February 12, 2010

A. K. Amu sprints to great beyond

By Ben Efe

As a school boy and professional athlete, Abdul Karim Amu was fast. He dominated the short sprints- 100, 220 and 440 yards during the early days of athleticism and when he died, his passage was like doing the 100m in 10seconds flat. It was a brief affair and Amu couldn’t have asked for more.

This is because while he lived, he conducted his affairs with automatic alacrity and clock efficiency. His death at the age of 77 took the athletics family by surprise, they had no time to prepare themselves to give a befitting burial to a man who no doubt pioneered modern athletics administration in Nigeria.

The handful of athletics officials who graced the passage rites in Lagos were at pain, because they did not have the chance to pay tribute to the great man.

Representative of the sports ministry and former Athletics Federation of Nigeria secretary-general, Tayo Oreweme, former national 800m champion Gloria Obajimi and Amelia Edet, a former national hurdles champion, begged for a chance to eulogise him, but the Old Boys from Kings College who dominated the proceedings did not give any of the sports people a chance to say just how much Amu had influenced their athletics career and how much he helped Nigerian athletics.

The AFN was not in the know about the well being of the former national athlete who had been battling with illness, this was because he was not consulted for advise or invited to participate in events.

“It is a shame that we allowed Amu to die with all his knowledge of athletics. Our athletics is not doing well today because he was totally ignored by those in authority,” said former AFN president Dan Ngerem.

This submission was a true reflection of Amu’s state of mind at the time of death. He was sad that athletics, a sport that thrived in Nigeria, when he was a young athlete and then when he became president of the federation, have kissed the dust with no hope of being resuscitated.

“Though I don’t have any data, I suspect that lots of money goes from government coffers in the name of sports development. But not all actually gets to where it supposed to go.

“If you are a sports ministers, what do you do to make sports improve and get back to the good old days. We have so many states with various sports councils, the question is what are they doing?” Amu sermonized during a public function organised by this Newspaper after Nigeria’s poor outing at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

Amu devoted all his life to the pursuit of athletics glory as an athlete, he showed great prowess and as an administrator he displayed wisdom even though many athletes disagreed with his strong handed approach, which were backed by the rules of the game.

His sports life began in 1940 at Kings College Lagos where he dominated school sports in the locality. By the time he was 17 years old, Amu was an already established national athlete with the national records in the 100, 220, 440 yards under his belt. This was in 1952 when he participated in the Grier Cup.

While at Kings College, Amu represented Nigeria at the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Scotland he ran in the 440 yards relay, it was his first international exposure.

In 1955 he enroled with the University of Ibadan to study agriculture, but this did not quench his desire to excel in sports. At Ibadan, he combined his sports activities with study with easy grace. He even joined the cricket and hockey teams.

Amu made his first Olympics appearance at the1956 Games in and four years later he captained the Nigeria team to the 1960 Rome Olympics and 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Amu was awarded the best African athlete by the Helms World Trophy after he won five gold medals during the annual Nigeria/Ghana Games in 1961.

Amu whose 220yards 20.7seconds national record remained unbroken for 16 years, retired from active athletics in 1974 and went into sports administration. It was during his era as AFN president that Nigeria produced world class athletes like Sunday Uti, Innocent Egunike, Sunday Bada, Mary Onyali, Chioma Ajunwa, Falilat Ogunkoya and a host of others who made Nigerian athletics a joy to watch.