By Paul Bassey
Chief Solomon Ogba whose name appeared on the list of Ministers designate is a chieftain of the PDP in Delta State.

Recently when it was time to appoint a successor to Chief Patrick Ekeji as Director General National Sports Commission, again his name was mooted to be on the card. On both occasions, just as the name appeared, so did it disappear….It is to his credit though that he is linked to such high sports offices in the land.

The one that has been constant though is the Presidency of the Athletics Federation Of Nigeria, AFN. The evaluation of his reign at the AFN depends on the “camp” you belong to, either that of “ he has done well”, “ he has tried”, “he has not done well” or “ he can do more” however no matter the camp you belong to, you cannot deny him the enthusiasm he carries into track and field.

On Thursday, disturbed by raging media controversy on whether the Federation has received enough financial and moral support from the National Sports Commission as they prepare for the Athletics world cup, I put a call through to him. I nearly regretted it. For the about thirty minutes that our conversation lasted, I do not remember whether I put in five minutes of contribution.

The moment the topic is track and field Solomon Ogba mounts the pulpit, reeling out figures, names and statistics with amazing ease. Those trying to bring the Federation into conflict with the Commission, he says are not helping him. He says. “….. If there is any minister that has athletics in mind, it is this one. He honours all our programmes and is always in touch with us as to how we are faring,” the AFN boss added.

Chief Ogba laments the situation where the National Sports Commission has “only”  three billion as its budget. “……Paul do you believe that? Three billion to take care of over thirty sports. How can they cope? I know of ministries who have up to sixty billion, hundred billion as their budget. Three billion is grossly inadequate” he argued.

“Track and field is not something you throw money into in a hurry. You have to plan, track the athletes monitor their diet, education, progress and what races they run and where.

“ Nigerians may not know how much it cost us to get Okagbare to this level by restricting the metres of races she does and the number of jumps she takes. Today she is in the top three in the world in 100 metres and Long Jump and if that is not progress, I wonder what is.

“ I am confident Okagbare will win a medal in Moscow in a country where we have never won a medal at the Athletics world Cup”

I took him on concerning the woeful outing at the World Juniors in Ukraine. “woeful?” He exclaimed. Again ,some education. Nigerians he argued should not forget that we have never won a medal at that competition. This year the AFN hosted and won the African Juniors, but only in those sports that we queue behind Jamaica and USA among others.

That even at that, we got sixteen athletes into the semi final and eight into the finals which was a great improvement on past competitions. That of the eight in the finals, they returned “Personal Best times” an indication that they did better than even their Warri triumph. As he was talking to me, American Universities have offered the athletes scholarships and there is no going back.

Must they go out? Can we not tutor and train them back home. Chief Ogba singled out the Cross River State Government for commendation. “…what they are doing in Calabar is exactly what we should be doing. I commend the professionalism of their programme. Very soon there is no state in this country that will match them. Those students they are training will soon explode”

I mentioned to him that Courtesy Mobil Producing Nigeria we will soon go into holiday camp to train the champions of the yearly track and field competition for secondary schools in Akwa Ibom  State. “……there is no doubt that Mobil’s sponsorship of track and field is traditional. But I believe they can do more. I want them to give us a track in this country, preferably in Eket.

“ Listen, go and check. Akwa Ibom is reputed to have produced the best athletes in this country, especially in the sprints. Just look back….Utit ofon, Eno Smart. Ekong Okpon,( late) Udeme Ekpenyong, Emem Edem, Ime Akpan, Victor Edet……even recently, Uduak Ekah, they are so many. Come to think of it Enefiok Udobong is the chairman of Coaches in Lagos while Gabriel Okon is the National President of Coaches, they must go back to Akwa Ibom and revive track and field, they must.

“ Gabriel Okon is today one of the best coaches in Nigeria. He is handling Peace Ukoh who came third in the trials and will be part of our relay quartet in Moscow and I am happy with the result…..”

Then the line dropped.

Should I call him back?

Will he call me back?

Perhaps I was happy he could not get me……I believe I had heard enough of athletics, for one day.

See you next week.

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