By Ben Efe
Former national athlete, Mbanefo Akpom-Omozelle is eager to help Nigerian athletics grow. But he is pained that officials and coaches of the sport in the country are a clog in the wheel of progress, he added that problems facing athletics on these shores are like persistent hiccups.
Akpom-Omozelle was a multi-event athlete back in the 1980s. He was a member of the Nigerian team to the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia in 1982, but now he lives in high brow Beverly Hills, California. However, he has not forgotten his roots and according to him, he feels frustrated that the sport that opened doors and gave him a life opportunity is languishing back at home. Much as he tried to give back to athletics in Nigeria all he sees, are officials and individuals who are driven by selfish agenda and not the promotion of the sport.
“Our athletics problems are not today. They have been there like forever and it is rather frustrating to see youngsters who are supposed to be groomed to stardom been exploited.
“It is not today athletes who qualify to represent Nigeria are been dropped. I remember during my time, I was dropped at the airport for another athlete who did not even made the standard. I had to pay my way to Brisbane,” Akpom Omozelle lamented.
He spoke of how he donated equipment, including spikes, javelin, clothing and funds to various athletics courses, but these items ended up being sold even to the athletes to whom they were meant for.
“One particular coach told me that the gym equipment including an ultrasound device I brought home for athletes use will be better off sold so that money can be made. Some of the clothing meant for the athletes was sold by the coaches. These fittings were from my production line in Onitsha.” And so Akpom-Omozelle decided to do away with middlemen coaches. He comes home three times in a year to meet the athletes one on one. He was at the CAA/Warri Relays and the All Nigeria/Cross River Championships to interact with the athletes under his MB Athletics club tutelage.
“I have decided to go it alone. I have my own athletics club here in Nigeria and also in the USA. And we are working with Sadiat Sowunmi a former 400meters runner. She was at the Los Angles 1984 Olympics.
“I learned not to complain and to be part of a positive solution. That is one of the many reasons, why, I started my Track Club in Onitsha. I tried many years to sponsor athletes, but the money did not get to them. I want to take charge now and work with them directly. I know that, the result will be positive.”
He argued that a country as populous as Nigeria should be challenging for all the athletics medals at world meets. But the seeming neglect of the sport by government in terms of funding and the lack of forthrightness exhibited by officials and coaches have left athletes in the lurch.
“We have Nigerian-born athletes everywhere. In the USA, most Nigerian ex-internationals have kids in athletics. Some of them are in my club. Even my own two kids are there, they were with me in Warri and Calabar. But these kids don’t want to come home because of the uncertain nature of how we do things.
“I remember at the World Championships 2011 in South Korea how desperate Nigerian athletes were. I had to donate some clothing and a token to them. I am not sounding just to be noticed, but I only desire that our track and field is up to world standard.
He said that the present board of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria led by Solomon Ogba is doing its best. But more needs to be done.
“Ogba is very passionate about the sport. He is just the second Nigerian after Pa Isaac Akioye whom I have noticed with that kind of passion.
“But it is unfortunate that the ex-internationals who are working with him are not doing well. These guys who barely have a coaching certificate, they are not giving the AFN and Ogba quality advice and they don’t want others with better ideas to come near,” Akpom- Omozelle remarked. That notwithstanding, he disclosed that he was working at having a grassroots academy in his home State, Anambra.
“I have been talking to some coaches from Cuba and Kenya. I want them to come to Anambra and work with our grassroots athletes there.”