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07.10.2003 Tabloid News

Race for condoms at African Games in Nigeria

By Manoah Esipisu
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ABUJA, Oct 6 (Reuters) - It wasn't listed on the official programme, but there was a race for condoms at the All African Games in Nigeria which kicked off on Saturday.

Some 40,000 condoms distributed free by organisers were snapped up by 6,000 athletes, 1,200 officials and 1,500 journalists within 48 hours of the Games' opening in the capital Abuja, organisers said on Monday.

"These Games usually have high (sex) activity and we keenly follow the gospel of safe sex," said a Nigerian athlete.

Organisers promoting the safe sex message estimated that as many as 80,000 condoms would be taken up by the time the Games end on August 18.

"We have been flooded with condoms and are taking them for when the need arises," a Zambian boxer told Reuters.

There are at least 30 million adults living with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa -- 70 percent of the total affected around the globe. In Nigeria, 3.5 million people are estimated to have or carry HIV/AIDS.

Despite the spread of the killer disease on the continent and the safe sex campaign at the Games, there are no screaming billboards in deeply conservative Nigeria about HIV or AIDS decimating African professionals.

"Abuja 2003", the official magazine of the Games did not mention the word "condom" in its 12 tabloid-style pages.

Former Nigerian leaders across the political spectrum were also celebrated as the Games got rolling.

Athletes and officials were shuttled to facilities around Abuja named after former Nigerian leaders, from charismatic rulers of the early 1960s to military dictators whose iron grip and chaotic rule still affect the country of 120 million.

They include General Aguiyi Ironsi, who had ruled for just six months when he was kidnapped, tortured and brutally murdered by fellow army men in July 1966.

Athletes were handed an Abuja guide that includes directions to "Sani Abacha Barracks", preserving the memory of the dictator whose death in 1998 led to the elections that ushered in President Olusegun Obasanjo as civilian head of state.

Plaques of independence rulers Tafawa Balewa and Ahmadu Bello, who led Nigeria in its break from Britain in 1960, stood smiling from other government facilities.

"They are part of our history. You cannot pretend that they did not exist," one Nigerian official told Reuters.

The Games could run into problems on Thursday when a strike to protest fuel price increases begins. Officials appeared unfazed, saying they had enough fuel in storage for the Games.

Hundreds of cars queued at fuel stations in Abuja to fill up before the strike.

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