AFN, Fasuba And The Nigerian Flag

by Jibril Sado

From a Nigerian perspective, there is a multitude of issues to address in the aftermath of the just concluded 9th edition of the All Africa Games in Algiers, the Algerian capital. Of particular interest is the rather tame manner Nigeria surrendered the games’ overall title it won at the 8th. edition of the games. Home advantage may have played a big part in Nigeria’s triumph in Abuja four years ago. Notwithstanding, one would have expected the country to do better than a fifth place finish in the very next edition. For followers of Nigerian sports, the reasons for this below par achievement are of course as legion as they are legendary and are, therefore, topic of discussion at another forum.

Suffice to say that the rest of Africa is fast catching up with Nigeria in its traditional areas of dominance in Africa such as table tennis, boxing and the short distance races. Even female football where Nigeria has dominated the rest of the continent since its introduction to the continent no longer seems to present such a straightforward case. Under the tutelage of Josy Lad, the current head coach of the Super Falcons, the team has drawn matches it normally would win and laboured to victory in others it would stroll through in the past. This means that the Falcons have either become complacent or the rest of Africa has fast tracked its female football development programme or even both. And there was further evidence to this fact during the last AAG where, although the team won the gold in the event, it didn’t exactly have things its own way.

One of the issues that generated much controversy in the Nigerian camp during the games was the alleged refusal of Nigeria’s double gold medallist, Olusoji Fasuba to accept and celebrate with the Nigerian flag after his victory in the men’s event of the 100 metres. Several days after the curtains formally fell on the games the controversy still rages and has developed into some sort of words match between the Athletics Federation of Nigeria and Fasuba, even prompting some people to call for a ban to be placed on the sprinter. While officials of the AFN have accused Fasuba of showing a lack of patriotism by shunning the Nigerian flag, the athlete insists he did not willfully fail to take the flag. In the excerpts of an interview with Richard Jideaka as published in The Sun newspaper edition of Monday this week, Fasuba said: “…the flag was not handy immediately I finished the race. Why should I not be proud to fly my national flag? I did not reject the flag as being insinuated, but the truth remains that when I finished the race, I had a very short time to go for the dope test and knowing the regulation on doping, I had to proceed for the test following persistent pressure from one of the officials that I should hurry up. Of course, if I had wasted more time in celebrating with the flag after the race, I would have been punished with a ban or suspension”.

I am not about to carve a cross to nail Fasuba to, but I think the last two sentences of the above quote suggest something about the excuse rather than the reason he failed to accept the flag, never mind celebrate with it. I am trying to imagine the length of time from the beginning of his celebrations after the race, when the flag come in, to the point he had to go in for the dope test. C’mon, it can’t have been so short a time that he could not at least drape the flag over his shoulders as he went into the doping centre. There surely would have been enough time for Mary Onyali-Omagbemi or Sunday Bada to do that at the very least.

Of course it is not totally fair to compare Fasuba with Onyali or Bada, which is why I think the following words from the same interview give a better insight into his failure to take the flag: “Those who are criticizing me are not more patriotic than me. I am pissed off that for all my efforts, all I get is a paltry N50,000 from Team Nigeria as against the $5,000 each Ghanaian athlete gets for any gold medal. It is very embarrassing that all I will get for two gold medals (he also won a gold medal in the 4×100 metres) is just N100,000 which is less than $1000”.

There was talk of inadequacy of funds for Team Nigeria before the games and this may have affected how much each athlete could get for participating in the games. But N50,000 to a gold medal winning athlete is as infinitesimal as it smacks of a scandalous, laughable, outrageous and patronizing act of selfishness by the powers that be in Nigerian sports. One begins to wonder what the reward for those athletes who could not win a medal at the games would be like for representing Nigeria. Meanwhile funds were adequate for those who went to Algiers on self-indulgence to lodge into posh hotels and embark on shopping sprees. But in case some people have not been following the trend or happen to suffer from selective amnesia, the days of sports being regarded as a hobby have long since become ancient. Sport of every kind is now a career, a means of livelihood. And participating at such a sports meet as the AAG means that an athlete would have put in four years of work. To receive less than $1000 for such time and effort is irritatingly irrational. And to think that such athletes had to toil alone to train for such competitions without the aid of their federation makes the whole situation all the more absurd. Athletes from other countries, both rich and very poor, make money and become millionaires from doing sports. Ours should not become paupers and beggars from doing same. It amounts to a clear case of monkey dey work, baboon dey chop for athletes to run, jump, dive, kick, punch and shout their limbs weary while some man or woman who may not even know what a sports arena looks like and who has no business traveling to the host city of any sports event, sits in the comfort of a hotel room from where he/she devices means of appropriating as estacode, money that should go to the toiling sportsmen and women.

Nigeria has lost some of its best athletes to this sort of unscrupulous attitude of people in sports authority in this country, and one only hope Fasuba will not be another one heading for the exit. It is not enough for those in authority and the rest of us to accuse sportsmen and women of lack of patriotism whereas that is what they (in authority) epitomize in so many ways. Patriotism is not all about accepting that you are a citizen of a particular country or hoisting your country’s flag for all to see. It is more about learning to believe in and identify with the ideals of your fatherland and its people. Nigeria’s sportsmen and women are an integral part of that ideal. So, let this country learn to nurture rather than kill and bury the dreams and aspirations of these heroic sons and daughters of Nigeria.

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Toba September 1, 2007 - 3:02 am

Remember Francis Obikualu…he now runs for Spain ..he came second at the last olympic games……I just hate it when nigeria blames sports folks …how can u call someone unpariotic when u are not paying him well? he as gott family to take care of dam it ? he doesnt get paid monthly ..he gets paid per event….

Anonymous August 1, 2007 - 1:24 pm

Good piece. Honestly, it is irritating to hear those inauthority, sports, politics, and others preach about patriotism whereas they are not in the least patriotic.

Toyin July 31, 2007 - 7:08 pm

Amazing and well said brother ! I am an athlete and the business of athletics is expensive. It is a luxury to send representatives to a competition and the athletes should not have to bear most of the burden. Getting ready for African games is very expensive from time dedicated to equipments and diet and nutrition. It is a shame that we (our leaders) still dont get it


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