Taiwo Ajibade, who represented Nigeria at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester believes the country can produce top athletes if all the necessary machineries are put in place.
In this interview with Oke Oluku, the sprinter revealed why he dumped Football for Athletics and the coming of sports kits giant, Adidas to Nigeria.
Can you give a brief introduction about yourself?
My name is Taiwo Ajibade, born in Lagos, went to Akowonjo primary school, FGC and Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA) where I started athletics. Left for the USA, did my second BSC (Bus Admin), a Master Degree (Management) and now gunning for my Doctorate degree.
I am a sport lover and a lot of people knew me. I was on the athletics circuit between 1989 till 2004. I have not been competing in the past six to seven years now.
When I was here I competed for Ondo state in the 100m and 200m races but originally I am from Irese, a little town in Osun state and then my wife used to make fun of it. I started my athletics career with Ondo state, with Coach Lawrence Adegbehingbe.
I represented Nigeria in the IAAF World Youth Championships in Poland in 1999, the IAAF World Junior Championships in Jamaica in 2002; did some International meets in the USA 2001-2003.
I was a member of Team Nigeria to the Africa Athletics Championships in Tunisia in 2002 and was also at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. My Last competition in Nigeria was the 2008 Olympics trials and I crashed out in the semi final.
What gave you the inspiration to run for Nigeria despite having the opportunity to run for other countries?
Well everybody have their options, everybody have their own decisions to make and the circumstance surrounding every athlete is different. I will not be judgmental of people changing nationality because I know running for Nigeria is very difficult.
I can remember I was sharing with my friend in 2003 when I came for the World Championships trials. I was in a great shape then, I ran very well at the NCAA in all levels, I was an All-American the year before but I came home in top shape and was hoping I will make team but I didn’t make the team.
I went to a particular sport administrator then and I was a student, I told him all am asking for is that if they can pay my way here, give me money to go back home, could you believe the guy worked me out of his office?
Now at that point if another country approached me I think I was vulnerable at that point and then I can say yes I have to change my nationality.
Well I don’t see myself as an athlete that was desperate, I had options, I had my master degree and currently I am working on my doctorate degree. To me it is not all about what your country can do for me but what I can do for the country.
How were you able to combine sport and education?
For me I know it was something I had to do, I know I had a gift which I had to project.
I come from a family that don’t give you any option when it comes to education, you must go to school so I wouldn’t say I am smart and I am not dumb either so I try to manage my time by going to school and still running, so it was so easy.
Why athletics and not football?
I use to be a soccer player and when I get a pass, I always run faster than the ball and people use to tell me that with my speed, athletics will be better for me.
The late commissioner for Sports in Ekiti state, Ore Odelusi, he was one of the first people that work with me and he inspired me to go for athletics.
Also, Olympic and Commonwealth gold medalist, Lawrence Adegbehingbe who I think had the most impact in my athletics career, was also instrumental to my choice.
Since you are no longer running, what do you do now?
Well when you say after sports, it is a process. I run but not competitively. These days I run to keep fit, stay healthy and for leisure. I’m also into sports business as we own the franchise of marketing Adidas in Nigeria
You talked about lack of kits in some tournaments, ADIDAS is coming to Nigeria, are we seeing a change of kits in Nigeria athletics?
I will love to see that because that is where my own allegiance is maybe not for business purposes, I was asking one of the statesmen of the Athletic Federation of Nigeria recently how ADIDAS can come in to help and he told that the AFN still have a contract with NIKE and as you can see, it will be difficult for me to come in because of their contract with NIKE which stands.
I volunteered to provide the kits through ADIDAS for the last IAAF World juniors, I asked them to send the numbers of athletes that will be going but they still said the same thing about a contract with NIKE and if I should do that, there will be conflict.
There are individual endorsements for athletes by sports manufacturers, are we going to see some endorsements of Nigeria athletes by ADIDAS?
Well somebody asked me this question some days ago. The name of our company is LAC Global Sports and we represent ADIDAS and I will tell you that ADIDAS will go for any athlete who is viable that they think still have more years ahead of them in respect of the country.
There is this saying that some countries have TV rights which make their athletes to be more viable and if you are running 10. 01 seconds and another athlete run the same 10. 01 seconds from the USA, they will offer me $10. 000 a month and offer the USA athlete $100. 000 for same month.
So you see I am disadvantaged. But to answer your question, once ADIDAS has a presence in this country, it is going to be easier for them to endorse our athletes. Why is because they are close to then and since they will make money from the country, they will support us.
What are the plans ADIDAS have for Nigeria in general?
Well the plans will unravel as the year goes by and as the relationship continues.
One thing I can tell you for sure is that we are trying to go into the Nigeria Premier league, the basketball league, the schools sports and I will be talking to some sports administrators, there are lots of packages for all, we just need to press to help us set up the forum.
On our shot term plans, we can decide to sponsor teams, academies, clubs by supplying kits to them and also supply about 20,000 replica jerseys free of charge because we know there are fans who will buy their clubs kits.
I look at the situation where even if ADIDAS sponsor an entire team, people can come out and buy replica jerseys, that will make money for the state, country and ADIDAS rather than the usual way we use to do things.
Why do you think Nigerian athletes always find it difficult to compete favorably with their counterparts?
Once in awhile in Nigeria we see flashes, we see promises but along the line those hopes are being dashed because we don’t have the right tools and facilities to work with.
Look at the facilities, look at the National Institute of Sports (NIS), it’s a mess, that is where we train people we will train the people that we hoping will be the next Usain Bolt.
The NIS does not look like an institution and that is why we want to take it upon ourselves like I said by 2015, we will be bringing in an academy that will support athletics, basketball, and soccer to start with.
It is going to be a school, coaches and everybody will be well taken care of. We can’t just seat on the fence everyday and keep complaining the government is not going anything; we need to jump in and do something.
So we don’t have the facility, everybody is frustrated, everybody want to travel out of the country thinking that’s where the magic is, but truly if you have an athletes who eats well, train well, take the right supplements, truly they will perform.
How will you describe the state of sports in Nigeria today?
To say the truth here, it is pathetic I must say. When you look at countries like Jamaica doing well in track and field, even the United States, they are doing well in sports like soccer.
They don’t have the schools that we have here; you can almost close your eyes and pick people from the streets to play soccer in Nigeria.
As an athlete then, I was also a soccer player and I did great so for us to have what we have right now, Nigeria going to competitions we don’t even have uniforms to wear, that is pathetic.
The national teams goes outside they don’t pay allowances. I was looking at the FIFA ranking the other and Nigeria is in 47th position that is not what we should be. We need more leaders and administrators.
What do you think is the way forward?
The way forward is not just a one way formula issue; we need to bring all the stakeholders together, we need a forum that will bring in thought provoking ideas that will help us know where we are and set goals that will take us to where we want to be.
We can sit down here for one hour talking but you won’t do me any justice if you ask me where we need to go from here but I have a lot of ideas and if any sports administrator welcomes it I will be glad to share with them.
How is it like being married to an athlete?
She is a great lady; her name is Oluyemi Fagbomila Ajibade. When you are married to a fellow athlete, be ready for competition, my wife is very competitive, we compete for everything in the house.
What do you think is the future of Nigerian sports?
It is very bright if we have the right people in place but if not its doomed, I think governor Fashola is doing well in terms of sports, I see a lot of sporting developments here, even in the municipal, local government level which will help in the discovery of athletes.
Also it is very unfortunate that some people in Nigeria don’t start running until they are 18, 19 and 20 and when they go abroad they say they 14, 15 and by the time you expect them to be what they expected to be, the ball is already falling so don’t expect too much.
We have a lot of things working for and against us.
Message for up coming athletes
For them not to be discouraged, I could remember when I was going to the national stadium to train, my mum use to give me 30 Naira for transport because we lived in Iyana Ipaja.
But after 3 months, she told me that if she is putting the 30 naira somewhere by the end of those 3 months, she will know what she would have saved. I had to encourage myself, so I will encourage them to go after their dreams.