Thursday, December 15, 2011


Sunday Bada’s untimely death leaves a deeper hole in the heart of Nigerian athletics.

Bada (pix courtesy Getty Images and IAAF)
Like an unexpected bolt at the finishing line of a final sprint relay, 42-year old Sunday Bada - well decorated police officer, one of the finest among Nigeria’s internationally renowned quarter milers and technical director of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) - was reported to have slumped and died of heart complications on Monday night, December 12, on his way to the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja, to pick his wife shortly after leaving the National stadium in Surulere, Lagos. While he left behind a grieving family, national public and global athletics community, he went to the great beyond with the African indoor record of 45.51 seconds, which he set in Paris to clinch the gold medal at the 400m final of the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) World Indoor Championship in 1997.

In all, Bada won three medals at different World Indoor Championships. At the 1993 IAAF World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, he ran a personal best time outdoors when he clocked 44.63 seconds in the semi-final round, but finished fifth at the finals, which was his highest ever individual placing at the outdoor championships or Olympics Games. He was also a member of the Nigerian 4 x 400m relay team which won bronze at the 1995 IAAF World Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden and part of the country’s Olympic 4x400m relay team which set a national record of 2:58.68 minutes to clinch silver (which was later upgraded to gold on the disqualification of the USA) at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

Since the exploits of his generation, only a few Nigerian athletes have produced consistent and noteworthy athletics performances on the international stage. Bada was a significant part of a golden generation of Nigerian athletes whose sheer personal determination and hardwork rather than administrative structures ensured that they swam against the tide to gain global acclaim.  The likes of Chidi Imoh, Innocent Egbunike, Mary Onyali, the Ezinwa brothers, Olapade Adenekan, Chioma Ajunwa and Falilat Ogunkoya all come to mind. While the country has gone on to produce Uchenna Emedolu, Deji Aliu, Endurance Ojokolo, Olusoji Fasuba, Obinna Metu, Ogho Egwero, and Blessing Okagbare; only a few have produced momentary flashes of brilliance on the international circuit. However, the brightest prospects and worthy successors to the Bada generation could be said to be Francis Obikwelu and Glory Alozie. However, due to the many issues surrounding the poor welfare and remuneration of Nigerian athletes, both have long switched allegiance to European countries, leaving behind many more disillusioned younger athletes with great potentials.

Until his death, Bada, who retired from active sports after the 2000 Sydney Olympics, but remained a police officer, was always full of hope for the revival of Nigeria’s athletics, and as the technical director of the AFN, he tried as much as he could on different levels to ensure that the situation improved. Fifteen years after, no Nigerian has been able to equal his golden achievement. Just like the news of Bada’s death, it is a depressing commentary about the state of Nigeria’s athletics on all fronts.

“I want to see records falling in this festival and I’m sure it will happen,” he had said during the 2009 Sports Festival Games in Kaduna. At the 2010 Mobil Championships in Abuja, he told the magazine about the need for more lucrative national circuits to encourage locally based athletes to improve on the tracks and catch up with international standards. In 2011, he also spoke of his desire to see needed improvement in Nigerian athletics following the dismal performance of her athletes over the course of the year.
Sadly, he never lived to see it as the country’s athletics has been allowed to sink deeper into oblivion on the international stage. On the continental stage, even other African countries like Ghana have taken the shine off Nigeria in the sprints, once renowned as the country’s exclusive pride of place.

In a condolence message, the International Amateur Athletics Federation, IAAF, noted that it was “deeply shocked and saddened,” to hear of Bada’s death. “The IAAF on behalf of the global athletics family offers its condolences and sympathy to the family and friends of Sunday Bada who will be sadly missed,” its statement read. Until his untimely death, he was the team head of the Commissioner of Police Secretariat I, SFU, and was also the first Commander of the Joint Border Patrol between Nigeria and Benin Republic. While Bada's 1997 indoor best of 45.51 seconds is still the African record for the event, his personal best of 44.63 seconds at the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, remains the second fastest time by any Nigerian sprinter, after Innocent Egbunike best of 44.17 seconds.

“To our great national hero, My team mate and fellow Olympic gold medalist...former National Sports Festival record holder, former World Indoor champion and the most decorated Nigerian Sprinter Sunday Bada, I say Rest In Peace! We shall all miss you...sad sad sad day indeed',” wrote Enefiok Udo-obong, Bada's gold-winning teammate at the Sydney Olympic Games, on his Facebook wall.

A few days ago, a Google search for ‘Sunday Bada’ produced over three million results. However, as the whole country and the international athletics world mourns the sudden loss of a great athlete, many sports analysts are left to wonder if Nigeria would ever produce another athlete in the mould of the golden Bada.

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