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December 20, 2015

How Ogba and Nilayo’s doggedness turned impossibility to possibility By Adekunle Ahmed

Solomon Ogba, the President of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN)’s career as a sports administrator is filled with many bright spots, the most prominent being his  nurturing of Blessing Okagbare from a budding athlete, to a world class athlete worth her weight in gold.

But the joy of his dream of a marathon for his adopted city, Lagos, becoming a reality last Friday, with the world press conference that announced the Access Bank Lagos City Marathon to the world, strained the descriptive power of any adjective.

Since the nation returned to civil rule, Ogba has used his contacts within the Lagos political and government circle to preach the gospel of marathon to Lagos leaders, but his message fell on hard soil, so it did not germinate.

Like a dogged soldier, just like Jesus Christ instructed his disciplines, Ogba continued preaching the gospel.

He believed that Lagos, a megacity, needs a marathon like Dubai, New York, London, Berlin, Beijing and other mega cities around the world.

Ogba always told members of the sports family of his unhappiness and discomfort that South Africa has about 23 marathons and roads races. Morocco, Kenya, and even Ghana and Benin have marathons, but Lagos does not have one.

Ogba’s message landed on fertile land when he shared the idea with a fellow former commissioner, Bukola Olopade, the managing director of Nilayo Sports Management Limited.

With the change of guard in Alausa on May 29, Olopade, according to sources close to the seat of power, approached Gov. Akinwumi Ambode with the idea of a marathon for Lagos.

A lover of sports and a top athlete during his school days at Federal Government College, Warri, Ambode embraced the idea and gave Lagos’ blessing to the project.

Ogba’s joy when he broke the news to AFN board members Tunde Makanju, Olukayode Thomas and Yussuf Alli at Makanju’s house at the University of Lagos was like that of a young boy who has just found a treasured lost toy.

Promptly, work started with the marking of route, marketing, technical, contacts with IAAF and AIMS, contacts with elite runners and others.

Access Bank not only fell in love with the project because of the marketing benefits for its brand, but because of the health benefits associated with running and the fact that it will showcase Lagos to the world.

After months of hard work by a small team of dedicated staff led by Ogba and Olopade, the Access Bank Lagos City Marathon was announced to the world at a press conference at the sponsor, Access Bank’s, Headquarters last Friday.

For the dogged fighter Ogba, the marathon will showcase Lagos to the world,

“Lagos is a beautiful city, and an international marathon, beamed live to a global audience, will sell the city positively to the world. Then, the health benefits of running are immense, studies have shown that regular exercise prevent cardio related diseases, help in losing weight and also resolve other health issues. Also, there is the business side. The marathon will pump a lot of money into the economy and help local businesses’’.

Olopade, whose company, Nilayo, is the project consultant, affirmed that everything is being done to ensure that the Access Bank Lagos City Marathon is one residents of Lagos and fans of running worldwide will look forward to every year.

He assured that the marathon will not be a one off event, but a permanent feature in the nation’s sporting calendar.

“We are running this marathon like some of the best in the world, apart from the main race; there will be races for all categories of runners. Access Bank Lagos City Marathon will not just be about elite athletes, though the best athletes in the world will be in Lagos, but it is also about those that will be running for fun, about the spectators, and we are appealing to Lagosians to be part of the fun by coming to cheer the runners along the route.’’

Slated for February 6, 2016, the Access Bank Lagos City Marathon will attract the best 10 men and women marathoners in the world.

Registration to participate in the race is free once the intending runner has been certified fit be a medical doctor.

Tagged ‘running from old to the new’, the race will flag off at Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere, which is the old Lagos and end at Eko Atlantics, Victoria Island, which is new Lagos.

Winners in the men and women categories will go home with $50,000.00 each.

The IAAF President, Sebastian Coe is expected in Lagos with the retinue of reporters that follow him everywhere he goes. There are also insinuations that President Muhammadu Buhari and top government functionaries from different parts of the country will be in Lagos.

Though Ogba and Nilayo’s doggedness gave Lagos the marathon, yet, when the history of Access Bank Lagos City Marathon is being written, a special chapter will be devoted to Ambode, who made the dream a reality and Access Bank, which provided the initial funding, and the Chairman of the LOC Hon. Deji Tinubu, who is also the Special Adviser to the Governor and Chairman of Lagos State Sports Commission.

Ahmed is a Lagos based athletics aficionado

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