By Patrick Omorodion
After Dan Ngerem leftÂ Â Â the Athletics FederationÂ of Nigeria (AFN), the sport, second only to football in this country, took a nose-dive and was almost comatose. Mrs. Violet Odogwu-Nwajei, whom some ex-athletes touted as a messiah, became an absentee President, never showing up when it mattered.
Work at the AFN secretariat was at a snail speed or almost grounded all through her tenure of this woman, who left the AFN secretary, Maria Wophill as the sole administrator.
It did not occur to Mrs Odogwu-Nwajei that it is the same Wophill thatÂ Ngerem rejected as secretary and got a workaholic in Dr Simon Ebhojiaye with whom he took the AFN to a height that attracted sponsors and even the first Blackman to occupy athleticsâ€™ biggest office in the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), Lamine Diack of Senegal.
But good things donâ€™t last, especially in Nigeria. Once Ngerem refused to run a second term because of pressure from ex athletes who wanted one of their own to occupy the top post, Wophill surprisingly fought her way back as AFN secretary.
With her return, the federation again recorded strings of missed trips for championships or poor preparations of athletes for championships. Activities of the federation thinned out and athletes were left to wander and wonder.
Efforts were made to bring life into the various federations, especially the six chosen by the National Sports Commission (NSC) for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India in 2010, the All Africa Games in 2011 and the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
After much horse-trading, all, including ex athletes, settled for Chief Solomon Ogba, a man believed by his admirers to have the magic wand to turn athletics around. At least he did it in Delta State. He has some respected men, including Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State, on the Board and together they have resolved to take athletics to the next level.
Chief Ogba knew that Ngerem succeeded because he had a good secretariat and wanted same for his board. His Board members supported him and the NSC was planning to give the AFN a workaholic, intelligent and efficient secretary like Dr Ebhojiaye.
That move is already being aborted if news filtering in from the NSC sources are anything to go by. It was gathered that Wophill, sensing that she may be dropped or posted out of the AFN, took her case to the top hierachy of the NSC, playing ethnic cards.
Wophill allegedly played onÂ Â Â sentiments, telling NSCâ€™s top shots that she was the only northerner left as secretary in the sports federations and should not be removed. We hear this sentiment was noted and Wophill may retain her position as the AFN scribe.
If the NSC means well to reposition the federations for greater achievements as espoused by both the minister/Chairman, Engineer Sani Ndanusa and the Director-General, Chief Patrick Ekeji, Wophill should not return to the AFN.
If she must be retained, she should be posted to another federation, that may not require theÂ sophistication of the AFN. Athletics is vital to Nigeriaâ€™s success at major championships both in Africa and the world and should not be sacrificed on the altar of sentiments or ethnicity. Wophill herself knows this hence she did not complain when Ngerem told the Board that she would not be able to cope with the kind of work he wanted to do at the AFN some years back.