David and Osmond Ezinwa are arguably one of Africa’s fastest twin brothers ever. Apart from jointly dominating in Nigeria, the twins also made their marks at many international meets they competed in.
In this exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES, one of the Ezinwa brothers, Osmond, spoke on varying issues, including the sorry state of athletics administration in Nigeria.
PT: In your candid opinion, what is responsible for the comatose nature of athletics in Nigeria?
Osmond: Mismanagement! It’s mismanagement and there is no continuity. It’s like the whole country; you don’t wake up and expect athletics to be what it’s supposed to be when you don’t put what will make it work behind it. Does that make sense?
You have to lay a strong foundation and find a way to make that foundation strong and then build on it. Athletics in Nigeria is all about trial and luck. They are very wishful but wishful thinking and actually doing what it takes to make your wish come true is a different thing entirely.
You have to plan, but there is no plan for the future as far as Nigeria athletics is concerned. They want to go to the Olympics, All Africa Games, World Championship and African Championship and win these medals but they don’t have any plan on the ground to achieve that. Besides, there are too many square pegs in round holes.
PT: Are these some of the reasons why you sat back in the United States when Nigerians expect you and others like you to help rebuild the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN)?
Osmond: (Smile) Brother, AFN will frustrate your life (general laughter). They have guys there already working to help the system, whereas there are some sets of people that are frustrating them. From what I’m hearing, AFN now have two presidents and you expect me to get involved in systems like that? There are lots of us out here who would love to come back home and help the system but AFN will frustrate your life so why come waste your time?
PT: Cynics thought you would embrace coaching like Innocent Egbunike and Yusuf Ali did given your immense talents that could have been passed on to the coming generation, but alas, you have chosen otherwise.
Osmond: Coaching is not for everybody. Some people know nothing else aside from sports. After retirement, I wanted to do something else other than sports and athletics. I have been able to prove to myself here that I could do something else without getting involved in sports. You see what is happening to some retired athletes who got themselves involved in the sports rather than do something else.
You can see they end up frustrated and I don’t want to be part of that number. I could still get involved in coaching but it will be a part-time thing-helping little kids, but coming down to Nigeria to do that is not something I am thinking about.
PT: Are your expectations high looking at Nigeria’s chances at the forthcoming Olympics in Tokyo? What do you expect from the likes of Okagbare, Oduduru, Ese Brume and the likes?
Osmond: The Olympics in Japan is already over, meaning that we already know those who will run in the Olympics finals looking at those who are running now. I’m not expecting the young and upcoming athletes to do anything out of the ordinary. But if I were in their position, it would be an experience they can build on because asking them to win medals is like putting too much pressure on them.
If it happens fine but I don’t expect that, it should be an experience they can build on for the future. If I were in their shoes, I will try my best and see if I can win a scholarship to schools in the U.S. where I can get better training because Nigeria is a talent killer if they are not careful.
PT: Talking about talent killers, it is no news that you teamed up with Davidson to emerge as one of the fastest twins on the track. You had the opportunity to defect to another country like Francis Obikwelu and Gloria Alozie, but stayed. What was the driving force behind your patriotism?
Osmond: That is a good question. When I look back and see people blaming Obikwelu for defecting, that was the decision he took. But my brother and I decided to keep wearing the white and green. When I look back, I still ask myself if I made the right decision.
Maybe my career would have been longer outside Nigeria. You have two competitions when you’re running for Nigeria; you’re competing against other athletes and the Federation and the country Nigeria, which means you need two strengths.
It’s difficult wearing that green and white. Even in football, have you ever heard of Nigeria participating in any competition with no complaint? Looking at the World Cup that millions of dollars is being pumped into, Nigerian footballers will refuse to play because of non-payment of match allowances.
The problem continues to repeat itself. I was reading about this problem when I was a kid. I grew up as a young man and went through that stage but even after I have retired it is still the same story.
PT: Are you saying you regret not defecting?
Osmond: I’m not saying that I regret it but maybe if I had known what I know now maybe I would have made a different decision but I have no regret. There is a reason for wearing that green and white. You have to understand some people are in different situations that made them defect, but I was in the U.S. and I was in college here, running for Nigeria so I wasn’t desperate to defect.
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Maybe most Nigerian athletes that defected were desperate to do that and once that opportunity presented itself they grabbed it. Had I been in the same situation those athletes were then, maybe I would have pulled out too.
PT: Athletics in Nigeria was enjoying a smooth ride with Mobil bankrolling AFN competitions and athletes alike. We gathered Mobil opted out after it was revealed that most of you never received a penny for training programs. What is the way forward?
Osmond: (Smiles)That is a very good question, my brother. I think AFN or some of these federations should find a way to raise capital from the private sector, people that will hold them accountable.
When you get sponsorship from the private sector, such a sector will monitor what you’re doing and it comes with a condition. They should give a detailed account of how they spend the money; numbers of competitions they will take on annually, athletes’ payment and other things.
For example, let’s say the telecommunications sector gave you N100 million for three years and we are budgeting 100 million annually and we want you to have 10 annual competitions. If you don’t have that 10 competitions, you breach the contract.
The problem with Nigeria is the lack of structure. You start a system today and it changes tomorrow. But once you put a system in place and keep to it every year, the sport gets bigger and better. If after three years they fail to do well in the Olympics then the private sector can query them on why they failed to justify their huge investment by winning medals and they can pull out.
But you bring the millions and someone would sit on the money while another will fail to do the right thing expected of them and athletes will be complaining. It is mismanagement.
PT: Nigerians would like to know what the rivalry between you and Davidson was like.
Osmond: It wasn’t a rivalry, but we are more or less like training partners. The advantage is that we need not have to travel thousands of kilometres to find a training partner but the disadvantage is that we have each other, so we didn’t have the opportunity to train with other athletes. Some athletes will find another athlete to train with and in the process learn one or two new tricks that would put them a step ahead of you.
PT: You tested positive to ephedrine in 1996, can you shed more light into that incident?
Osmond: It was part of what we were taking and if it was banned at that time, it would not have been listed on the container. That was what we were taking before the competition and you can’t be stupid to keep taking a substance when you know is banned. Every athlete who took that substance was banned, even my brother.
PT: What is your relationship with Chidi Imoh, Adeniken. What are you guys up to in the U.S. now that you are retired?
Osmond: I live in California and Chidi also lives here and we talk once in a while over the phone but someone I’ve not seen for long is Adeniken.