*We either save or we bury our sport now. No option available
Forgive me I have to write on this subject. I am also unapologetic for my positions and comments here. If not for athletics and sports I could not have become who I am. Therefore, I am very appreciative to Harrison Momah, my first and only athletics coach. It was the foundation I had in athletics that gave me the extra-ordinary nature I exhibited in my restless forays to volleyball, basketball, handball, football, baseball and squash racket. Of these other sports, it was only squash and basketball I did not play in competitive level.
Back to base. My passion for athletics wherefrom I suffered five suspensions in three years because I am not one who will see evil and paint it in another colour. No administrator from Abdulkareem Amu, Smart Akraka, Group Captain Lawan Dangaji that I did not fight. All I wanted was for the best of our common patrimony, athletics.
Of all I have achieved, athletics looked secondary but gave me the highest medals. I have nine medals in two NUGA games (1988 to 1991). Two handball and seven in athletics (long jump, 200 and 4x100m). When Dan Ngerem emerged as President, I shut out. Not until Solomon Ogba came, I suddenly got charges from seniors asking me not to look away.
That explains why my return was ferocious. I did not regret every step I have taken. When Ogba did not deliver in the first term, I worked against him for a second term. He got it. I sent him a congratulatory letter same day. I was, for the sport, ready to make amends. When I realised he was not going to change, I returned to the trenches.
I fought for the appointment of Innocent Egbunike. He was eventually appointed. Egbunike was quickly advised to avoid ‘the plaque.’ He did. They (the cabal) messed him up and in anger, Egbunike was discharged. I seemingly lost my voice. Coaches, athletes, even some parents started clamouring for change. We searched, sieved, researched and came upon Ibrahim Gusau.
That was almost two years ago. The man was very reluctant. We pressured him and after about six months of pressing the eyes of the corpse because we were searching for a ghost, he agreed. We worked the ropes silently.
Elections came. He won. Some folks in the athletics family who felt they own the sport more than the rest of us felt no. They decided to bring the roof down. Why? Gusau, a stubborn northerner won’t listen to their dictations. Ogba listened to them and practically never achieved any forward movement for the sport. They call themselves “ex-internationals.”
Thank God, I am not an international in athletics. I was a home-bred and local athlete. It was handball that took me to 39 nations including a stint with the Zamalek SC of Egypt. So, I am not qualified to be an ‘ex-international.’
Pre- and post elections: One had thought the best interest of our heritage should tie us together. Many are using the sport as meal ticket. The new dispensation is a threat to their survival. They employed social media campaign.
Days later, the National trials was to hold. No money came from the Ministry. The same ‘mallam’ (used with ignominy to call a northerner) brought the cash out and funded the National Trial. For once, no athlete slept under bridges, turnstiles, and offices of the stadium. They had accommodation.
Days later, the World Championships in London was sauntering in. The same ‘mallam’ brought the money to take Team Nigeria to London until the Minister’s team brought the allowances for the athlete.
The Gusau board: I am saying it with clarity of mind and dispassion. Many of the people on that board have no business being there. They are misfits. On that board are two alleged drug distributors. One was indicted by a board of inquiry where an athlete named him in a doping issue. He was fingered to have handed the female athlete the drug she tested positive to.
Another has 13 cases of having been fingered to have destroyed their careers. One has a high reputation for sex-for-national team slot. One has a high reputation as a direct consumer of drugs. Ask, how many of these board members have a functional job that gives them earnings?
Meanwhile, AFN board membership is not expected to be a revival centre for unemployed persons. It’s supposed to be a part-time voluntary position. This is where the Ogba board looks stronger than the Gusau board.
It is time to start a microscopic analysis of the past of the individual members of the board. We must correct our errors of not doing forensic scanning of the people who opted to lead our boards. Since they have pushed us to the wall, we must either fight or take flight. No flight thus we settle for fight.
Fear not. Many will think this will distract the sport. No. We needed this brief detour. We expel the virus in our athletics system and we drive back to the autobahn and save our sport. In my lifetime, children and youths who are better and can achieve what I could not achieve when I was an athlete will be raised from Nigerian homes.
No sport is near athletics in this country. It is the biggest and largest sport. Only swimming would have contested that strength with us. For these facts, anyone or group of people who have decided to run their personal interests at the face of our commonwealth interest deserves no mercy. They should excuse us or we excuse them. QED.
Why can’t we have a National Sports Federation with fiscal autonomy? Bolaji Abdullahi started it and even went ahead to advertise for the position of the Secretary General of the 42 federations. Until he buckled under severe pressure from the bureaucrats and reversed the decision.
I don’t pray they (the drug cabal) give athletics peace. The only way to have peace is to fight a war of freedom. No freedom, including peace, is donated. It is fought for.