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AFN arrested drug baron but NDLEA didn’t take action — Ogba

President, Athletic Federation of Nigeria, Solomon Ogba, in this interview with ’TANA AIYEJINA, talks about the 2015 All Africa Games, the Rio Olympics, Blessing Okagbare, war against drugs cheats and more

The athletics team won 10 gold medals at the just-concluded 2015 All Africa Games. How were you able to achieve this?

It was God that gave us the grace to achieve that in Congo but I also need to commend the coaches; they did a lot to get the athletes to where we thought they could be comfortable to win (medals). If you look at the sprints for instance, Blessing (Okagbare) was our sure hope to win two gold medals, since she wasn’t doing the long jump. She wasn’t 100 per cent fit and we agreed with the coaches and her own team to allow her run the rounds. Knowing that she wasn’t going to run the 100m and 200m, we needed to look at what we could do to get performances from the other athletes. The area where I think we did very well is the men’s sprints events. On paper, we weren’t supposed to be on the podium. There was a South African who is number three in the world. He ran the 100m but he pulled out in the semi-finals. You had Botswana athletes who had ran 20.01secs (in 200m), so on paper we had no chance. But we were able to put the team together and we won silver (Divine Oduduru) and bronze (Tega Odele) in the men’s 200m. In the 100m men’s event, when last did we run 10secs? But we ran 10.06 in the semi-finals. In the final, he (Ogho-Oghene Egwero) was choked and they lost him. But he came from behind to get the silver maybe because pride was at stake. I give credit to the athletes in the sprints especially the men. Since I became AFN president, we’ve not run 44secs in the 400m. But Orukpe ran 44.09secs while the other boy ran 45secs. Prior to then, they were all 46secs runners. I give credit to the athletes because they were very determined to do well. They also knew that it would serve as qualification for the Olympics. Orukpe (Erayokan), Ogho-Oghene, Divine and Tega have all qualified for the Olympics. It’s only Obinna (Metu) that hasn’t qualified but he needs to run more races to qualify. Lawretta (Ozoh), Ngozi (Onwumere) have all qualified. I tell people that we (athletics team) will be at the Olympics but so many other sports won’t be there. How far we go is the issue. That is what we are working on.

Nigeria’s athletics team was reportedly in disarray at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing, but they went on to win 10 gold medals at the AAG in Congo few days later. Is the good outing an indication that there is unity in the athletics family?

Who are the athletics family? Disarray? I read that in the papers and I was surprised. I didn’t really know where that was coming from. Going to the World Championships, we had hopes in Blessing and the 4x400m relay team. The truth is, that is where we knew we could win medals. You must know yourself before you come out. I didn’t go to China expecting Tega to beat Usain Bolt. That’s not going to happen for now but it can in future. In the semi-finals, the 4x400m women ran the country’s fourth fastest time ever. In the final, something happened to one of the girls, she ran the first leg and came with 52secs. If not, we would have won a bronze medal at least. We beat British and Jamaican athletes in the semi-finals. For Blessing, she pulled out because she had soreness of the hamstring. If it was aggravated, it could have developed to full hamstring injury. So, we decided to pull her out because of the AAG and the relays but people misread that and everybody had their opinion. I ask people, ‘do you think Blessing didn’t want to win a medal in Beijing?’ She wanted to win, she needed it for her career, for her sponsorship, more than anyone else in Nigeria. But somehow something happened and they left her. She had to start chasing from the back. That’s what happened.

How can the athletes improve on the 10 gold medals won at the AAG?

The only way to improve is to train; without training, nothing works. That is why we want to start preparing early for next year’s Olympics. We are making arrangements to get two Cuban coaches in the hurdles and jumps for the centre in Port Harcourt. The Nigerian coaches will understudy them. Instead of using money to train athletes abroad, use the money to bring people that will train athletes and our coaches. In that way we can also benefit.

What are your plans for next year’s Olympic Games in Beijing?

We plan to start our conditioning for the athletes who will listen because many of them will not listen. They will want to train elsewhere, no problem. But the AAG was an eye opener; all those who stayed with us won but those who went back to the US didn’t win anything. We are starting our conditioning programme in November. Few coaches will do the conditioning till January. After then, more coaches will come in to work on the team. We must start applying the science of sports. If we don’t apply science, we will just do coaching and run. But sports have gone beyond that: science is like 70 per cent. If you have the natural ability, you need to apply science to become the complete athlete. Blessing will tell you, ‘it’s not what you see.’ A lot goes into training.

Some athletes have complained that the AFN and you give too much attention to Okagbare at the detriment of the others. Is it true?

It is very wicked for any athlete to say Blessing is being favoured. I tell them (athletes) that an injury to one is an injury to all. We went to Congo with 45 athletes, but is it all the athletes that won medals for us? But the entire team won. So, if a fellow athlete is doing well, support him, don’t begrudge him. Blessing is in a different class from the other athletes. She is in a class of her own. When last did we have such a world-class athlete? They are not in the same class, those are athletes who do not have sponsorship. Nobody is paying them any money. If you cannot even get to a level as an athlete where they can pay you money for running, are you an athlete? In the Olympics, between Blessing and many athletes, where do you think we can win medals? Let’s tell ourselves the truth. Nigerians want medals, they don’t care whether you reach the final. They want you to just climb the podium and receive a medal. How do we get these medals? Assuming you are an administrator and you want results, where do you put your money? Is it not the one that will win you medals? So why should anyone begrudge her (Okagbare), assuming it’s true? I give support to every athlete. Do I have to come out and tell the world what I do for them? That is personal.

A lot of ex-athletes at home and abroad have complained about not given a chance to contribute their quota to athletics in Nigeria…

Is that true? Do you know Joseph Taiwo? His son competed for the US at the 2015 World Championships in decathlon. I wanted the son to compete for Nigeria but he refused his son to compete for Nigeria. Was he (Taiwo) not an ex-athlete? Victor Omagbemi is an ex-athlete; he helps me in the US to look for Nigerian athletes there. When we go for training tours, he helps. How many of them there are ready to contribute to the growth of Nigerian athletics, if they are not only hoping to make money from Nigeria? Is Gabriel Okon, Yusuf Ali or Falilat Ogunkoya not ex-athletes? Must you be in the US before you can be an ex-athlete who will assist? What about me, am I not an ex-athlete? The fact that I didn’t represent Nigeria does not mean I’m not an ex-athlete. I did the sports but I didn’t compete for Nigeria. These ex-athletes have been in the federation before, from the president to the last number but what happened? They killed Nigerian athletics. That was the time Lamine Diack was locked out in D’Rovans Hotel in Ibadan. They couldn’t pay his hotel bills and he was locked out during the African junior championships. Nobody knew he was going to be IAAF president. You think he has forgotten? Did he help Nigeria when he was (IAAF) president, considering what was done to him? At that time, when (Amos) Adamu was in charge (of the National Sports Commission), the federation was getting grants and money from government. But now we have not received any subvention from government for six years. So what was the problem?

It was learnt that the federation has a performance director from the US, who earns $10,000 monthly. Is this true?

It’s not the federation (who employed him). The National Sports Commission has a performance director for all sports. They also have a performance director for athletics.

Who foots the bill of the performance director?

It’s the NSC that pays the money but I don’t know how much they pay.

How would you describe your reign as AFN boss? Are you enjoying the job?

I enjoy what I’m doing. If I’m not doing athletics or sports, what will I be doing? Maybe go to a bar to drink? We’ve had to struggle to raise money to do what we need to do since we don’t have subvention anymore. I give the board kudos because we’ve recorded some achievements. For many years we didn’t win the African championships, we did; for many years we never won medals at the World Championships, we also did during our tenure.

Can you tell us the high and low points of your tenure as AFN boss?

I think our high point is the amount of junior athletes we have been able to produce. First of all, we have been able to diminish the issue of age cheats. From day one I said, ‘you can cheat only once.’ You don’t hear of such (age issues) anymore. First of all, if you are not in secondary school, you cannot be part of my youth programme. The youths graduate to the juniors and on to the seniors, that’s how it should be. There is also the issue of doping. The first year I came in, under two months, report came and there were 13 violations. It was so bad for Nigeria. What were they running, jumping and throwing even with the drugs? We fought this war against drugs cheats to a point where the IAAF had to commend us and awarded me a veteran pin for fighting doping in the full council congress of the body in 2013. Today, if we have a case of doping, it would probably be just one. We fought it to a level where we even swooped on the baron and arrested him. They took him to court but the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency chickened out. They couldn’t prosecute. We’ve done it to that level and we insist that we don’t want medals tainted with drugs. We don’t want former athletes, who are drug cheats, to even come close to our athletes. What are you going to tell them? You are going to tell them to use drugs because that is what you did.

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