Throughout the 2017 and 2018 athletics season, Praise Oghenefejiro Idamadudu was one of the most reverend home-based female athletes. She was almost the sole reason why many Nigerians cared about track and field business following her landmark achievement both in local and international competitions.
At the age of 18, Idamadudu was already a Commonwealth Games medalist. She was on a fast lane, racing towards achieving more continental titles when her dream and aspiration was thwarted mid last year through suspension by the Ibrahim Gusau-led board of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN).
Idamadudu just returned from the World Athletics Relays in Yokohama, Japan, when she was handed the suspension in Abuja. Her offence was that she could not remember the name of the AFN president when a journalist interviewed her during a protest over the federation’s failure to settle allowances of the athletes who represented Team Nigeria at the African U18/U20 Athletics Championships in Abidjan.
And for eight months, Idamadudu was treated like a pariah. She was like a sheep without Shepherd. The young athlete sent several apologies to Gusau and his ‘army,’ begging for forgiveness but all her pleas fell on deaf ears. She felt her bubbling athletics career had crumbled. To stay away from Nigeria’s track and field business was like a death sentence to Idamadudu.
But change soon came, when Gusau was impeached late last year by the AFN board over alleged financial mismanagement, among other charges. Gusau’s removal from office was a big relief for Idamadudu. The sprinter is back in full force, thanks to the Olamide George-led AFN board, which upturned the ‘illegal’ suspension.
At the AFN Classics held in Ado Ekiti last weekend, the focus of many athletics lovers was on Praise Idamadudu. And she responded well in both the 100m and 400m final.
Though she was beaten to the 100m title by Nwokocha Grace (Most Outstanding Performer of the meet), Idamadudu’s Personal Best time of 11.59seconds gladdened the hearts of some spectators considering the long period of inactivity (suspension).
“I am glad to be back,” Idamadudu roared in a brief chat with The Guardian, waving her left hand to acknowledge cheers from the crowd. As she made her way to the Call room, the sprinter said: “Some wicked people in the AFN wanted to frustrate my athletics career. I did nothing wrong, but they decided to suspend me from athletics. God came to my rescue and I am grateful to all those who made it possible for me to return.”
Perhaps, one of the unforgettable moments about the AFN Classics in Ado Ekiti was the women’s 400m final, a battle of superiority between Idamadudu and Favour Ofili.
The entire spectators rose to their feet to catch a glimpse of the race, as both athlete powered towards the finish line. Like the scenario at COJA 2003 All African Games in Abuja in the women’s 100m final between Mary Onyali and Endurance Ojokolo, the race between Idamadudu and Ofili was a photo finish.
It forced AFN technical officials into a long period of debate and consultations to determine the winner. Ofili was faster by a margin of 0.01seconds, with a Season Best time of 52.54s, while Idamadudu was second in 52.55 seconds.
The suspension by the Gusau-led board had denied Idamadudu the chance of representing Nigeria at the All African Games in Rabat, Morocco and the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar.
She would have been a great addition to the women’s 4x400m team in Doha having ran a sub 53 seconds (52.49) in 2018. Many believed that Idamadudu’s presence in Doha would have secured qualification for the women’s 4x400m to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. She also recorded 11.59 seconds in the 100m in June last year before she was abruptly suspended.
Concerned about Idamadudu’s athletics career, members of the Track and Field Athletes Union of Nigeria (TAFAUN) staged a protest against the then Technical Director of the AFN, Sunday Adeleye over his alleged failure to defend the female athlete. They felt that Adeleye should have protected the athlete by persuading Gusau to invite her for questioning before her suspension.
Idamadudu’s first competition since she returned from suspension was the AFN All-Comers at the Federal University of Technology (FUTA) in Akure, where the home-based track and field athletes officially began the race towards making the qualification standard for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Many athletics followers are of the opinion that the return of Praise Idamadudu will be a great asset for Team Nigeria, particularly in the 4x400m relay. She was in Team Nigeria’s 4x400m relay team to the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast, Australia, where they ran 3:25.29 to grab a silver medal behind Jamaica, who won the gold medal with a time of 3:24:00 seconds.
Idamadudu ran alongside Patience Okon-George, Glory Nathaniel and Yinka Ajayi at the Gold Coast. Her performances at the 2018 Commonwealth Games earned her comparisons to Olympics medallist, Falilat Ogunkoya from some international media organisations.
Idamadudu, born in 1998 in Ovu, Delta State, made her international debut at the 2014 African Youth Games, where she was the 200m gold medallist. Later that year, she competed at the 2014 World Junior Championships in the 200, 400 and 4×400 metres relay. She was due to compete for Nigeria at the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics, but Team Nigeria was pressured into withdrawal over concerns about the Ebola virus epidemic, which was ravaging some West African countries at that time.
Idamadud was a double gold medallist (200m and 4x400m relay) at the 2015 African Junior Athletics Championships. South Africa’s Nicola de Bruyn beat her to the gold medal in the 200m at the 2015 African Youth Athletics Championships.
She ended the year with three gold medals at the Commonwealth Youth Games, taking the 200m and two relay titles.Idamadudu took her first senior national title in the 200m at the 2015 Nigerian Athletics Championships. She missed parts of the 2016 season due to a knee injury.