Forget about OBJ's third term bid, forget about Atiku's plotting for the top job, forget about Okonji-Iweala breezing into the PDP nomination - I nominate Segun Moses Toriola for president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He's at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, representing Nigeria in table tennis, where he's defending the singles title he won in 2002. It was just so encouraging to see a Nigerian doing well at the games considering the thrashing our women's hockey and men's basketball teams got, 12-0 and 103-53, respectively. Granted Toriola was playing against a Welshman for the bronze medal position in the men's team event, but perhaps it was playing Wales that made the caning the sweeter. Listen, I live in England. The idea is to let the Scots think you're on a par with each other, and then thrash them, but with the Welsh, forget about parity, just thrash them.
On the track, Nigeria is well represented, with veterans like Deji Aliu, Uchenna Emedolu, and relative newcomers like Soji Fasuba. But everywhere else, Nigeria is non-existent. I like the fact that Toriola is doing well because of the place table tennis has in the hearts of Nigerians. I used to be amazed when boys in old my manor (Three Bridges*), would play on a tiny bench and place a plank in the middle to stand in as the net. The skill on those benches was baffling. Proper full size tables existed, but they weren't the norm. Whenever I see people making a living out of sports such as table tennis, I think to myself, "if only they had facilities and resources". Toriola must have been one those table tennis boys in his youth. His parents probably crushed his "egg" a few times for playing with it instead of learning his times tables.
Toriola is currently ranked 111th in the world, which is not high by any stretch of the mathematical imagination. However, he is on the playing circuit, even though I doubt that he makes a proper living as a player. It's always painful to see talented individuals waste away because the Nigerian governments have no will to help athletes. Every Nigerian athlete that has become successful in the last fifteen years has done so out of their own pockets. So it shouldn't be any wonder when people like Francis Obikwelu and Gloria Alozie run off and compete for European countries. The stories of why they jumped ship are rather heart-breaking, and are typical of what Nigerian sportsmen and sportswomen at all levels of sport have to deal with.
Nigeria hasn't been been performing as well in track and field, as they did in the eighties and nineties. Back then, the Ezinwa brothers, Innocent Egbunike, and Chidi Imoh competed ably against the Linford Christies and drug addled Ben Johnsons of that era. It is simply because the level of professionalism now is such that an athlete cannot afford any mess-ups. It isn't just their personal coaches that have to be good, but the support from their national sporting authorities has to be unwavering. But will we get that in Nigeria? I doubt it. The blasted men in suits and agbadas will want to line their pockets with money meant for hard working athletes. What Nigeria needs is athletes to compete in the shooting events. That way when the the powers that be get Dick Cheneyed by a stray bullet, they can always claim it was an accident. Honest m'Lawd.
*Three Bridges aka Ebute Metta