The Death of Nigerian Sports and A Walk Down Memory Lane (2)

by Akintokunbo A Adejumo

Part 1   |  Part 3

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


100 metres
1985 – Chidi Imoh (Gold)
1989 – Olapade Adeniken (S)
1993 – Daniel Effiong (G)

200 m
1991 – Daniel Phillips (Silver)

400 m Hurdles
1885 – Henry Amike (Silver)

Long Jump
1987 – Paul Emordi (S)

Triple Jump
1983 – Ajayi Agbebaku (G)
(Mentioned above)
1993 – Adewale Olukoju (S)

1991 – Adewale Olukoju (G)

400 m
1985 – Innocent Egbunike (G); Sunday Uti (Bronze)
1987 – Moses Ugbisie (S)
1995 – Udeme Ekpeyong (S)
1997 – Clement Chukwu (G)


100 m
1987 – Tina Iheagwam (B)
1993 – Beatrice Utondu (B)
1995 – Mary Tombiri (B)

200 m
1987 – Mary Onyali (S)

100 m Hurdles
1997 – Angela Atede (Gold)

400 m
1985 – Sadia Showunmi (B)
1995 – Olabisi Afolabi (G)
1997– Doris Jacob (B)

4 X 400 m Relay
1987 – Nigeria (B)
1993 – Nigeria (B)

4 X 100 m Relay
1987 – Nigeria (B)
1993 – Nigeria (S)
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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Taiye Akinsanmi August 23, 2009 - 6:25 pm

The diminished of track & field events is world wide not only particular to Nigeria, the world are now accustomed to 18yrs old earning £120,000 a week playing football in Europe or basket ball in US & we are all materialistic in way we now think & act. In the past we do things for honor of the country & mother land but this days “it’s about our pocket, the word we & us is replace by me’me’me. Now tell me , why should I wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning practising my high jump & track running when I can drove in Mercedes-Benz’Ferrari’Porche or Lexus to the football training ground at 9. 30 am in the morning & still get paid win or lost on the field ? No medal in athletic no pay.

It was our joint thinking & state of mind that need changing, a bit of patriotism perhaps ! pride in one’s country maybe ? It is all of us not just the chairman of the board that need to work together. Those whom are doing the job & winning medal for UK are mostly Nigerian, why can the parents (include myself) encourage them running for Nigeria ?

Taiye Akinsanmi

Femi August 23, 2009 - 5:23 pm


Thanks for this article. It did evoke some nostalgic emotion in me as I remembered those good old days when Nigeria used to invest in sports development. Up till the late 1970s, there were sports championships of various kinds among pupils in elementary schools to secondary schools and tertiary institutions where students vied for honors in boxing, football, table-tennis, track & field and even wrestling. These were the sporting events that produced some of the greatest sports personalities in our nation. I also remember public sports arenas such as the Rowe Park and Evans square in Ebute-Metta. All we have now are sports ministries at state and federal levels filled with archaic coaches and rusty sports administrators. And there is the periodic charades shortly before major international sports competitions such as the Olympics when our sports administrators and coaches along with politicians fight to be on the official entourage to travel with huge estacodes at our expense.


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