What shame of stranded athletes in Nigeria tells about continent

Kenyan athletes resting at an airport in Lagos after organizers failed to get them accommodation. [Photo: Courtesy]
The chaotic approach to organizing sporting events in Africa reached epic proportions in Asaba, Nigeria, this week where the 21st edition of the Senior Africa Athletics Championship is taking place.

For a country with the largest economy in Sub-Sahara Africa, with a $394.8 billion Gross Domestic Product (2017) to fail a fairly small logistical test is a strong indictment of leadership in Africa.

The trouble with Nigeria, as celebrated author Chinua Achebe once wrote, is simply that of failure of leadership. The same can be said of the rest of Africa. Achebe said there was nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. Not even the Nigerian land, climate, water, air or anything else; just the leadership.

Asaba State won the bid to host the Senior Africa Athletics Championship two years ago. As legendary as Nigeria’s disorganization seems, leaving athletes to spend four nights at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport is shameful.

Of course, there will be recriminations from across the continent, but it will be the case of the pot calling the kettle black. When Muhammadu Buhari was elected President of Nigeria in March 2015 on a platform of reform and anti-corruption, and later appointed technocrats to his cabinet, there was genuine belief, like in many African countries, that the dawn had arrived.

Yet like everywhere else on the continent, optimism has quickly been replaced by a sense of despair as those appointed to positions of responsibility become part of the problem. The suffering of our heroes and heroines in Nigeria, therefore, offers great lessons for our own sports administrators and the government in general.

It is not lost on anyone that Kenya was stripped of the right to host the 2018 African Nations Championship for failing to put together the necessary infrastructure for the 16-team tournament. It will be hypocritical, therefore, for Kenya to call Nigeria’s bluff.

Instead, this should be time for soul-searching; for if Kenya was on a moral high ground, where was the country’s High Commission when athletes slept on the cold airport floor? It is common knowledge that there is always a budget for national teams going for such tournaments, which at times run into millions of shillings for contingencies.

The excuse that the High Commissioner to Nigeria Wilfred Machage has not officially taken over at the embassy does not wash; because embassies are institutions.

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