As 2015 grinds to a halt, sporting activities in Nigeria no doubt recorded several ups and down in virtually all aspects of its sporting life.
As usual, Nigeria’s football took the lead with the sack of Super Eagles Head Coach Stephen Keshi despite leading his team to first 2017 Nations Cup qualifier victory against Chad and immediate appointment of ‘less experience’ Sunday Oliseh as his successor ultimately sparked off talking point that lasted for months.
Oliseh, also a former captain of the Super Eagles wasted no time in raising dust in the camp of the Eagles. He stripped long serving goal keeper, Vincent Enyeama of the captain band and handed it over to Ahmed Musa, of course Enyeama did not take it lying low. There was rumble in the camp, and Oliseh was shaken by the wave public condemnation of his action. However, the NFF waded into the matter and both men kissed and made up, but that did not stop Enyeama from announcing his retirement from the national team, striker Emmanuel Emenike followed suit.
On the field, the Super Eagles struggled in their World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. And this is raising some concern among members of the NFF and it was suggested by Amaju that Oliseh may need some help.
Similarly, Nigerian clubs crumbled like paper in fire from continental contests. Enyimba and Kano Pillars in the CAF champions League, Warri Wolves and Dolphins in the Confederation all crashed out before the group stages.
Back home, the Nigeria Professional Football League being manned by League Management Company arguably witnessed some forms of progress. However, analysts were of the view that there is still much to be desired after continuous non-payment of club players and officials, fans pitch invasion and pitch ‘nightmare’ condition have not been addressed.
The Flying Eagles parading most of the players who won the 2013 U-17 World Cup in UAE failed to jell In 2015. They Succumbed to superior teams at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand. Coach Manu Garba was accused of making the wrong choices.
Down the line in 2015, there came shaky preparation and performance of Nigeria’s Super Falcons ahead of this year’s FIFA Women World Cup to 2015 African Games before the anxiety which oozed out when the competition took place in Congo Brazzaville.
Super Falcons group stage crash out of Women World Cup eclipsed lacklustre show by Nigerian Women in recent times. Same team failed to pick Olympic ticket against less-fancied Equatorial Guinea side. Their inability to mange a fourth place finish at African Games chronicled a year full of woeful tales for Nigeria’s Women soccer plagued by poor funding, ill preparation and lack of meaningful motivation.
The revelation which trailed so many hanky-panky treatments meted out by the country football body, Nigeria Football Federation, NFF was nearly unbelievable. Moving forward, football stakeholders agreed that only change of attitude in this direction could only prove better times ahead.
Though Nigeria as the most populous country eventually emerged second in Congo, many are still of the view that mostly individual brilliance came to rescue as against supposed timely and adequate preparation expected to be given the Nation’s athletes. Minus the fact that the Director General National Sports Commission, NSC, a seasoned technocrat stood his ground and was at hand to motivate the athletes with their allowances and bonuses, the feat achieved by Nigeria’s representatives after a long while would have turned catastrophic.
Away from football momentarily, the dexterity of the country’s Men basketball team, D’ Tigers at the African basketball champions, Afrobasket coupled with the determination of the board of Nigeria Basketball Federation, NBBF, Nigeria for the first time won the tournament after barely 50 years.
After then, their Women counterparts, D’ Tigresses battled to third place and put smile on the faces of Nigerians later on in 2015.
The gate of exploits for Nigerian basketball in 2015 actually began earlier with U-16 Team proven superb to finish second best during a world championship despite initial disqualification of some its players at the beginning of the tournament.
Moving on, another superb finish by the Nation’s Cadet Team, Golden Eaglets at the FIFA U-17 World for a record fifth time again spelt joyous moment during the year under review.
Like an icing on the cake, Samson Siasia-led side U-23 side against all odds not only picked Olympic ticket, the Dream Team went ahead to win the second edition of African U-23 Cup of Nations which equally served as 2016 Olympic qualifier.
In Athletics, turbulent times ceased their expected result. Again, there was the ‘normal’ ill funding to run the Athletics Federation of Nigeria’s programmes. But this did not stop the country’s athletes from doing well at the African junior championships in Addis Ababa Ethiopia and also the African youth championships in Mauritius.
Cross River where athletics seem to have found a home, pulled out of sponsorship of the national open trials, but for the quick fix manoeuvres by AFN president, Solomon Ogba, the athletes would have been left stranded. The Championships was moved to Warri.
At the Beijing 2015 World Championships Nigeria failed to win a single medal. The highlight of the event was Blessing Okagabre’s opting out of the 200m after she claimed to have picked up an injury. A week later at the IAAF Diamond League in Zurich, Switzerland she ran one her best race of the season much to the chagrin of athletics and NSC officials. She was subsequently threatened with expulsion from the Olympics, by the NSC if she failed to attend the Africa Games.
Just within the time Golden Eaglets were smiling to gold, a Nigerian Wellington Jighere surprisingly took the world by storm and beat 129 competitors to become the first African and indeed Nigerian to cart away World Scrabble trophy after trying many times.
Nigerian-born Odunayo Adekuoroye rounded off the year barely four days to go on a beautiful note at the just concluded maiden Pro Wrestling League in India in grand style.
TAEKWONDO et al
To cap it up, drums of war emanated from various sporting federations. First it was Taekwondo federation that sent its President Gbenga Ashiru packing, followed by Shooting Federation that threatened to exit its own numero, Judo federation had their concluded impeachment plot delivered but was thwarted by the NSC.
The uprising within the NFF again reared up its head following threats by Chris Giwa-led faction to snatch Glasshouse from Amaju Pinnick leadership as early as January in 2016. In all of the crisis, Sports and Youth Development Minister Barr Solomon Dalung preached peace but that was without allegation that he could stay behind playing ostrich.
The landmark successes or decline witnessed in 2015, many said would eventually play out either good or bad next year depending steps taken in progression. 2016 as Olympic would for sure re-define Nigeria, particularly the interest of the current administration in sports development.