Nigeria's wasted years....
By Segun Odegbami
I have watched and thoroughly enjoying the events of the IAAF World Athletics Championship in Beijing, China.
They remind me of my days of association with Nigerian athletes. I actually managed two of them to win gold and silver medals at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, USA - Chioma Ajunwa and Charity Opara.
I am following the performances of African athletes with special attention on the Nigerians. Thirteen years ago, I was supposed to have planted a seed in Nigeria’s athletics that would have fully germinated and be ready for harvesting during the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
The practice in sport is that it takes between 10 and 12
years, from when a young talented athlete is discovered
to when he could possibly be standing on the podium
an Olympic or World Championship medal.
The period in between would be the years of nurturing,
uncommon dedication and discipline, of high-level
and competitions, of sweat, blood and tears.
best ever survive the rigours and emerge as possible
at the end.
It is a minimum 10-year gruelling odyssey.
Even then, there is no guarantee of ultimate success.
whole array of things could turn up to upturn the
That’s how difficult it is to become a champion.
There are no alternative paths to success, only hard
short cuts (through doping) that come with unpalatable
In 2002, I recall trying to set a new sail for
Nigerian sports through a simple but well-articulated and
well-designed action plan put together by the
Australian Institute of Sports.
It was to restore Nigeria as a
sports superpower in a few selected sports by the 2012 and
I was then the Chairman of the Governing Council of
Nigeria’s National Institute for Sports.
As a footballer in the national team in the mid-1970s I
the history, the role and the impact of the sports
in the development of Nigerian athletes.
phenomenal, propelled by proper programmes within the
institute that boasted first-class science
excellent training facilities, world-class coaches in
various sports, and a curriculum modelled after the
Institute of Sport’s.
The results of the institute’s work were best
in the line-ups at the sprints finals (male and female)
every Olympics and world championships in those years.
single one of the last eight athletes
the best around the world in the final race had at least one Nigerian.
Nigeria produced some of the world’s best sprinters
though none of them actually won a gold medal then.
going to be a matter of time and a little bit of luck
Nigeria to become what Jamaica has become in the past
Check out the long list of Nigerian athletes in one final or the other - Chidi Imo, Innocent
Egbunike, the Ezinwa twin brothers -- Adenekan and Francis
Obikwelu -- Fatima Yusuf, Charity Opara, Mary Onyali,
Falilat Ogunkoya and so on.
Then the institute became embroiled in political
shenanigans, lost most of its pioneering visionary
administrators, lost its direction and started a
that destroyed its fabric and foundation throughout
Of course, I knew what the institute looked like in my days in the national football team which was camped and
So, my determination when I became its chairman
to put the institute back on its original track while
trying to renovate a few of its facilities using zero
I contacted the Australian Institute of sports. Working
with the then President of the Nigeria Athletics Federation,
hardworking visionary, Dan Ngerem, and the telecoms
MTN that bankrolled the programme, we drew the
Institute into our new vision and got them to work for
whole year designing a 10-year plan for Nigeria to
the National Institute for Sports and resume its
of Nigerian athletes and coaches.
The job was done. The document was presented to the
government and the Federal Executive Council approved
It was going to be a new dawn for
development and for the national sports institute.
The project was to take off after the All Africa Games
(COJA 2003) hosted by Nigeria in 2003, with the excellent
facilities in Abuja bequeathed to Nigerian sports after
games to serve as the platform.
On paper, at least, the adopted 10-year Elite Athletes
Development plan took off in 2004, one year after I
left the institute.
If incubation period was to be 10 years it makes sense
that the products of that experiment should become
stars in 2014 and beyond.
You can now understand why I took particular
in the Nigerian athletes at the IAAF World
Championships in Beijing.
I have been counting the
It has been 11 years since the project
One year to the 2016 Olympics in Rio,
the championships provide an excellent opportunity to
measure the progress Nigeria has made and its level of
The results are there for everyone to see.
Nigeria’s barrenness at the championship speaks
It is a reflection of what happened to the work
Only Blessing Okagbare has shown faint glimpses of
could have been achieved if the plan had been implemented.
But even Blessing appears to have lost the
battle against the bug that bites her during the big
events when she gets so close to winning only to clamp up at the end.
The long and short of the story, I am told, is that
plane of the 10-year development project never left
So, even as I mourn the state of sports development in
Nigeria, I am thoroughly enjoying the spectacular
performances of other Africans, particularly the
Kenyans and South Africans
whose foray into new sports territories has captivated
A Kenyan athlete won the 400 metres hurdles event.
Another Kenyan won the javelin event.
Add to that the incredible performance of a young
South African athlete that won the 400 meters sprint event,
recording one of the fastest times in the world this season.
But the best part of the championship is watching the
contest between Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin, two of
greatest sprinters in the history of athletics.
They are both superb specimens of the Black race,
with the DNA of Africa flowing in their veins.
ancestors could probably also be Nigerians. That’s