The Athletics Federation of Nigeria, AFN, is in crisis. On June 14, 2021, there were two separate elections. One held in Abuja and the other in Kebbi. Predictably, two presidents emerged.
Abuja produced Tonobok Okowa, the Delta State Sports Commission Chairman as the new AFN President, while the Kebbi elections returned the erstwhile incumbent, Ibrahim Shehu Gusau, for another term. The two men have been functioning independently, with each claiming legitimacy to the AFN presidency.
At the centre of this logjam is the Minister of Sports, Mr Sunday Dare, who has endorsed the Okowa-led AFN. The Sports Minister has had a no-love-lost relationship with Gusau. Not long after being propped up to power by former Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, Gusau fell out with his benefactor following the discovery that $150,000 the World Athletics (then IAAF) overpaid Nigeria as a grant was missing. Some top ministry officials were fingered as having shared the money.
Incensed by Gusau’s effrontery, Dalung got him impeached and Olamide George assumed leadership of the AFN. But Gusau won a court case and was reinstated. Nigeria’s shameful outing at the 2019 World Championships in Doha prompted Dare, who took over a divided AFN from Solomon Dalung, to fall out with Gusau.
Last week, the Okowa-led AFN organised Olympic trials in Lagos, where Nigeria’s women 4×100 relay team picked an Olympic ticket. There were also some excellent individual performers like Enoch Adegoke, Blessing Okagbare, Ese Brume, among others. The Sports Minister was the chief host of the event. It is crystal clear that the Okowa-led AFN has won this battle for relevance, having been officially endorsed by the Ministry of Sports, the Nigeria Olympic Committee and World Athletics.
The much-postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics begins next month and the world is preparing for the global showcase. Since Nigeria’s first appearance at the Olympics in 1952, the country has won only three gold, 10 silver and 12 bronze medals. Out of this number athletics have provided two gold, four silver and six bronze medals. Athletics is an area where Nigeria enjoys a fair comparative advantage and places much hope for medals at the Olympics. We cannot afford to toy with our gold mine.
For the sake of Nigeria and thousands of Nigerian athletes, we are calling for a truce as the country prepares for the Olympics. Nigerian athletes require concentration and effective backup from the establishment to excel.
It has been too long since Nigeria won a gold medal at the Olympics. It is our belief that with effective coordination and proper guidance of the enormous talents at the nation’s disposal, the medal drought that has become the infamous hallmark of Nigeria’s participation in the Olympics would be a thing of the past.
That cannot be achieved under rancour and confusion.