Before we sweep the mess ups in Tokyo Olympics under the carpet, this writer wishes to state that we are either bad historians or we deliberately love repeating past errors that tend to destroy our image as a nation and our sports through the poor handling of the welfare of our sportsmen and women.
This writer was assigned by his media organization to coordinate the reports of the All-Africa Games hosted by Nigeria and proudly tagged COJA 2003. The reports were to go into a daily pullout (four pages)
Few lapses here and there which were hurriedly covered up by officials of Team Nigeria but the one that got their fingers burnt and cost the nation the soccer gold medal was in the football event. Yours Sincerely”religiously” followed the ugly incident.
The U-23 Eagles were handled by Late coach Musa Abdullahi and assisted by Daniel Amokachi. The team had a sweet blend of top quality home based players and a few foreign-based which included the quarter of team captain Adewale Ogungbure, his assistant and one of the three overaged players allowed by the rules of the tournament, Ejike Emmanuel Izuagha, Alfred Omoefe Emejuraye & Felix Ogbuke.
The team did well from their opening game to reach the final without losing a game or conceding a goal. The team was owed backlog of bonuses and allowances.leading to the final.
The senior players were the quarter of Ogungbure, Izuagha, Omoefe and Ogbuke who met with the officials of the NFF and spoke on behalf of the rest of the team…thus demanding for the players entitlements
All moves to get their entitlements failed as the officials kept telling the boys that it is the Team Nigeria contingent officials that should sort them out and not the NFF since the All-Africa Games involves all sports and Team Nigeria has a central coordinating team of officials who takes care of the contingent welfare.
The boys then met secretly and decided to boycott the final game which was against Cameroun. Then the rivalry between Nigeria and Cameroun in football was at it’s peak. So it was a blunder on the part of the officials in the first place to allow such mess to drag to this stage.
Again, the insensitive officials forgot that the football final would serve as the last event for the closing ceremony of the Games hence, all should have been adequately tidied up to give Nigeria and Nigerians a befitting final with the gold medal in football.
The boys were in their camp. They locked themselves up in a room and were singing and praying. Then came the team bus to pick them to the stadium. And they refused to come out of the room. They continued singing and praying.
The attention of the then Secretary General of the NFF Late Chief Taiwo Ogunjobi was drawn to the drama. He was driven to the camp. He went to the room and knocked. They opened the door once they recognised his voice and let him in. He sat with players and pleaded with them to go honour the match as President Olusegun Obasanjo was already on his way to the stadium alongside other dignitaries for the final match.
At this point, the team was already two hours late to the match venue, Abuja Int’l Stadium (now MKO Abiola stadium). Ogunjobi smartly told the boys that President Obasanjo was calling to find out why the team had not arrived the stadium. He said the president had been briefed about the team’s plight. He promised that the players would get their entitlements and even more once the game was over.
The boys who were given a paltry N2000 each three days before that fateful final day as feeding allowance but rejected it agreed to go for the final. They filed out and boarded one of the the COJA 2003 buses waiting for them.
At this point the morale of the team was very low because the officials had been using a section of the media few days earlier to rubbish the images of the players especially the quarter of Ogungbure, Izuagha, Omoefe and Ogbuke who had rejected the N2000 first before some of the home-based players joined to equally reject the sum. The media sadly and wrongly tagged them “REBELS”.
On getting to the stadium, the boys were hurried unto the pitch and of course, they played against a better motivated Cameroun side who beat them to claim the prestigious gold medal.
Immediately after the game, the team was abandoned by the officials…The boys spent two days in camp hoping that the officials would turn up to sort them out as promised but that was to no avail. They had to leave camp one after the other. No dime was given to them. The foreign based quarter were worst hit. Travelling back to their bases became a problem.
Worst of all, letters were written to the clubs of the quartet of Ogungbure, Izuagha, Omoefe and Ogbuke suggesting that they had been banned from the national team on account of indiscipline. We lost the gold which was within our grasp.
In Tokyo some members of Team Nigeria reached the final of their events but lost to the shenanigans and poor administrative methods and approaches of those in charge. Those not allowed to participate due to the irresponsible handling of their registration by the officials were potential medallists. Their street protest which brought the country monumental disgrace should have been investigated at the end of the Olympics….But never, not in Nigeria.
What have we learnt? Nothing as usual. We prefer to sweep the issues and shame in Tokyo under the carpet…as we hope for a repeat and bigger scandal in the future.