By Jacob Ajom
History will surely judge President Mohammadu Buhari’s administration as blame or praises will be awarded where deserved. So far, it has been a tale of mixed fortunes as we look at the various sports, one year after he took over the mantle.
President Mohammadu Buhari is a man with a winning aura. He believes so and talks it.
After receiving the Glo/CAF Platinum Award for Good Leadership in 2016, Buhari, who recollected Nigeria’s achievement in the youths category, (as the country first won the Under-17 World Cup in 1985 in China, when he was military head of state), said: “30 years after the first victory, Nigeria won again last year. What a fabulous coincidence. I think football loves me.”
Youth and Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, who received the award on behalf of the President and presented it to him at the Presidential Villa, agreed with President Buhari.
“Under your administration, we won the Under 17 World Cup and we also won the Under 23 African Cup of Nations. We have had very good fortune in football since you came to office and the sports family is very happy.”
So nicely said; but in real terms, the Buhari administration has had a mixed bag of fortunes in the sport he so cherishes, football. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, the country’s senior national team, the Super Eagles failed to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations back to back.
Eagles fall outside Africa’s top 10
After the Super Eagles’ Nations Cup misadventure of missing out of Equatorial Guinea 2015 – for which they were defending champions, Stephen Keshi was finally fired by the Amaju Pinnick-led NFF with Sunday Oliseh installed. Oliseh subsequently threw in the towel and departed under foggy circumstances. Samson Siasia stood in as caretaker coach but failed to pilot the Eagles past Egypt. The Eagles crashed out of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, with one match to spare, following the withdrawal of Chad from the qualifiers.
For the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, Nigeria would not be a top seed which means the road to Russia will be very rocky.
However, the country’s youth teams and the women teams performed creditably as they not only qualified for international events but some emerged as African champions.
It began with the Golden Eaglets winning a record 5th FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile. Hot shot, Victor Osimhen finished the tournament with 10 goals – the highest ever tally in the tournament’s history, while Kelechi Nwakali, was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
The country ended 2015 on a bright note as the Samson Siasia-led U-23 team qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics and won the U-23 Nations Cup for the first time in December.
In women football, the Super Falcons kept the flame burning with their qualification for the African Women championships. The Falcons defeated Senegal to qualify for the tournament which will give them an opportunity to go for their 8th African title. The Falconets are equally going for the 8th FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea in November this year, while the Flamingoes also qualified for the 2016 Fifa U-17 Women’s World Cup billed for Jordan.
The Bala Nikyu’s girls recorded a 7-0 aggregate win over South Africa in the final qualifier.
Wellington Jighere made history in Perth, Australia, to become the first African to win the world Scrabble championship.
The Men’s Senior Basketball team, D’Tigers qualified for their second straight Olympics and for the first time, won the once elusive AfroBasket championships in Tunisia. To make it more exciting the Nigerian team beat their perennial nemesis Angola 74-65 in the final.
The women’s team, D’Tigress clinched bronze at the 2015 AfroBasket championships in Cameroon, after beating Angola 65-55 in the 3rd place match. The win also means Nigeria will battle it out in the Olympic qualifying tournament in France in June for a 2016 Olympic Games ticket.
The U-17 women basketball team also qualified for the 2016 U-17 World Basketball championship in Spain.
In athletics, there were no medals won by Nigeria at 1AAF Championship. The embarrassment for the nation was completed when the only medal hope, out of the 16 athletes that were chosen for the tournament, Blessing Okagbare, failed to appear for the final of the 200m event in Beijing.
11TH All Africa Games:
Nigeria’s brightest moment in the continent in 2015 was at the 11th All Africa Games in Congo Brazzaville. Team Nigeria clinched the second position in the overall medals table.
At the close of competitive games, Nigeria pushed South Africa to the third position having won 47 gold medals.
Perhaps, Nigeria’s brightest spot in sports under President Buhari has been the tenacity and determination demonstrated by the Nigeria Wrestling Federation. Nigeria’s team to the 2015 African Wrestling Championship returned from Egypt with 8 medals – 2 gold, 2 silver and 4 bronze medals.
At the 12th edition of the World Wrestling Championships, Nigeria came 24th as the country could only snatch one bronze medal, courtesy of 22-year-old Odunayo Adekuoroye in the women’s 53kg freestyle category.
Nigeria qualified one female weightlifter for the Rio Olympics by virtue of a top four national finish at the 2016 African Championships
Nigeria has entered four athletes into the table tennis competition at the Games. Olympic veterans Quadri Aruna and Olufunke Oshonaike secured places each in the men’s and women’s singles by virtue of a top four finish at the 2015 All-Africa Games.
Meanwhile, Segun Toriola and Offiong Edem took the remaining spots on the Nigerian team by virtue of their top 2 finish respectively at the African Qualification Tournament in Khartoum, Sudan.
For Toriola, he has become the fourth table tennis player and the first ever African athlete to appear in seven editions of the Summer Olympic Games.
Other sports federations:
Almost all the sports federations in the country struggled throughout the year and most of the athletes in the various federations could not fulfil their dreams of participating in world events and Olympic qualifiers. And 2016 does not paint a better picture with the cash crunch in the economy.
Some federations were consumed by leadership crisis. The common problem in most federations was paucity of funds. This has generally affected preparations for the 2016 Olympics for Team Nigeria.
The lowest point of Buhar’s one year in office is in the administration of sports. While the President has been going about campaigning against corruption, the man at the helm of sports administration in the country has been doing the direct opposite. Sports minister, Solomon Dalung has entrenched nepotism into Nigerian football after he went to the archives and dusted the files on crisis in Nigerian football and revived a case that was considered closed by CAS and FIFA. For his open support for Chris Giwa in his indecent fight against the leadership of the NFF led by Amaju Pinnick the minister is seen as supporting evil. Only the other day, a member of the House of Representatives told Dalung that what he was doing with the NFF crisis amounted to corruption.
While the minister goes about fuelling the crisis in the NFF, the administration of sports in the country suffers. Nigeria’s sporting fortunes in the past one year under Buhari have been hugely determined by sheer guts and affected by government’s fiscal policy which has resulted in low activity and in some cases, none at all.
One of the most major moves by President Mohammadu Buhari’s administration was the scrapping of the National Sports Commission. The move which has remained unpopular among sports technocrats has come to stay as the administration has remained adamant despite calls that it rescinds its decision. One of the sad effects has been the uncoordinated manner Team Nigeria is going about preparations for the Rio Olympics.
It is difficult to predict what the future holds for sports in Nigeria, particularly as the 2016 Olympic Games loom large. Whether the country would better her 2012 Olympics medal-less outing or not is what Nigerians are waiting to see.