#Rio2016: Nigeria The Wobbling Giant By Aduratomi Bolade

For some curious reason, we have become used to low or at best average performance. Nigeria has become a synonym for mediocrity. Whether in governance, education or sports. Even in religion where we have some of the most celebrated religious leaders in the world, we’ve managed to inject our peculiar ‘Nigerianness’ into it as well. With that in mind, I believe it would be difficult to find one Nigerian that had any serious hope of Nigeria doing well at this year’s Olympics. As is our tradition, planning was late and poor, athletes had little or no support from the government, it was trademark Nigeria. I’m sure we all remember that ridiculous email to athletes asking them to pay their way to Brazil leading some athletes to use crowdsourcing means to request for money to get them to Rio. Who could also forget the U-23 team being stranded in Atlanta? Thank God Delta Airlines came to their rescue and credit to the boys for not allowing the drama get to them.

I guess the question to ask is, how did we allow things to get this bad? It’s hard to point to any sector that is working, any that is a source of hope; they are all virtually dead or on life support. 56 years of Independence and 102 years of nationhood and it seems we are constantly retrogressing. If you talk to people, they’ll tell you that with the exception of telecoms, everything was better then than it is now. Believe it or not, that is a sad, very depressing commentary on the state of affairs in what is supposed to be the world’s greatest black nation.

So to the Olympics, which is the subject of my rant. Again, we put up a poor performance, that’s what we planned for, that’s what we got. Personally, I think we should return the bronze medal we won, keeping it will imbue us with deceptive confidence that we did better than the last time, the sports minister has already said so. This is the kind of institutional mediocrity that causes us to believe that we are the giant of Africa, when in all ways and in virtually all spheres, we are being trounced by minnows that have looked inwards and have organized their activities. Just look at how South Africa has become a dominant sporting nation. This in addition to have a vibrant economy and a stable democracy. Now that I think of it, it seems South Africa is substituting Nigeria is key areas –  politics/leadership, economy, continental leadership and now sports, just look at how well their contingent did in Rio.

What troubles me in all of this is the fact that our leaders who are excellent at providing excuses for failing have failed to understand the power of entertainment, which sports is a subset. If you look at the most notable Nigerians around the world, you’ll see that they’ve excelled in fields such as sports, arts, music and movies and a few in science and technology. How many Nigerian leaders are icons of politics or leadership anywhere in the world? Not many, we can almost say none. The power of sports as a tool of PR for a nation is overwhelming, sadly, we don’t see it and when we do, we don’t appreciate it, hence our lack of policy, lack of planning and utter lack of foresight. Jamaica as an example is not known for it’s political or military might, as a matter of fact, not many of us understand their political system, but we know their musicians such as Bob Marley and his kids, we also know Usain Bolt. These people have become the face and symbol of Jamaica, they exude such quality that when you mention Jamaica they come to mind and not the crime, corruption and poverty which they also grapple with.

This Nigeria that now looks listless and embarrassingly clueless in the past produced some of the world’s best track and field athletes. No matter the opposition, we were sure to pick up a medal in the track events, worse case scenario we’d get something from the relays. Now we are just pathetic and it doesn’t look like it is going to get better anytime soon. Countries like Jamaica, Kenya and Ethiopia have focused on their comparative advantage or niche, if you like. They have continued to improve their performance in the events where they have been traditionally strong, while also working on other events. Nigeria on the other hand is no longer a powerhouse in athletics, we no longer command attention in boxing or weightlifting, even football, which gets the most of our sporting attention, is not faring any better. We’ve lost our bearing completely.

I would love to say that sports is the only area where we are failing, but sadly, it is not. Public education is almost comatose, primary education is dead, secondary and tertiary will soon be knocked out if there isn’t a drastic intervention. In the past we got plenty of talent from the school sports system, which is now something we talk about with nostalgia. For too long we took our eye off the ball and we allowed everything that once made us great degenerate. Clearly a lack of purposeful leadership has led us to a point where we are simply groping in the dark, we are without direction and all our boast of greatness is empty and without any substance.

Our lack of organization and direction has forced top athletes to abandon us for a system where they can find positive reward for their effort. Olusoji Fasuba (now in the British Navy), Gloria Alozie (represented Spain), Francis Obikwelu (represented Portugal) are among athletes who have ditched Nigeria for more stable countries or professions and there are more. Just take a look at the US, Great Britain, Bahrain, Qatar and the Italy Olympics team and you’ll see where our best talents are now heading. Our situation has become so hopeless it is almost foolishness to remain when the opportunity to naturalize comes calling. Not only do we not benefit from the talents of these people while in service, we also miss out on the use of their experience after service.

I am naturally an optimist, so I am going to believe, despite the lack of direction that I currently see, that Nigeria will get it right. I am hopeful that we will draw inspiration from athletes such as Chierika Ukogu, Divine Oduduru and others who despite an absence of government support wore Nigeria’s colors proudly. Sports has the potential to not only improve Nigeria’s greatly battered image, but also provide employment for thousands of Nigerians. There’s already an abundance of talent, all we need to do is design policies that draws them out and nurtures their talent. We need to start the training for the next Olympics now, tomorrow is too late, we can no longer leave things till late.

Aduratomi Bolade is a broadcaster based in Port Harcourt, Rivers state.

Twitter: @Thereal_TommyB