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Nigerian athletes and the banned drugs syndrome

The ugly trend has ruined the careers of many world super and rising star athletes like Marion Jones, Ben Johnson and host of other foreign…

The ugly trend has ruined the careers of many world super and rising star athletes like Marion Jones, Ben Johnson and host of other foreign and local athletes.

In Nigeria, the case is not different, as many Nigerian athletes have at different times fallen victim to the ugly incident, raising questions as to what is the magic that has defiled solutions.

Early this week, on Monday precisely, the nation woke up to the shocking news that one of her athletes at the 19th Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India tested positive to banned drugs.

Sprinter, Damola Osayomi, who had earlier won gold in the women’s 100 metres, was stripped of her medal by games organizers after second test proved she was guilty of taking banned methylhexaneamine.

She was stripped of her gold after her B sample also fails testing, and England’s Katherine Endacott who was third in the race, was upgraded to gold spot. Osayemi had clocked 11.32 seconds behind Sally Pearson of Australia who finished first with 11.28 seconds, but Pearson was later disqualified for false start.

Osayomi is not just one of the world’s top sprinters; she is top-20 best. She tested positive for a fairly low-level stimulant, which one expected a ban of between three and six months, which is probably proportionate to the crime.

The incident, which followed two other failed dope tests by Nigerian athletes at the vent, was a huge embarrassment to the largest black nation on earth, and also threw up many questions regarding Nigerian athletes and the drug syndrome.

Another Nigerian athlete, Samuel Okon, a finalist in the men’s 110-meter hurdles, was suspended after waiving his right to have his “B” sample tested. He was also disqualified from the games and his results nullified.

Commonwealth Games Federation President Mike Fennell said Tuesday that Okon, who was sixth in the 110 hurdles final last Friday, had also tested positive for Methylhexaneamine.

“It’s a stimulant,” Fennell said of the drug, which has also been found in samples from about a dozen Indian athletes in recent months.

“At this stage, I cannot speak very definitively as to where it is coming from, but it appears to us that it may be coming from the use of supplements”, Fennell said.

He added that “We have already had discussions with the leadership of the Nigerian team, who are themselves very, very concerned about this matter. We are satisfied that they are taking this very seriously. They are very concerned about this and they are doing their own investigations.”

The third Nigerian who tested positive to banned drugs was a member of the country’s 4×400 metres women relay team Folashade Abugan.

Abugan, who was a part of the Nigerian quartet, has also been stripped of the silver medal she won in the 400m.

Abugan, who tested positive for testosterone prohormone, like Samuel Okon, waived the right to have her B sample analysed.

India won the 4x400m relay race; Nigeria was second, with English quartet Kelly Massey, Victoria Barr, Meghan Beesley and Nadine Okyere finishing third. Canada, who were fourth, are promoted to the bronze medal.

The Games’ Federation said in a statement: “Ms Abugan had committed an anti-doping rule violation.

“Consequently, she has been disqualified from all events she participated in during the Games, with the results nullified.

“This includes her silver medal in the women’s 400m. As she was also a member of her country’s second placed 4x400m relay team, that result is also nullified”.

Past Nigerian drugs offenders

Though many Nigerian athletes have in the past been punished for taking performance-enhanced drugs the few names that that easily come to mind are Edith Agonye, whose medal at the All Africa Games in Harare 1995 was retrieved for taking banned drugs.

There was also Chioma Ajunwa, and only last year at the World Athletic Championship in Berlin, Nigeria’s shot put queen Vivian Chukwuemeka was suspended for taking performance enhanced drugs.

There are also several others, who for want of space cannot be mentioned today.


Methylhexaneamine is a stimulant, which the World Anti-Doping Agency recently loosened the classification of Methylhexaneamine for next year to the “specified stimulant” list, which covers drugs that are more susceptible to inadvertent use and can carry reduced penalties.

The stimulant is also used by bodybuilders to help bring their core temperatures down so they can pump more iron.

Methylhexaneamine was sold as a medicine until the early 1970s and has reappeared in some nutritional supplements and cooking oils.


News that one of Nigeria’s gold medallist at the Commonwealth Games in India, Damola Osayemi tested positive to banned drugs took officials of Team Nigerian and Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) aback.

The day IOC announced the discovery, NOC eggheads, including its President Engineer Sani Ndanusa, Secretary General Tunde Popoola, 2nd vice President Chief Solomon Ogba, Public Relations Officer Tony Ubani, Team Nigeria Doctor Dr Amao and the affected athlete met at the ASHOK Hotel to determine the true position of the matter.

President Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Solomon Ogba said measures will immediately be taken to make sure athletes are guided properly from making such careless mistakes. He said henceforth unlike now where athletes only take full responsibility for their actions, coaches will also bear responsibility for the actions of their athletes.

Ogba added that the present NOC leadership will empower the coaches to monitor their athletes and what they take.

Nigeria Olympic Committee President, who doubles as Nigeria Tennis Federation President, Sani Ndanusa said time has come for the NOC in collaboration with the various federations to hold athletes’ education programmes as well as work more with NAFDAC on the influx and effect of the nutritional supplements, and warned athletes against rampant indulgence in nutritional supplements.


International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Mike Fennell also expressed concern with the growing number of cases associated with the substance globally.

“We ourselves are concerned by the number of incidents that has cropped up with this same substance,” said Fennell, noting that the change to the WADA list does not go into effect until next year.

“Each year on the first of January, it becomes effective a new list. We are operating on the 2010 list,” Fennell said. “Whatever changes were made this year will be effective next year, but we are operating under the 2010 list.”

Medical expert on the drug

Team Nigeria physician, Dr. Akin Amao explained that the drugs taken by the athlete were not doping substances but nutritional supplements which have also affected many athletes ignorantly.

Amao said the athlete never took the supplements intentionally and had been tested three times before the games.

“From what we have found out the supplements were not taken intentionally for performance enhancement or to give her competitive edge. What she took were not serious drugs but stimulants that can be bought ignorantly anywhere.

The stimulants must have been contaminated so there is no serious problem. We have known her for the past eight years so she cannot do anything intentionally to destroy herself. All we want is to see her get back on the track. The wrong impression is that she has taken drugs like steroids or something bad but all we can say is that she has unintentionally taken contaminated supplements”.

Throwing more light as to how she must have come into contact with the contaminated substance, Amao said due to market competition, drug manufacturing companies produce drugs to gain advantage over their competitors, and so add stimulants which are ignorantly bought and taken by athletes.

WADA war

The positive tests, together with the news of over 700 negative tests, show that World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) officials are able to conduct tests as they wants to, which is good.

The drug Osayemi was found guilty of using, methylhexaneamine, is the one that has been causing trouble in the last 18 months, and it has only recently gone on the banned list.

We need to keep battling away, finding the new products that people are taking, for the athletes and officials to be aware of the drugs for use and those banned.


Based on the above, it is clear that the national sports federations and the Nigeria Olympic Committee have a lot to do in order to nip in the bud the recurring issue of drug consumption in our sports.

Aside that, athletes on their own should be able to engage personal physicians who have knowledge of sports medicine to guide them against future occurrence, thereby avoid embarrassment to the nation.

It is true that when you are in a system, like other countries of the world, you are told clearly not to take anything without checking with a team physician or the governing body.

But the case of Osayomi and others who went to India cannot be entirely blamed on the Athletics Federation of Nigeria because they are not based in the country, and the AFN is not directly monitoring their activities.

Osayomi, for instance is based in the United States so she probably thought that, if other people were taking it, it would be okay.

It could be easy to point the finger at Nigeria because they don’t yet have a national anti-doping programme.

It is part and parcel of top-class sport. If people think a substance is not on the banned list, they take it, and sometimes they are caught out when it is added to the list.

We need to keep battling away, finding the new products that people are taking, and narrow down that list of what it is acceptable for people to take.