Nigeria: what's wrong

Nigerian sports: 47 years of going back and forth
• Monday, Oct 1, 2007
Nigeria has always been seen as a great country with great potential. These potentials transcends all segments of life.

From manpower to economy, sports, tourism, marine to other natural endowments.

Interestingly, the country has been in the news as one of the potential black super power nations in world sports.

Even prior to the nation’s independence on October 1st, 1960, Nigeria had shown signs that she possessed the potentials to rub shoulders with the likes of United States of America, Britain, Russia, Jamaica and other countries in sports development and achievement.

But after 47 years of independence, how far has the country achieved or lived up to her potentials in sports.

At best, the story of the country’s sports can be told as one in which several backward steps are taken after one in the forward direction.

From football to athletics, swimming, weightlifting, boxing, tennis, table- tennis and other team sports, the story is similar.

In 1968, after Nigeria’s relative impressive performance at the Olympics, observers looked forward to the meteoric rise of the country as a sporting nation.

The expectations were left unfulfilled as we continued to under achieve at subsequent meets. Nigeria did not earn an individual Olympic medal in athletics until 1996 at Atlanta, where Chioma Ajunwa leapt to gold in the long jump and the country’s male football team conquered all, including Brazil and Argentina to win the event’s gold medal. Atlanta’96 thus turned out to be the country’s best Olympic outing till date.

Indeed, the country’s problem cannot be said to be lack of talent, efforts or opportunity. Organisation and administration has been the major bane of the sports sector.

This is a country that produced fine athletes like Ifeajuna in the late 60’s, wrestling world heavyweight champion, Michael Okpala (Power Mike), great old generation footballers like Thunder Balogun, Amere, among others, in the early years of our independence.

Along also came great athletes like Chidi Imo, Innocent Egbunike, Falilat Ogunkoya, Queen of the Track, Mary Onyali, the Ezenwa brothers, David and Osmond, who held sway from the 1980’s to late 1990s. [THE POTATO HEADS were Osmond and Davidson, I think. kk]

Despite the achievements of these talents, Nigeria has been unable to effectively replace them years after they bowed out of the scene.

Instead of bringing about policies and programmes that will help develop, sustain and replace old talents, sports administrators have often been accused of working for their selfish interests instead of the nation’s interest.

This has led to rise-today-fall-tomorrow development in the history of our sports.

A typical example is the All Africa Games. Since its inception, Nigeria had continued to play second fiddle to the North Africans, especially, Egypt, until the South Africans joined the fray in the 90’s.

Nigeria’s fortune plummeted and our usual second and third position changed to fourth and fifth.

The country, however, managed to make history when it hosted and won the 2003 edition of the All Africa Games in controversial circumstances.

It is worthy to note here that victory was made possible by the performance of our special athletes (physically challenged athletes) who secured majority of the medals won by the country at the Games.

Our inability to build on our achievement once again manifested in the following edition of the games, recently hosted by Algeria.

Nigeria plummeted from being defending champions to top six finishers, exposing the shallowness of our foundation to success in 2003.

Despite changing the title of the national department in charge of sports from National Sports Commission, NSC to Federal Ministry of Sports and back to NSC, the administrators still failed to change or adapt to the dynamic trends in sports management.

We still witness our administrators fighting one another publicly over who should be in-charge of what and how, while the various sports and athletes continue to suffer and take the back seat.

But it is not all gloom and disaster in our 47 years of nationhood in sports so far.

Nigeria has indeed recorded some impressive milestones in her history.

In the days of the Chidi Imos, Egbunike’s, Onyalis and Ogunkoyas, Nigeria used to be one of the few African countries that challenge European and American countries in the sprints.

Aniefrok Udo-Obong, a starry-eyed quarter-miler also ran a historic race in the 4 x 400 metres relay race in Sydney 2000 Olympic Games to put Nigeria on the podium. That race remains a reference point on the event till date.

Football, however, is the event the country has had outstanding success and impact in Africa and the world.

From being the first African country to win a FIFA World Cup, when the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria lifted the maiden Under–17 tournament in China in 1985, the country has gone ahead to win the competition three times, won the Olympic football gold medal, topped a world cup first round group, won the Africa Cup of Nations twice and broke the jinx of CAF champions league trophy through Enyimba International FC, which won the champions league twice in 2004 and 2005.

Now, though the window opened by Stephen Keshi and his co-travellers when they left the domestic league scene to Belgium, the initial Mecca for Nigerian Footballers, the country has flooded Europe with quality professional footballers.

From the English premership to the Spanish la liga, Italian Calcio, Dutch Erednisie and the Eastern European Leagues, Nigerian talents abound, plying their trade.

Football has emerged to be one of the major areas Nigeria has recorded more successes and still has the potentials to achieve more.

But it has been said that the country’s sports administrators, especially, in football need to put their acts together, move with the time for the country to really realise and live up to her potentials.

Nigeria currently has the World Boxing Council (WBC) World heavyweight boxing champion in the person of Samuel Peter. It is an achievement worth sustaining.

Nigeria is blessed with abundant talents in all spheres of sports and it requires a constructive planning, organisation and sincerity of purpose to unearth and sustain the new Chidi Imo’s, Innocent Egbunike’s, Mary Onyali’s, Peter Konyegwachies, Nwankwo Kanus, Austin Okocha, Samuel Peters, Chidi Ugwu’s, among others, so that at the turn of our next national anniversary, there would be plenty to celebrate in the nation’s sports.

Nigerian journalists can’t even spell their athletes’ names properly.

Davidson Ezinwa
Chidi Imoh
Enefiok Udo-Obong

In Sydney, Enefiok not only led the team to the podium, but also to gold medal since USA is officially dq.

There are quite a few Nigerian athletes in Australia. What I see holding them back is a poor work ethic. Maybe it’s an inability to handle western lifestyles, most gain weight over here.

I went to college with Egbunike who was already somewhat accomplished when he arrived in the US.

More to the point of the article was the story of Christian Okoye, who attended the same school. Okoye was a physical specimen but incredibly raw when he arrived in the Fall of '82. By spring of ‘84, he had thrown an African record in the discus, around 210’ at the MtSac Relays if I remember correctly, along with several other meets right around that number. Despite this, he was not selected for the Nigerian Olympic team. That fall, he finally gave in to the constant invitations from the football coach and turned out for that sport. He threw again in the spring of ‘05, reaching a new PR of 214’ on abbreviated training, and after that focused on football and went on to play in the NFL.

Why wasn’t he selected in '84? The official reason was that the Nigerian Federation could not document his performances. The whispered reason was religious and tribal. Okoye was from a southern tribe and a Christian, while the Federation was run by members of Northern tribes and Muslims. Egbunike, who was from the same tribe, was already established so he couldn’t be ignored. Okoye was not, and he so he could be.

Ah, yes. Okoye was my favorite football player of all time! He had tremendous power. I heard about his discus roadblocks but I never knew about the tribe issues…

It’s unfortunate that all of the videos on the internet of him relate to Tecmo Bowl or him getting crushed by Atwater during a bad year. Maybe I’ll have to dig up some of my own footage.
Winner of 7 NAIA national titles in the throwing events. Guess that isn’t verifiable:rolleyes:

Article written by Innocent Egbunike himself (accreditated by USA in Osaka to coach Angelo Taylor) who contributed to the good result of NGR team in heats through his inspirated motivational speach. Sorry it’s a little bit long but interesting testimony from someone who’ve been there.

This Day (Lagos)

24 September 2007
Posted to the web 24 September 2007

Innocent Egbunike, Lagos

he date was August 28, 2007 and I was at the warm-up track in Osaka, Japan, the venue for the 2007 IAAF World Championships. I could not sleep the night before due to the excitement of looking forward to seeing the new breed of Nigerian athletes.

I stood on one corner of the track where I could see everyone coming onto the track, looking forward to identifying my compatriots as they came walked into the track and field facility. As I stood there, I saw every country walk in and to my disbelief; I did not see anyone wearing the great green, white and green.

I went to the call room to verify if Nigeria was entered in the 400m and what I heard brought tears to my eyes. The IAAF official I met in the call room recognised me and said: “Mr. Egbunike, where is the Nigerian team? Do you know that your countryman, the African record holder in the 100m, was not entered in the 100meters?” As I tried to respond, he went on to tell me that if it were not for the efforts of Fasuba’s manager, he would have not competed in the 100m at the World Championships. This official then told me that the Nigerian Quarter-milers came in the day before.
As I tried to digest his comments, he asked me what was wrong with Nigeria. A track and field historian, this man lamented about the 1983 World University Games in Edmonton, Canada.

In his words: “Nigeria used to compete at the same level as the USA when it came to the sprints and jumps. He remembered how Nigeria beat the USA at their game that year. Chidi Imoh won the 100m, Innocent Egbunike the 200m, Sunday Uti the 400m, Yusuf Ali the long jump and Ajayi Agbebaku the triple jump, the 1984 4 x 4 bronze medal performance and my silver medal at the 2nd World Championships, Roma 87.”

He paused and then asked me what each of the individuals he mentioned above were doing now and why Nigeria does not involve them in their track and field programmes. The official said he remembered when races used to be won between Nigeria, USA, Great Britain, Jamaica and Canada.

As he spoke, he showed me the autographs he got from Grace Jackson, Bert Cameron, Don Quarrie, Mike Powell, Carl Lewis, Valerie Brisco, Alberto Jaunterona, Mike Connelly, Frankie Fredericks and Sergei Bubka then asked me for my autograph.

He said: “I wish some of your countrymen I mentioned above where here.”

I was amazed with his knowledge as he went on to talk about Nigeria’s strength in both the relays and later in the women’s events. He talked about Mary Onyali, Fatima Yusuf, Falilat Ogunkoya and Chioma Ajunwa. Most nations involve their former athletes.

“How come Nigeria is not like that?” I responded by saying they do, and then he said to me you are here under the USA’s team. I do not see Mary Onyali, Chidi Imoh and Falilat Ogunkoya. Where is Olapade Adeniken? Nigeria has so much talent but it seems like they do not plan. What is it he asked? Is it lack of leadership or corruption?

As he continued his attack on Nigeria, I decided to excuse myself from him before I said something I would regret.

As I walked away from him, I lost all my excitement and my heart immediately became heavy. I started praying that his story that the athletes came a day before their event was not true. In 1987, Nigeria flew me from Los Angeles to New York, New York to Lagos, Nigeria and finally Lagos to Nairobi, Kenya for the African Games. I remember getting to Nairobi the morning of my event to find out that there were no room arrangements made for me. I went to the officials after my first round in the 400m to find out that they did not have any room for me. At that point, I realised my battle was not against flesh and blood, but the powers and principalities of darkness. I laid a mattress on the floor of my teammates and slept there throughout the duration of the competition. What surprised me was how the same officials who did not provide me my accommodations took all the glory for my performance.

That was 20 years ago. Now in 2007, it is the same story. What a shame. In Nigeria, we have a saying, “pray and do your best to make sure your children surpass your success so they don’t go through what you went through.”

In this case, these young men and women are reliving the same nightmare. We say: “If it is a curse, it won’t work” but unfortunately, it seems the curse is coming from Nigerian officials. Our officials need to stop being greedy and learn to treat the athletes as their own children.

So when did Nigeria know about the African Games and the World Championships? We need to stop this crash programme. The Bible says a nation without a vision shall perish, and in this case, we need to rise above all this foolishness.

During the 80’s we lost athletes to other sports, Christian Okoye, former African record holder in the discus, to American football. These days we lose them to other nations. I remember other nations approached the likes of Chidi Imoh and the Ezinwa brothers (just to mention a few) to change their nationality, but they stuck with Nigeria. Due to false promises however, we have lost some very talented athletes, even this year. A nation that prides itself, as the giant of Africa, seems to forget the fact that charity begins at home.

The mention of Nigeria around the world today triggers negative and funny looks and comments such as Nigerians are criminals, con artists and now terrorists! My nightmare continued when I ran into the first group of Nigerian officials and athletes and they told me they where stuck at the airport in Qatar for 18 hours and their flight took them from Nigeria to Qatar. They had an 18-hour layover and the immigration officers told them they would not let them in the country because Nigeria is considered a terrorist nation!

While our national athletes slept at the airport, their fellow competitors where resting in their hotel rooms preparing for the competition.

This leads me to the same question: when did our officials know they would be sending athletes to the 2007 World Championships? As I tried to understand, I took a trip down memory lane, remembering our trip to the African Championships in Morocco in 1984. We were told that we would be given our visas upon arrival in Morocco at approximately 6:00pm. We found that we could not get visas until the next day. We slept at the airport as we watched the other nations proceed straight into Morocco.

Some of the people we competed against when we got to Europe started a slogan, “Nigerian passport, you could leave home without it”. When will this nightmare end?

I tried to console the athletes, I asked them to use their God given talent to glorify God; gaze upon the Lord and glance at the circumstances they faced. Then came another bombshell: no daily allowance was provided and some even complained they had not received their training grant. Shame on us!

As I tried to understand what was happening, the athletes gathered around me sharing their nightmares, one after the other. As I listened, I prayed for wisdom from the Lord regarding wisdom in my response. The athletes told me they needed guidance and that they felt ignored by the powers that be.

One of the athletes told a story of how one of the officials (from the Ministry) at the African Games in Algiers, went on a shopping spree. She had $5,000 travel allowance and needed to spend it before she went back to Nigeria. Amazing! Some of the athletes had not been paid and that official had such a lavish amount to spend. Again, I realised that we take better care of the ministry officials than we do the athletes. We forget that the athletes are the reason we go to these competitions. Where are our priorities?

The last straw was when my name was announced on the public announcement system

“Innocent Egbunike of Nigeria please report to the call room.”

I was at the World Championships under the umbrella of the USA. On my arrival to the call room, an IAAF official asked me the order in which the Nigerian 4 x 400m women would be running. As I was on my way out to find the athletes, he said: "Make sure they have the same uniform, so we would not disqualify them as we did the women’s 4 x 100m!

I was shocked when he disclosed to me that Nigeria did not come with a national uniform. We are talking about a national team, a country with over a 140 million people. This disgrace to us as a nation and to those of us had put our careers on hold to represent our great nation. This was just the beginning of the drama. I met the athletes, and asked them if they all had the same uniform. The answer was no. Nigeria did not give them a uniform for this competition. The uniforms that they brought were their personal uniforms from years ago. At this point, we started scrambling. One of the athlete’s managers was very helpful. Thank God, one of the athletes that came to watch the competition had her long tights on and she was kind enough to give it to us. We cut it and gave it to one of the athletes so that she would have a complete uniform. We brought the IAAF official back to okay our uniform. When he came, he unleashed the following statement on our government, “Your country has the talents and they need to stop embarrassing you and your athletes.”

Nigeria is one of the richest countries in Africa. Money is not the problem; it is the mismanagement of money." He went on, No body should be subjected to this when they are trying to bring positive light to their country."

As I went back to attend to my athlete, from the USA, the warm-up track became a comedy club about Nigeria. Some of the coaches, managers and athletes made jokes about my great nation.

One of the prominent coaches from the USA pulled me aside and said: “Your country has produced some of the best athletes in track and field and if you guys don’t do any thing to encourage and support your present upcoming athletes, you will not have any representation at next summer’s Olympic Games.”

Developing a clear performance standard that will determine who is qualified for training grants and how long. This will give the athletes goals to shoot for and help to establish a programme that rewards athletes. I believe that planning will eliminate embarrassment. Failure to plan is a plan to fail. Hire people with a passion for the sports rather than individuals that are in the sport for personal reasons. Once we as a nation overcome these set backs, we as people shall rise again. Our talents will shine once again at the 2008 Olympic Games in China!

Bravo Egbunike!!! He was a courageous sprinter but this has taken much bigger balls.

But lucky he’s living in the USA. I wonder how he’d be treated if he were still resident in Nigeria.

Is the Nigerian athletics federation competent, or does it all go wrong once the ministry of sport gets their sticky fingers onto the team.

It sounds like there is a major systemic breakdown, caused in equal parts by corruption and incompetence. The knowledge to manage a track team is there, so many athletes have come through the system via NCAA or elsewhere, but obviously they have been kept out of the administration, or at least the level of admin where the money is allocated and controlled.

Great job PJ, making sure Fasuba got to the line. Vigilance and experience are so important for the coach, and a large part of great coaching is great management.

That’s why
Nigerian athletes look for coaches abroad -instead of training under previously very successful athletes,
Nigerian athletes look for ways to wear the vest of another country -clever enough to “take advantage” of their talent, and
Nigerian athletes are degraded to ironing officials’ clothes while abroad! :mad:

While we’re on the subject of third world parochialism, incompetence, favouritism etc, lets add Canada to the picture.
Nigeria screwing the athletes? When we had a training camp in LA in 1980, our girls were all over the Nigerian guys. Were they that good looking- or was it the fact that they had a meal allowance and could afford food?
Our per Diem didn’t extend past breakfast. Many of our guys got food money from their schools or existed on stale pizza.

Chidi Imoh’s first win at the Edmonton World Student Games? That was because he put his hand up AFTER the gun fired and stood up, meaning it should have been all over for him then and there, but the Canadian starter fired a recall gun after Ben and Desai had run a full 80m!! Five minutes later, the race was re-run and both Ben and Desai died at the end allowing the totally fresh Chidi to pass them at 90 meters for the win. Fucking swell!
Tribalism? How about funding a 10.50 Quebec sprinter while leaving out a 10.12 sprinter from Ontario?
Official retribution? How about screwing Nick Macrozinaris off the Osaka Team?
No uniforms for the Nigerian team? How about Ben getting no uniform for Rome? (The athletes were handed a letter in Rome telling them to bring their old uniforms to the WC. The official in charge decided to hand them out there to SAVE THE COST OF THE STAMPS!
Of course it was too late to bring the old uniforms from home after they’d already left. Duh!
Relay uniform problems for Nigeria? We had the same problem in Rome, scrambling at the last second to find 4 matching outfits.
Afterwards, there was a debate in Parliament about a “protest” cause Ben wore green sweats on the podium. Something about Jamaica. The question was raised because no official was about to accept responsibility for their own stupidity.

Gee I thought Canadians where all nice. Maybe these problems stem from the fact that most T&F officials come in from other fields. In large they are not ex athletes or former coaches; this would make a better mix for officialdom.

They are- to everyone else- it’s only Canadian athletes that get the shaft. We are the worlds best hosts. We’ve been the only Olympic hosts not to hog any of the Gold Medals, not just once but twice. What more can you ask?

Unfortunately I don’t think the Chinese will be as gracious as you Canadians.

I remember certain Canadian officials where of the opinion that he Ben should be sent back to Jamaica after Soul. Now that’s some real sanctimonious BS to deal with.

ASTONISHING! Incompetence raised to gold medal level. :eek:

But I recall something I heard about the Australian track team at the 84 Olympics. Management went through the farce of forcing the 19080 Olympic 400 silver medallist Ric Mitchell to race a 400m fitness test and trial against other contenders for the discretionary third individual spot for the LA 400.

Mitchell, apparently in a major surprise to the Aussie management, won the trial very convincingly. So they chose another guy for the individual 400 spot instead of Mitchell.

The reason, it was later uncovered, was that the team finalisation deadline had passed some days before the “selection trial” and management didn’t let anyone know. They tried to bluff through it and had assumed Mitchell wouldn’t win the run-off. Mitchell was mightily pissed off because of the apparent deception.

Mitchell later ran the anchor in the 4x4 final and was overhauled (due to lack of race-fitness!!!) as the Aussies (spearheaded by Darren Clark) went sub-3min only to finish fourth.

But at least they did all run in the same uniform:rolleyes:

Well they had to get a gold medal SOMEWHERE!

Sounds like a load of bullshit from the officials. What was the date of this trial??
I know the LA organizers kept the entries open longer than normal because of the relatively early Olympic date relative to must countries’ trials- most within 3 to 4 weeks.

The date of the trial was like a day or two after close of entries, from what I recall being told.

There’s no dispute about the facts nowadays, I understand Mitchell is still filthy about the screwup and what he rightly regards as a snub in the first place.

I still doubt the official’s story because, as long as there were three entered, the names could have been switched there if they’d really wanted to.
By after the deadline, they’d have to have held a trial in the US or Europe (??)

Yes, the trial was held in Los Angeles, on the track supervised during those Games by none other than Tommie Smith.

OK The time frame makes sense now, though the timing of the trial doesn’t unless the fix was in and it was never going to matter what Mitchell ran.