Tag Archives: athletics

Nigerian Converts

The Glasgow Commonwealth Games have occupied many of my waking hours in the past 3 months (yes I recorded it all and have savoured the many hours slowly over 3 months instead of 2 weeks). The competition has been great viewing and I find myself from time to time wishing I had tickets for Glasgow. To be honest, I am puzzled about that still because I am sure if I had known when they were on sale, I would have tried to get tickets for some of it but that opportunity completely passed me by. Sadly.

Although I am a bit competition-mad and will watch most TV programmes with even a hint of competition and a chance to be awed by talent, as an amateur athlete myself back in the day I have a special love for the athletics. And these Games were very special for me for a puzzling reason. We Nigerians are pretty good at the sprints so we tend to feature throughout the rounds. The first heats were men’s 400m I think and when the Nigerian fellow was announced, I sat up in surprise. First his name was very ‘black American’ sounding (most Nigerians have at least one traditional name somewhere in their full name). Then, the commentators went on to say he was ‘one of the many Nigerian converts’. I was puzzled. I had never heard of a person converting to a country before. I mean I know people change nationalities for example but I have never heard it phrased as ‘converting to British’ for example. Odd choice of phrase but I was even more puzzled as to who these people were and why they were converting to Nigeria.

Turns out that these athletes are former American (plus 1 former GB) athletes who have swapped alliances to Nigeria. Now as a Nigerian, I have never been surprised to see a Nigerian name in a British, American, Dutch or even Qatar vest. Truth of the matter is, with the corruption in the Nigerian Government, there is practically no investment in Sport these days and our long-suffering patriotic athletes are forced to abandon ship for greener pastures. And I don’t blame them. If as an athlete for Nigeria I would have to work a horrible job to keep the roof over my head and food in my belly and juggle all that with training, I too would choose to go another team who would not only sponsor me so I can focus on my sport but also give me support in terms of coaching, psychology and physiotherapy. Rather, I was very surprised to see the movement was in the other direction. People actually joining Team Nigeria from other countries. So I investigated.

Apparently our Government has actually made real effort in ‘recruiting’ these former US/UK athletes in the hope of boosting our medal chances. I also discovered that the reason why these athletes’ names are suspiciously not-Nigerian is because many of them are many Generations American/British but according to the news on the internet, they are all bona fide Nigerian – by which I deduce that maybe some of them are 25% Nigerian but they were born and bred abroad and probably did not even have a Nigerian passport/citizenship until they were ‘recruited’. Rumours are that some of these athletes should not be representing Nigerian because their claim to citizenship is tenuous to say the least (I read about a girl who is Nigerian because her American uncle married a Nigerian, thus becoming Nigerian himself and somehow that qualified his niece as a Nigerian?). Dodgy if you ask me.

It is all well and good that our Government has finally sat up and taken note that we have been haemorrhaging all our talent to the West in the last 2 decades (at least) and is making an effort to correct things. However, I concur with their detractors on the internet who point out that allowing these ‘Nigerian’ converts to come in and out-compete our less experienced home grown talents and then for them not to win the expected medals is probably more of a con than a pro. What our Government should be doing is recruiting our budding athletes in schools and universities and creating a training programme with good support to allow our talented young people to hone their skills and become the elite athletes they have the potential to be. We should be investing in our athletes like the great sporting nations do so that we have professional athletes whose focus is all on their sport whilst they are in their prime. We should be there for our athletes so that they don’t have to go on strike before major sporting meets to get their just dues. We should go back to the 90s when we were all so proud of our sports men and women and we treated them like the superstars they were.

Nigeria with our huge population has plenty of potential. We really don’t need to leave our shores to recruit people in. All we need to do is invest time and money in those already there and I am sure in the years to come, we will be up there with the US, Jamaica and GB teams. Long live athletics. Long live our talented children. Long live Nigeria.

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Sports Day in QC

I was in Abuja 2 weeks ago and took a cab to my friend’s house in a neighbourhood that apparently can befuddle even the best cab drivers in Abuja. My friend, let’s call her Nana, sent a text with directions and when I read them out to the cab driver, he was impressed. I laughed and said ‘she did go to QC so of course, she can give directions!’ His turn to be impressed as he appraised me. ‘You went to QC?! And I thought you were an oyinbo!’ Oyinbo (Yoruba) a.k.a bature (Hausa) is a white foreigner to you because I do not sound like a home-grown Nigerian anymore. I shook my head and smiled.

My husband carries the passport photograph above in his wallet or car as the mood strikes him. He claims to love the photo. I happen to love it too but for purely sentimental reasons. As an SS1 (year 9 equivalent) girl, I was finally loving being in Queen’s College (QC) and even liking a lot about the boarding house when my mama dropped the bombshell that she was relocating with my sister and I. The photo was taken for my British passport application when I was 14 years old. I remember my mother taking me out of boarding school to go and complete all the processes required to get a British passport. Medical tests. Passport photograph and I am sure something else too. I was excited, never having been to Europe and nervous because I would be leaving my friends and home and going somewhere that I didn’t belong. 

The picture was taken at the midway point of the middle term of the year just after Inter-House Sports Day. I can tell you this day was one of the annual highlights for most students in QC. It was a day of sporting competition where all the top talent in the school would be on display. There was calisthenics for SS2 girls. There was show-marching for all the 6 competing Houses complete with sexy cheerleader-type outfits, twirling batons, ribbons galore and some very sharp moves. Our families and friends were all there as this was an open day at QC. This also meant that the boys from all the big Lagos secondary schools came to check out the QC girls and play. KC boys especially felt entitled as they were King’s College and there was a bit of relationship between the schools for historical reasons.

The end of the 1st term was when all the excitement began as the calisthenics routine was planned and the girls began to audition for the marching. By the beginning of the middle term of 3, rehearsals would be in full swing and we would all sneak a preview of our Houses as they perfected their showpieces. Rumours about special twirl pieces would fly about. Girls would whisper about how the girl up front House A’s marching band had the highest knees and best pointed toes. Yet more whispers about how synchronised House B’s moves were and other whispers about how maybe House C was the dark horse that would triumph over the usual winning Houses. By the time the pom-poms were being fashioned for the calisthenics using plastic bags cut into strips, excitement was at fever pitch. None of us was able to sit through a lesson without whispering about some aspect of Sports Day. In the days before, half of the classes were put on hold as athletes, SS2 girls and marchers put the finishing touches on their game plans, their costumes and performances. We all got in the game on the Thursday before the Saturday.

In 2000, periwinkles (like the snails) were all the rage in QC hairstyles. That is what I have in my hair in the picture. Basically, you either braid hair or take a small section of hair then curl it about itself to resemble the shell of a periwinkle shells. I remember wanting that hairstyle all week and I was saying to Nana that I had no one to do my hair when she said she would do it. ‘Can you really?’ I asked and sure enough she could. I bought the small colourful rubber bands we used to secure the periwinkles in place and off I went to her dorm in Obasa House where we got to work. It took several hours to get it done but it was all worth it when she put the final band in place and let me look. I was ecstatic and I thought I looked great with my periwinkles and my brand new white sneakers with orange shoelaces in tribute to my beloved Obong House.

The day is a bit of a blur now but I remember the highlights. There were thousands of people all over the school ground, walking where they normally would be barred from, saying hello to missed family and a lot of excited giggling coming from us teenage girls. There were little cliques of boys strolling ‘coolly’ about, pretending not to check out the preening girls. There was the addictive smell of roast chicken and other foodie delights being prepared for sale by the vendors that were for this day only invited into our school grounds.

The first event was always the show-marching. I remember finding a spot where I could watch the marching unhindered and the butterflies of excitement as I waited with bated breath for the first of the girls to emerge. The 1st sighting of the marchers, previously well hidden in an undisclosed secure location would send a ripple of chatter across the Sports field. As the Houses came out in alphabetical order and more outfits were spotted, the chatter grew louder and I oohed and aahed with everyone else. I shifted from foot to foot in admiration of the beauty on display and watched as the marchers wiggled in anticipation of the marching they were about to do. I could also see the pride with which they held themselves. The way they walked taller and turned their be-ribboned braids from side to side as they checked out the competition and the admiring crowd. I caught 1 or 2 girls giving flirty looks to nearby boys. Then the call to order came and the marching began. I could have heard a pin drop in those minutes with the exception of the small segments where the baton-twirlers did their thing and drew gasps of admiration and clapping from the audience. This year, there were no dropped batons and every House it seemed topped the previous until it came to my House which surpassed all others. That year we won. For real. I took it as a personal reward for my loyalty and absolute belief in my House. Lol.

The calisthenics was another highlight which came towards the end of all the athletics. The SS2 girls strutted their stuff to a popular pop song, pompoms waving in unison. It was received rapturously. As the athletics continued, I joined other girls in the queues for peppered chicken then frozen yoghurt then meat pies. I stuffed my face unable to control myself as all the options beckoned. I ran around and took photos with other girls and admired each other’s hair and shoes. As the final medals were presented, we all started to mill about and congratulate those who took part and did well. Then the House that won the overall competition was announced  and given the trophy and the winning girls showed off in their house colours and celebrated loudly. As the day drew to a close, we all began to find our families and friends and say our goodbyes as the teachers and school Prefects began to round us up and return us back to the safety of our boarding House. Another sporting triumph!