NSC top shots have not thought it wise to revive the programmes of the past, which worked so well. What appears paramount to them are promotional events, and obviously the megabucks that goes with them”.

 

I would like to take my fellow countrymen and women down memory lane with some facts about sports in Nigeria not too long ago; and maybe we will wake up to how desperate our sports situation is. It made me proud and cry at the same time.

 

Nigerian athletes have been appearing at major athletics meeting since 1952. At the All-Africa Games at Brazzaville (former Congo), they piled up an enviable record; where they won one event after the other and came back home with 9 gold, 5 silver and 4 bronze medals. Jumoke Bodunrin was one of the stars of that game, and she won the title of “Africa’s fastest woman”.

 

In the 1950 Games, Joshua Majekodunmi of Nigeria & Alan Paterson of Scotland tied for the silver medal in the High Jump, howeverNigerian athletes first participated officially in the Commonwealth Games in 1954 and they won several medals. In the High Jump, Emmanuel Ifeajuna (yes, the same Major Ifeajuna, a hero of the 1966 coup d’etat) created a new British Empire and Commonwealth Games record by clearing the bar at 6 ft. 8 in.; Nafio Osagie took the bronze in the same event. The Nigerian team also set a new record in the 4 X 100 yards relay by recording the same time of 41.4 seconds as Canada very narrowly beat them into the silver medal position. Another narrow defeat which gave Nigeria a silver medal was on the Hop, Step and Jump (now called Triple Jump) in which Peter Esiri jumped 50 ft 0 ½ in., one inch less than the winner. Nigeria’s third silver medal was won in the Long Jump by Karim A B Olowu. That same team also won 3 bronze medals; one each in High Jump, Long Jump and Boxing and came fourth in the 100 yards.

 

On the whole, it was a successful debut for Nigeria, coming fourth overall behind England, Canada and Australia. In the 1958 Commonwealth games, Nigeria again took silver in the 4 X 100 m Relay, took bronze in 1974 but finally won this event at the 1982 Games.

 

At the Commonwealth Games held in Kingston, Jamaica in August 1966, Nigeria carried away more than half of the gold medals for boxing, won the glamorous long distance races, shone in the sprints and broke several records.

 

In boxing, Eddie Ndukwu (bantamweight) won gold; Anthony Andeh (lightweight) won gold; Fatai Ayinla (lightweight) – I know him personally – won a silver medal, while Nojim Maiyegun, who had won a bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympics and had been expected to win a gold at Kingston, bravely went through the semi-final with a dislocated shoulder to win a bronze medal in the light middleweight class.

 

In athletics, Nigeria did even better, claiming 5 medals and a new Commonwealth record. Sam Igun, the team captain and veteran of many international competitions won 2 medals; silver in the High Jump, and smashed the Commonwealth triple jump record with a leap of 53 ft. 9 ¾ in to win the gold. Dr George Ogan clinched the silver to confirm Nigeria’s dominance in the same event.

 

Nigeria gained her third silver medal when Kingsley Agbabokha came second in the 440 yards hurdles. Unfortunately, Affred Belleh lost a likely gold medal when he was disqualified in the 120 yards hurdles during the heats for making two false starts.

 

Although Nigeria finished 6th in the final of the 4 by 110 yards relay, with a time of 40.4 seconds, Nigeria was one of the countries who broke the Commonwealth record of 40.8 seconds.

 

David Ejoke came fourth in the 100 yards, but went on to win a bronze medal in the 220 yards with a time of 21 seconds.

 

The highlight of Nigeria’s remarkable performance was however, Violet Odogwu’s success in the women’s Long Jump. She won the bronze medal and had the distinction of being the only African woman to win a medal at the games and she also reached the finals of the 80 metres hurdles.

 

Overall, Nigeria won 3 gold; 4 silver and 3 bronze medals and came 7th out of the 36 countries which took part in the Games. There were 28 athletes, boxers and swimmers and it showed then in 1966, that Nigeria has a wealth of athletic talents which with more adequate training, facilities and more experience were likely to take her place among the leaders in the world of sports.

 

 

The March Past at the Commonwealth Games, 1966                              Sam Igun, Team Captain (L) and David Ejoke

 

 

Dr George Ogan (L) and Anthony Andeh                                                 Eddie Ndukwu (L) and Fatai Ayinla (not Nojim Maiyegun as printed)

 

 

Kingsley Agbabokhia (L) and Nojim Maiyegun (not Fatai Ayinla as printed) ; Violet Odogwu, the only African women medal winner

 

We were on our way then, because in subsequent years, Nigerian sport was improving splendidly, nurtured by disciplined, sincere, honest, focused, dedicated and committed sports administrators such as the late Abraham Ordia, Isaac Akioye, Dan Enajekpo, Dr Awoture Eleyeae etc. They practically lived for athletics, a trait that is hard to come by in present-day managers.

 

Then the roof, or rather the sky fell of Nigerian sports the moment the likes of Amos Adamu came in with their one main ambition – make as much money as you can. And they did make money.

 

Sometime in 1983, while I was doing my Master’s degree at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada, I received a call from a reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I guessed he got wind of me being the President of University of Manitoba’s International Students Organisation and a founder of the Nigerian Union of Manitoba. He asked me if I could appear on CBC TV to discuss the phenomenal success of Nigerian athletes who had participated in the World University Games held at Edmonton, Alberta that year. I did not even know that Nigeria was represented at the Games. He told me that Nigeria sent only 10 athletes and these athletes won 5 gold medals. I was proud, but hid my ignorance. I accepted and before I appeared on the show, I made sure I knew more about what happened.

 

In the 1983 World University Games; which was the debut year for this event by Nigeria, Chidi Imoh won gold in the 100 metres; Innocent Egbunike (now a coach in the United States) won gold in the 200 metres; Sunday Uti won gold in the 400 metres; Yusuf Ali won gold in the Long Jump and Ajayi Agbebaku won gold in the Triple Jump. All of them were of course based in the United States, most of them on Nigeria’s scholarship.

 

In subsequent years, Nigeria was to perform creditably at these University games. Other medals winners at these games are as below:

 

Men:

 

100 metres                                          200 m                                      400 m Hurdles

1985 – Chidi Imoh (Gold)        1991 – Daniel Phillips (Silver)             1985 – Henry Amike (Silver)

1989 – Olapade Adeniken (S)

1993 – Daniel Effiong (G)      

 

Long Jump                                          Triple Jump                             Discuss

1987 – Paul Emordi (S)          1983 – Ajayi Agbebaku (G)                 1991 – Adewale Olukoju (G)

                                                (Mentioned above)                              1993 – Adewale Olukoju (S)

 

400 m

1985 – Innocent Egbunike (G); Sunday Uti (Bronze)

1987 – Moses Ugbisie (S)

1995 – Udeme Ekpeyong (S)

1997 – Clement Chukwu (G)

 

Women:

 

100 m                                                  200 m                                     100 m Hurdles

1987 – Tina Iheagwam (B)                 1987 – Mary Onyali (S)           1997 – Angela Atede (Gold)

1993 – Beatrice Utondu (B)

1995 – Mary Tombiri (B)

 

400 m                                                  4 X 400 m Relay                     4 X 100 m Relay

1985 – Sadia Showunmi (B)               1987 – Nigeria (B)                   1987 – Nigeria (B)

1995 – Olabisi Afolabi (G)                  1993 – Nigeria (B)                   1993 – Nigeria (S)

1997– Doris Jacob (B)                                                                                    1995 – Nigeria (B)

 

Nigeria went to the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984 and came back home with a silver medal in boxing through the efforts of Peter Konyegwachie and a bronze from the 4 x 400m male team led by Innocent Egbunike.

At the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand, Nigeria did marvellously well, winning five gold, 13 silver and seven bronze medals; a far improvement from previous outings. The returns from the games in Victoria, Canada even exceeded that of 1990, Nigerians returned home with 13 gold medals and many silver and bronze medals.

 

With the euphoria of the 1990 games, the country stormed the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992 and again there was an improvement from previous records. The quartet of Olapade Adenikan, Chidi Imoh, Kayode Oluyemi and Davidson Ezinwa won the silver in the 4 x 100m, while the women led by the irrepressible Mary Onyali captured the bronze medal in the same event. Two Nigerian boxers also won silver medals. It was a moment of joy for all Nigerians. Football in the 90’s took Nigeria to greater heights. Between 1990 and 1994, Nigeria won silver, bronze and gold medals in the biannual Africa Cup of Nations competition.

 

The country also held its own in athletics with impressive performance from the likes of S. O. Arogundade, A. Karimu Amu, Jimmy Omagbemi, Moses A.K. Ogun, Titus Erinle, Sydney Asiodu, Smart Akraka (Sprints); Peter Esiri, Eddy Akika and Julius Chigbolu (Jumps), the Ezenwa brothers (Osmond and David), Fatima Yusuf, Chioma Ajunwa – first Nigerian individual Olympic gold medallist (who was actually wholly helped by Segun Odegbami, ex-Eagles captain to achieve this), Falilat Ogunkoya – Olympic medallist, etc

 

The Seoul Olympics of 1988 was a disaster for Nigerian athletes. Again like in 1980, the athletes came back without a single medal. Worst still was the Green Eagles team which had gone to the games as favourite but completely lost out.

 

Today, sports like boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, basketball, volleyball, cycling and others are neglected not because there are no talents to be developed, but because government or corporate organisations have not moved in to fund them. The moment they do that, the hawks in National Sports Commission will start scrambling for the partitioning of the money.

 

Facilities and equipment are not left out. Yearly, millions are spent on stadium maintenance, but there is nothing to show for it. The National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, was once the envy of the whole world. It was once known as the Sports City, but today it is now called a Garbage City, with the compound turned into drinking dens at night and religious activities during the day.

 

Heaps and heaps of garbage litter the city. The situation in other stadiums across the country is not different. Management and administration of sports in Nigeria is way behind many Third World countries, talk less of Europe and America, while the coaching skills of most of our coaches are appalling.

 

The only thing that can save and revive Nigerian sports is for the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency in sports. It should look at how the administrators have managed the sector over the years with a view to restructuring it. Sports is too important to Nigeria’s existence to be left at the hands of corrupt individuals, who hardly think of what is best for the country. (Thomas, 2007)

 

Again, the state of sports in the country shows how daft and unintelligent our politicians are. Sports, especially success in sports, remain one major unifying factor in this our country of diverse cultures and religions. In other Third World countries as diverse as ours, the politicians use sports to defuse unrest, to unify the cultures and religions; they use sports as a diversionary means to get the mind of the masses off their problems, and thereby able to concentrate on governing. Take football for instance, when Nigeria is involved in major competitions, that is when you know that we are actually united and patriotic and everybody, marginalised or not, start waving the green-white-green and shouting “Up Nigeria” and not “Up Niger Delta”, “Up Biafra” or “Up Oduduwa”.

 

Sports could be a tool for these inept politicians. If Nigeria wins in any sports event, we will not mind them taking the credit, although we know they have not contributed anything to such success.

 

In 1988, the Nigerian government developed a document to guide sports development for the nation. The National Sports Development Policy (Federal Republic of Nigeria 1989) outlined specific expectations in sports development by various units of the Nigerian society, such as local, state, and federal governments, educational institutions, clubs, and voluntary organizations. This policy was well-conceived and indicated that the government was aware of the role sports had in the development of the nation. The policy still has not been fully implemented, however, as is often the case with governmental policies in Nigeria.

 

Vision 2010 was a policy document developed by the Nigerian federal government to guide its activities in all areas of governance through the year 2010. In 1997, the final report of Vision 2010, as it related to sports development, was published. However, this document, like its predecessor, the National Sports Development Policy (1989), has not been implemented effectively. Therefore, it has not had significant impact on physical education programs in Nigeria. (Mgbor, 2006)

 

Sports, like many other areas of governance in Nigeria, have been neglected mainly due to corrupt and inept governance. There are no incentives for budding athletes; corrupt officials embezzle money meant for sports development; the sports facilities are ill-equipped or not even equipped at all; and the facilities themselves are deteriorating and underused; sports management and administration are poor and run by ill-trained, ill-motivated officials whose only purpose is that of making money, or at worst, are happy to have a job; competent sports administrators are not given a chance to input ideas and actions to effect changes, and are always shut out of decision making processes; and there are no longer grass-roots sports development in the primary, secondary and tertiary institutions to discover talents.

 

The problem can be reversed by addressing the above, but only by political will on the side of the government of Nigeria. Corporate help is needed and companies such as Shell, Globacom, MTN, etc are already doing their best, but are given very little encouragement or support by the government. In fact, the money these corporations pour into sports in Nigeria practically end up in the pockets of corrupt civil servants in the Sports ministries and other government officials.

 

In Nigeria of today, despite the economic downturn, there is no reason why each local government should not have a moderate sports stadium in its area, where schools in their respective areas can hold their annual inter-house sports, and local boys and girls can display their sports talents.

 

I was once opportune to be present at a seminar held at the Nigeria Institute for Sports, National Stadium, Lagos in 1999 where this question of grass-root sports development was put to the then Director-General of the NCS (guess who? The same Dr Amos Adamu) the man, without blinking an eyelid said there is no money. That was in 1999 when the current democratic dispensation began and we know the oil was gushing out and Nigeria was making a lot of money from oil, and politicians and civil servants alike were stealing the money. It was all I could do not to stone the man.

 

So can the current D-G, NSC, Chief Patrick Ekeji do better? I doubt it. He has been in the system for too long and was also a part of the problem. So it is unlikely that he can solve the problem. I recently read that he has expressed concern over the recent spate of poor performances by Nigerian athletes in major championships, and that the commission was already on top of the issue, believing that the country’s array of athletes should have done better in Berlin, Germany. He is really not saying anything new or that we do not know.

 

Greed and corruption always go well together. You really can’t separate them. They motivate each other. When you have either or both, then the effect is ineptitude, negligence, mismanagement and generally poor administration. These are what we have in our sports administration, nay, general governance, today.

 

We can only hope.

 

 

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