Emma Jemegah and Paul Erewuba
Nigerian sports during the first tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari was full of ups and downs.
While the country performed well in some sporting events during the period, it recorded dismal outings in other areas.
Indeed, public opinion on Nigeria’s performance in sports in the last four years varies, without a consensus on the overall scorecard of the administration.
To put it succinctly, sports in the four years of President Buhari’s first tenure had been a mix grill, considering the successes and failures recorded in the industry.
There was the leadership tussle between Christopher Giwa and Amaju Melvin Pinnick over the soul of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).
This issue rocked the sports fraternity with the world football governing body, FIFA, threatening to ban the country.
The crisis reached a boiling point, when policemen were deployed to seal the NFF Headquarters in Wuse Zone 6 Area of Abuja, to prevent a breakdown of law and order. The matter dragged on till the end of the tenure of that board late last year before another election gave Pinnick a second term mandate.
In between, it took the intervention of the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo (President Buhari was on vacation at the time) for Nigeria to escape FIFA ban that would have prevented the country from participating at the last World Cup in Russia among other sundry global football competitions.
However, Nigeria was at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after returning from London 2012 with no medal.
The only bronze won by the John Mikel Obi-captained U-23 Dream Team IV was a result of the ‘never say die’ Nigerian spirit demonstrated by the boys under Coach Samson Siasia’s watch.
All that transpired in Atlanta, when the team went on training tour, but was abandoned by sports ministry. And this remains very fresh in the minds of football followers.
The angst caused by the total neglect of the team, despite the fact that there was a vote for Team Nigeria’s training and participation at Rio 2016 is also a sore point of Buhari’s tenure.
Twice, the Super Falcons won the African women’s Cup of Nations without any serious input from the President’s office. The girls had to resort to embarrassing protest to draw attention to their plight.
In the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF), Nigeria Gymnastics Federation, the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) and the Nigeria Rugby Football Federation (NRFF) were crisis galore.
It is, thus, on record that it was during the first four-year tenure of the president that sports federations and other departments had parallel leaderships.
Perhaps, if the world basketball governing body, FIBA, had not intervened in the crisis in Nigeria Basketball Federation and allowed our teams to continue to participate in their competitions, we wouldn’t have had the male and female teams qualify for the World Cup today.
However, it was not all bad in the Buhari’s first four-year administration, especially in sports.
In 2016, the Super Falcons lifted the African Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON) for the record eighth time, while in 2018, the Super Eagles became the first team in Africa to qualify for the World Cup in Russia, without dropping a match.
Team Nigeria, despite the shoddy preparation came back from the Commonwealth Games with 24 medals, nine gold, nine silver and six bronze medals, with special athletes contributing three gold and two silver medals.
Nigerian athletes at the 2019 Special Olympics Games scooped 33 gold, 21 silver and 10 bronze medals at the event, which ended in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates.
The final table showed that the impressive Nigerian Special Olympics athletes won 12 gold medals each in the unified football and volleyball events.
They also won four gold in athletics, two in badminton and one in cycling, dance and swimming events, respectively.
The Nigerian unified basketball team, who claimed the basketball gold at the previous event in Los Angeles in the United States in 2015, won 10 silver medals this time around in Abu Dhabi.
They also won seven silver medals in badminton, three in table tennis and one in swimming. The athletes won five bronze medals in swimming, two in athletics and badminton respectively, as well as one in table tennis.
The event, which held in March, had Nigeria’s Special Olympics team competing in eight events at the games, with 60 athletes and 24 officials.
The events are athletics, badminton, basketball, football, table tennis, volleyball, swimming and cycling. The Nigerian athletes put up a dominant display in athletics, where Chima Maduakor (shot put), Nyam Tayei (25 metres run), Ayokunle Akinjayeju (25 metres run) and Bello Damilola (100m) all won gold.
Swimmer Adedamola Roberts also claimed gold in the 50 metres freestyle, with Joy Abisago also winning gold in cycling.
Etim Florence and Sulaimon Nofisat, who won bronze in the girls’ singles, emerged gold medallists in the badminton girls’ doubles event.
Gold medallists; Tayei and Akinjayeju also won bronze medals in their respective events at the Games, while swimmers, Treasure Chidi-Ofong- (female 100m freestyle) and Teju Ogunlela (female 50m freestyle), won silver and bronze medals, respectively.
In table tennis, three Nigerian athletes, namely Arek Dickson, Adewoyin Bukola and Olusoji Oluwatomisin, reached the finals of their events, but settled for silver after losing to their opponents. Another table tennis athlete, Bassey Wisdom, won bronze in the male singles event.
Similarly, Africa number one, Dorcas Adesokan, defeated Mauritius’s KateFoo Kune to win the women’s singles title at the All Africa Badminton Senior Championship in Port Harcourt.
Nigerian beat Kate Foo Kune in straight sets, 21-12, 21-13, to clinch the gold medal at the Championship at the Alfred Diette-Spiff centre, while Egyptian Doha Hany and Nigeria’s Damilola Alabi picked the bronze medal.
In the men’s singles category, Anuoluwapo Juwon Opeyayi defeated Godwin Olofue in an all Nigerian affair to win the goal medal, while Mauritius’ George Paul and Nigeria’s Krobakpo also shared the bronze medal.
In the men’s double, Algerian duo of Koceila Mameri and Youcef SabiMadel piped the Nigerian duo of Enejoh Abah and Isaac Minaphe to the gold, while Godwin Olofua and Anuoluwapo Juwon Opeyayi and Egyptian duo of Abdulrahman Abdelhakeim and Ahmed Salah went home with the bronze medal.
Dorcas Adesokan and Uchechukwu Deborah won the gold and condemned AminYop Christopher and Chinenye Ibere to the silver medal of the women’s doubles category, while Eyaram Yaa Migbozi and Perpetual Mensah Quaye of Ghana and Augustina Ebhomien and Peace Joy went home with the bronze medals.
The Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Solomon Dalung, claimed that sports was the best performing ministry during President Buhari’s his first tenure.
Dalung reportedly said this in his office in Abuja, while receiving athletes and officials of the Nigeria Wrestling Federation (NWF) and the Nigeria Rowing, Canoeing and Sailing Federation, who did the country proud at various international competitions.
The NWF participated in an African Championship in Tunisia, winning six gold, two silver and five bronze medals, while the canoeing athletes won one gold and three bronze medals at the Canoe Sprint Championship held in India.
Both events were held at different dates in March.
“This success, apart from writing a chapter in the annals of Nigeria Wrestling Federation, is, more importantly, an indicator of the possibility of an Olympic medal in Tokyo 2020,” Dalung said.
Festus Porbeni, President of Nigeria Rowing, Canoeing and Sailing Federation, also presented his athletes, as well as the medals won and said that Nigeria will soon dominate other African countries in the sport.
Perhaps, one area PMB appeared to have distinguished himself during his first tenure was in rewarding of athletes. President Buhari on January 21, 2016, rewarded the players and officials alongside the maiden Golden Eaglets squad that won the FIFA U-16 Kodak World Cup in China in 1985.
It was a partial fulfillment of the Change mantra. The president, as a military Head of State, had promised to reward the players in 1985, but could not fulfill the promise before General Ibrahim Banbadida toppled his government. Each player got N2 million while the coaches N1.5 million each.
The president also rewarded the 2015 World Wrestling Championship medalists, members of D’Tigers, who won the 2015 AfroBasket, IPC Asian Powerlifting medalist who won the World Scrabble Champion, Wellington Jighere, WBC cruiserweight silver medalist, Olanrewaju Durodola, with N1.5 million each.
Only recently, the coach that guided Nigeria to her first and best appearance at the World Cup, Clemens Westerhof, was presented with documents to the house promised members of the 1994 Super Eagles team, 24 years after.
In all, it could be said that sports in Buhari’s first four years administration was a mix grill.