Rio 2016 Olympics Fallout: Solomon Ogba’s Attack on Bolaji Abdullahi, By Olukayode Thomas

So what does Ogba expect from Abdullahi, the man who made his reelection possible after the Rio flop? A pat on the back for a job well done? Or a genuine appraisal of our failure and solutions?

Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) president, Solomon Ogba’s response to former Sports Minister, Bolaji Abdullah’s appraisal of the athletics team’s flop at the Rio 2016 Olympics does not only amount to insensitivity to a genuine assessment of our performance, it is also riddled with misrepresentation of facts writes AFN board member Olukayode Thomas

Service, at certain levels, means alignment to the official position as agreed on by the majority, thus creating a culture of silence like the Italian Mafia’s omertà.

This has been my position with the AFN in over three years, but since our president, Solomon Ogba, has chosen to go to the media to break this culture with his tantrum against former Sports Minister, Bolaji Abdullahi, who rightly blamed our failure in Rio on bad leadership and called for an overhaul, I also need to let Nigerians know the truth.

This should not be mistaken for a defense of Abdullahi, who can defend himself, but as a witness to history. One cannot sit on the sidelines while Ogba chooses to be stingy with the truth and attack Abdullahi, a good friend of athletics without whom Ogba would not have gotten a second term as AFN president.

Abdullahi and Athletics Funding

Ogba’s claim that Abdullahi starved federations of their subventions is not true. Long before Abdullahi became Sports Minister, sports federations and associations were not getting any subvention from the government, and it was only when Ibrahim Isah Bio became Minister of Sports that federations started getting money and this stopped when Bio resigned in December 2010.

Bolaji Abdullahi was appointed Sports Minister on the eve of the London 2012 Olympics and Ogba tabled a long list of what AFN would need to make podium appearances at the African Athletics Championships and at the Olympics and requested the money be paid into the federation’s account.

Top officials of the NSC kicked against the idea, but Abdullahi overruled them and instructed that Ogba’s request be granted.

Abdullahi was Minister of Sports for two years and three months. During this period, he was there for athletics.

In about 75 years of AFN, Abdullahi was the only Minister who attended all our events from the Golden League to African Championships, All Nigeria Championships, World Championships and other events.

Not just physically, he attended to all our financial needs, motivating our athletes with funds and rewarding outstanding performances with cash gifts.

I recall at the Moscow 2013 IAAF World Championships when Blessing Okagbare failed to win a medal in the 100m final. While some people condemned her, Abdullahi not only commended her efforts, and gave her $5000. This probably motivated her to win bronze and silver medals in the 200m and long jump respectively.

Also at Moscow 2013, Abdullahi vetoed NSC officials’ decision to pay athletes a $50 daily allowance; he increased it to $100. He then invited the athletes to his hotel to discuss the way forward for athletics, and they also didn’t leave empty-handed.

Ogba’s claim that Abdullahi sowed the seeds of the Rio 2016 failure is outright falsehood. Ogba would have served as president of AFN for eight years by the time his second term as president ends in April 2017, so how can he blame a man who was in sports administration for only two years and three months for the problems of athletics.

Ogba must be reminded that in his years as president, the era in which Abduallhi was Minister has still been the best for athletics. Statistical analysis also shows that athletics fared better at the London Olympics than at the Rio Olympics.

Under Abdullahi, we were African champions in the youth, junior and senior levels. The only medals that matter in global athletics are those won at the Olympics and IAAF World Championships. In Ogba’s years as president, the only time we have won medals at any of the two was under Abdullahi in the Moscow 2013 World Championships.

Let Ogba counter these with facts if athletics has fared better under any other Sports Minister in his two terms as AFN President.

Eric Campbell’s Employment

Ogba is being stingy with the truth and trying to shift blame for his employment of Eric Campbell, a coach he claimed deserves a gold medal for incompetence and dereliction of duty.

Abdullahi’s first choice for employment as athletics performance director was Innocent Egbunike, a coach worth his weight in gold. I introduced Egbunike to Abdullahi in the run up to the London 2012 Olympic Games but Nigerian athletes who were licensed to be undisciplined under Ogba were not ready for Egbunike’s disciplined environment.

AFN officials also felt Egbunike was responsible for the non-accreditation of drug tainted coach Garfield Ellenwood and did everything to frustrate him. This made Abdullahi look towards Kunle Odetoyinbo, an England based sports scientist who had worked for Tottenham Hotspurs for nine years.

Abdullahi and I were weighing his options when Ogba and an official of AFN walked in and said the best athletics coaches are in the United States and that the federation should be allowed to shop for one.

Abdullahi, there and then, handed off the employment of a performance director for AFN, leaving the federation to shop for one.

A Nigerian athletics coach who worked with Campbell in Saudi Arabia introduced him to a director in the NSC; it was the director who introduced Campbell to the interview panel. Ogba, Dr. Muazu and others then travelled to London to interview Campbell and other High Performance staff; so his claim that Abdullahi employed Campbell is false.

Ogba also employed Maurice Green, a great athlete but with zero pedigree in coaching to coach our relay team. Despite complaints by athletes and coaches that Green is green when it comes to coaching, Ogba still stuck with him.

At the Beijing 2015 IAAF World Championships warm-up area, Nigerian coaches were called all manners of unprintable names for being thoughtless enough to employ Green as coach. Green was a huge failure as our relay team coach at the World Championships and the Olympics. I hope Ogba will not also lay the blame for Green’s failure at Abdullahi’s doorstep.

As for his call for the probe of the High Performance Centre, Ogba should be reminded that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

The Problem With Athletics

Rather than blame Abdullahi, Ogba should face the truth that the problem with athletics in Nigeria today is the lack of development at the youth and junior level. It started after Oluyomi Adeyemi-Wilson left office, and Ogba took it to another level by abandoning the home talents for Nigerian born Americans and African-Americans who can trace their roots to Nigeria. Even neophytes in athletics know that an American athlete who has a fair chance of making the American team will never run for Nigeria, therefore only American rejects come here and Ogba keeps investing in them.

Even when statistics show clearly that medals we won at the Olympics and World Championships are from athletes who are either based in Nigeria or Nigerian athletes who are groomed at home but then school in America, it did not dissuade him and his love for American athletes. Letdowns likes Nicole Denby who came with so much promise but could not even win the African Championship did not dissuade Ogba.

Investments in those who only come here because they want to be called former Olympians has been double jeopardy for Nigeria. We invest an average of $5000 and $10,000 on each them yearly. In eight years, they have neither won an Olympics nor World Championships medal, and the money we invest in them is usually taken into another economy.

If the money had been invested in our young athletes and they failed to make podium appearances, the money will remain in our economy, at least.

If the money spent on these athletes in the last eight years had been invested in National High School Athletics Championships and Inter-Collegiate Athletics Championships, we could probably have turned Nigeria into one of the best sprint nations in the world. If we recall, the Jamaican revolution, a seven year plan started by Stephen Francis started yielding results in the fourth year.

The tragedy of athletics in Nigeria today could best be illustrated by the men 100m final in Rio. Eight black men made the finals of the men’s 100m, yet the most populous black nation in the world did not have a representative in the semi-final.

Is Ogba the only one guilty? Probably not. Board members, who watch while all these go on, those who fail to attend meetings when important decisions are taken, are equally guilty.

The way forward is a total ban on the invitation of non-home grown athletes who are not in the top five in the world to represent Nigeria. Let athletics be part of the school curriculum at all levels and introduce national high school and inter-collegiate athletics championships.

So what does Ogba expect from Abdullahi, the man who made his reelection possible after the Rio flop? A pat on the back for a job well done? Or a genuine appraisal of our failure and solutions?

Abdullahi’s genuine appraisal of our failure is welcomed; and instead of insulting him, Ogba ought to thank the former Sports Minister for his honesty and courage.

Ogba’s attack on Abdullahi shows his abhorrence for the truth, if he had attacked Abdullahi on the track; it would be a false start which would have earned him a straight red card.

Olukayode Thomas, a two-time CNN Award Winner and Board Member of AFN, writes from Lagos.


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