Hey, would you like a passport in 24 hours to compete for Nigeria? Apparently we’re giving them out to anyone who’ll accept the offer…
The African Championships rounded up on Thursday night, and the big surprise for Nigeria fans during the week-long competition was the sudden appearance of new girl Lindsay Weyinme in Green-White-Green of Team Naija. We caught up with her after the 100m Hurdles final where she finished 4th, and this is what she had to say about how she was recruited to Team Nigeria (captured on camera by AthleticsAfrica):
Following the National Trials in Calabar, where we extensively covered the appearance of the newly recruited Americans to Team Nigeria, we asked the most pertinent question that arose – whether they should even have received Green Passport in the first place, given that Nigeria citizenship law clearly states that one must have at least ONE Nigerian parent to naturalise, if you were not born in Nigeria. Never in the history of Nigeria has any foreigner EVER received the passport because their great-grandparent or great-great grandparent was Nigerian, as some of them have claimed is their link to Nigeria.
All of this makes Weyinme’s claim as to how she got the Nigerian Passport even more startling. Is there any country in the whole world where you can become a citizen because your UNCLE MARRIED someone from that country? Not you, but your uncle? It’s such brazen disregard for Nigerian Law that one can only assume this young lady and her ‘Naijamerican’ colleagues have been rather misinformed and ill-advised in this whole situation.
Let’s not even get into the fact that she did not even attend the Nigerian Trials so her selection on the team is a big surprise, to say the least. This is the same situation with Robert Simmons, who also did not attend the trials, and has done little to justify his inclusion on the team, after not finishing his 400m race at the Commonwealth Games, and false starting earlier this week at these African Championships. The integrity of our whole selection process is at stake here.
It did not take long for more news on Wenyime’s background to emerge in online fan forums in Nigeria. It turns out that her real name is Lindsay Lindley, and it is likely that she was given the name Weyinme during the process of naturalising. Interestingly, the other Americans recruited to Team Nigeria have been given Delta middle names, such as Mark ‘Amuju’ Jelks, Monzavous ‘Jolomi’ Edwards, Tyron ‘Toritseju’ Akins, and so on.
They are all set to represent Delta State at the upcoming National Sports Festival, which just happens to be the first National Sports Festival that is open to foreign-based Nigerians, a classification which they now fall under. Which begs the question – is their recruitment really about making Team Nigeria better, or is it about Delta State winning the National Sports Festival? What becomes of them after the Festival? Only time will tell.
One thing is certain – it is very IMPORTANT that Nigerians do NOT direct any ill-feelings towards these athletes, who are merely embracing an opportunity that has been accorded them to advance their careers as Nigerians. What’s done is done, so they should be supported for whatever time they have left as Team Nigeria athletes (the majority of them are over 30), BUT as a people we need to make sure that we protect the integrity of the Nigerian passport, and what it means to represent this great nation – our immigration services has clearly dropped the ball here.
What’s next if we don’t close the loop on this? Someone will say their friend’s sister’s aunty-in-law is Nigerian and that’s how they got the passport? Essentially, almost anybody in the world can get a Nigerian passport in 24 hours to compete for us. You would think that this MIGHT be acceptable if we were talking about world-class, exceptional talents, but so far they have not improved Team Nigeria – at the Commonwealth Games only one of the recruits got a RELAY medal, while at these African Championships only one of them got an individual GOLD, which we still would have won anyway if they were not there, as we swept all the medals in that event. We even lost our Continental Crown to South Africa, winning only 8 gold medals this time around, as opposed to 10 in Porto Novo 2 years ago!
When all is said and done, this is not even about the recruits, and we want to re-iterate that we harbour no ill-feelings towards them, and we will celebrate whatever medals they can win for Team Nigeria at any level. What this is really about is how we see ourselves as a nation and a people. We need now to look deeply within, at our system, to make sure that born and bred Nigerians get the SAME opportunities, SAME privileges, and SAME funding as the American Recruits, because if that were to happen, Nigeria WILL surpass Jamaica & USA as the dominant force in World Athletics. It would only be a matter of time. Watch this space.