By Patrick Omorodion
Where ever Dan Ngerem, former president of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria is holidaying now, he must be amused but sad over the fate that has befallen the sport in Nigeria, especially the spectacle at the on-going IAAF World Championships in Berlin, Germany.
Chief Solomon Ogba, the current president of the AFN is Ngeremâ€™s friend, in fact, the Imo-born administrator cum businessman supported the coming of the former Delta State sports commissioner to the federation.
Ngerem may not be laughing because his friend is in a tight corner, but for the fact that those â€˜powerfulâ€™ ex-athletes who almost carried placard to protest that he should not return for a second term in order to pave way for one of them may be biting their fingers now, that is if they have any conscience.
Name them, from Falilat Ogunkoya, Yusuf Ali, Gabriel Okon, Aniefiok Udo-Obong to Brown Ebewele and even some active ones like Vivian Chukwuemeka, they all wanted Ngerem out and worked to see it come to pass.
They all backed Violet Odogwu-Nwajei and she was installed but hardly had she stepped in than she relegated athletics to the background of all her activities. She hardly had time for the sport, delegating functions to Maria Wophil, secretary of the AFN who did not help matters herself.
For four years, everything almost stood still with Odogwu0-Nwajei finding it difficult to attend to athletics matters, sparingly appearing in some activities of the federation, the International Half Marathon which was taken over from MTN by Globacom.
It did not matter to them that the same competition was derided by most of them as â€˜a white elephantâ€™ project which made no meaning in Nigeria dominated by sprinters. Some of those who criticised that marathon are even helping the Nigeria Police to organise one now.
What ever the sport is suffering now is as a result of the wateful years of the immediate past regime and it will take the Solomon Ogba-led regime another year to find its bearing. He himself said so shortly before leaving for the Berlin Championship, stressing that he and his Board members have to plan for the 2012 Olympics in London to see the number of medals the athletes could win.
Whether Ogba likes it or not, he still needs to learn some tricks from Ngerem especially the area of inflated return flight tickets presented by some greedy athletes to rip off the federation. This reporter learnt that the Isoko-born administrator and newspaper publisher is already complaining about how to tackle the ticket issue.
It is hard task for Chief Ogba but with a man like Lee Evans who the late Isaac Akioye used to achieve great things for athletics in the past working with him, the present AFN with the backing of Governor Gabriel Suswan of Benue,athletics will rise again.
The athletes, some hardworking ones like Obinna Metu and Damola Osayemi are bitter over the neglect of athletes by the government which concentrates on football that cannot produce more than a medal or trophy at a time.
Their cries may be heard soon because the Director-General, Chief Patrick EkejiÂ said during the week that the reason they performed poorly at the Championships was lack of funds which the National Sports Commission (NSC) has already set a machinery in motion to check.
Speaking with our reporter, Fidelis Ebu in Abuja, Chief Ekeji said â€œI agree with you that we should do better. This is a new administration in sports, and we are concerned. Already we have set machineries in motion to turn around this trend. New boards have been inaugurated and the leadership of these federations and association are demonstrating that they are up and doing. This is a teething period for the boards, they need funds, we are constantly talking about the management of sports federations.
Part of the innovation is the concession that we all witnessed, and it can only get better. I want to assure you that God willing; we will turn around this trend.
â€œYou are all aware of what is happening in Berlin, we certainly can do better. For instance the President of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria in the short period has bent over to ensure that we attend this Berlin championship.
Mostly the federation has raised its fund; the approvals we have given to them is less than 100 per cent. They have not even been able to get the money, but they will get it. In spite of all of that, the federation has done its best to ensure that the recent grand prix took place, the Mobile Track and Field also took place.
The sponsorship from Mobil is nothing to write home about if you talk about sponsorship in the real sense of the word. They are struggling and so go for other federations.â€