The Death of Nigerian Sports and A Walk Down Memory Lane (1)

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!

Hear this from NEXT of 21 August 2009 “Only those without knowledge of athletics will be surprised at the Team Nigeria’s failure at the ongoing Berlin IAAF World Athletics Championship. Their poor performance was caused by the Solomon Ogba-led board, which failed to do what was necessary in bringing the best out of the team….. The last time we won medals at the World Championship was Sevilla ‘99. We won three medals because Oluyemi Adeyemi-Wilson allowed the technical people to do their job. He put in place a sound elite programme and a good youth and developmental programme. We also won a gold medal and silver in athletics with the programme at the Sydney 2000 Games. Ogba needs to read Adeyemi’s script and act on it, or else 2010 Commonwealth Games will be a repeat of Berlin 2009”.

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, however Nigerian 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 go

ld. 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.

Written by
Akintokunbo A Adejumo
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2 comments
  • 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

  • Toks,

    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.