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‘Nigeria’s Athletics ‘Died’ Many Years Ago’

By Funsho Akinwale
30 May 2015   |   3:07 am
The President of Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Solomon Ogba, has declared that the nation’s athletics had been on rapid decline for years, adding, however, that his administration was striving hard to revive the system.
Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) Coach, Stephen Nuhu.

Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) Coach, Stephen Nuhu.

The President of Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Solomon Ogba, has declared that the nation’s athletics had been on rapid decline for years, adding, however, that his administration was striving hard to revive the system.

Ogba, who spoke in Lagos during the week, also stated that the recent outbursts by sprinter, Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor, was a good omen for the athletics family.

For a long time up till about a decade ago, Nigeria had at least four athletes in every eight lanes in the women 400m at either the European circuit or the IAAF Grand Prix.

Then, the nation had three consistent 49.00 seconds runners in the likes of Falilat Ogunkoya-Omotayo, Charity Opara and Fatimah Yusuf. The last of the four, Bisi Afolabi, was then a consistent 50.00 seconds runner.

In the 100m, Nigerian female sprinters like Mary Onyali, Gloria Alozie, Christy Okpara, Beatrice Utondu, Chioma Ajunwa, Mary Tombiri, Endurance Ojokolo and Mercy Nku rivalled their counterparts from the United States in major championships.

Also, the likes of Olapade Adeniken, the Ezinwa brothers (Davidson and Osmond), Francis Obikwelu, Seun Ogunkoya, late Sunday Bada, Clement Chukwu, Deji Aliu and Enefiok Udo-Obong were among the best sprinters and quarter-milers in the world.

Then, Nigeria’s relay teams (male and female) were the most dreaded in the world apart from the Americans. But like other sectors of the country, Nigeria’s athletics has faced gradual decline, no thanks to the dearth of the monthly classics and other developmental programmes like what obtainable in the American school system.

“When I took over as AFN President in 2009, we went for the West African Regional Athletics Championship in Porto Novo, Benin Republic, and we had to struggle from the beginning till the end of the competition,” Ogba said. “We were even beaten in all our areas of strength, and from that moment, I knew we had a major problem at hand.”

According the AFN boss, since the golden generation of Nigerian athletes retired, no concrete effort was made to replace them.

“The American school system produced so many athletes for this country at different times. The likes of Falilat Ogunkoya, Mary Onyali, Chidi Imoh, the Ezinwa Brothers, Fatimah Yusuf and Innocent Egbunike were some of the beneficiaries of the American school system.

“Today, we have some female athletes doing well for Nigeria at major championships. The men have completely disappeared, and this has been our major challenge. The women are getting it because if they put their mind to something, they get it. They are not easily derailed. But we are moving fast to fill the gap.

“Today, we have so many of our athletes combining education and sports in some major American schools. It will surely pay off in due course. Majority of our young athletes, who won the Mauritius 2013 African Youth Athletics Championship, are our major hope at the moment.

The likes of Divine Oduduru, Omezia Akerele, Ese Brume, Edidiong Ofonime, Aniekeme Alphonsus, Omotayo Abolaji, Blessing Adiakerehwa, ThankGod Igube, Victor Peka, Chukwudi Olisakwe, are doing well, and I feel that in a couple of years, we will regain our leading position in world athletics.

I must commend the new Director General of the National Sports Commission (NSC), Alhassan Yakmut, for the support he is giving us in our determination to re-position for the challenges ahead. The NSC has approved all our programmes and we will do our best to bridge the gap,” Ogba said.

The AFN boss has thrown a challenge to Nigerian coaches to align with the Federation’s strategy of getting the best from the local athletes or be ready to take a walk. “We have male athletes who are running far below standard and it is the responsibility of our coaches to do something about it as quickly as possible.”

The shortcoming, notwithstanding, Ogba assures that AFN would raise a decent team for the coming IAAF World Championship in Beijing, China, and the All Africa Games in Congo Brazzaville.

He also spoke on the recent outbursts by sprinter, Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguenor, after Nigeria’s participation at the IAAF World Relays in the Bahamas. “I have said it that I won’t join issues with Blessing, but her outburst is good for the AFN in a way because it will stop us from running helter skelter for some athletes in the future.”