By Felicia Oby Okafor
Nigeria is renowned for its plethora of iconic sports personalities, who despite their short period of emergence on the world scene, left stunning marks that shuddered both admirers and opponents, notwithstanding the lack of training equipments, inadequate funding and tepid political will to boisterously support sports as a full profession.
The athletes, who made the enduring marks were men and women of strong will, grit, determination and dreams. Dream is what could be seen as a guide from what a child sees in others that moves him or her to want to become like them or even do better than them. In another word, it could be regarded as a determinant to propel one to work hard in order to actualise what he sees to be his own landmark. This ‘crazy’ drive surges after childhood and will invariably metamorphose to legacy at adulthood.
Legacy can be defined as any exemplary life lived by a man or woman, to be emulated by posterity. It was showcased by our fore-fathers, parents, neighbours, relatives, leaders and churches. It is peculiar with the lifestyle of principled individuals that hope for continuity when they have departed to their eternal rest. People that belong to this lineage will hope that the trend will be transferred to the great beyond. Incidentally, this is a choice of mind that cannot be linked to education, wealth, nation or sex, but purely controlled by the conscience.
Despite the pandemic or COVID-19 that paralysed every nation and affected the global economy, people were still bent on believing that it is not a permanent situation, especially in the ministry of Youth and Sports Development, which is a haven for young men and women with a propulsion to get to the highest level of attainment.
In this sector, many men and women had left indelible footprints on our terraces. No wonder the federal government, through the ministry, insisted on the need to honour sports veterans, icons and people, who in their youth, dedicated their dream, strength and life to make the country proud through outstanding performances in sporting activities.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, COVID-19 took people away from their domain, leisure venues, friends and social gathering. It even separated them from religious commitment to God. Yet, the sports administrators have failed to honour talents that made Nigeria proud irrespective of the pandemic.
It’s said that when the going gets tough, the tough emerge. In this hard time of ‘palpable fear and apprehension, a determined mind, who at one time came from the poorest background, without shoes has been recognised because their feet could wear the best spics shoes, and entertain both the high and mighty. Those persons, now reckoned with in the classical society, travelled the world round and became role models of aspirations.
Those outstanding characters of ‘yesterday, (living and of blessed memory) and their successive present-day prodigies are today recognised and honoured by philanthropists (also both living and of (blessed memory) like Aliko Dangote, late Chief Moshood Abiola and Chief Adebute Keshington. Not only are they classified among great men that have reputable legacy, they are to be in the same history also like all those who left behind legendary dreams.
I pay tribute to the Super Eagles team in particular and other sports veterans that made history that is being relished by Nigerians, and which will be enjoyed by Nigerian children yet unborn. Sporting landmarks of 1980, 1994 and Atlanta 1996 had people, who made it possible for change to occur in Nigeria’s stature and image in the international realm, thus meriting the honours given to them. Commendably, the ever-vibrant Nigerian press paid due tribute to both sports men and the supporting personalities, thus promoting their business in a reciprocal manner.
Suffice it to say that the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) then captured the eyes of the world that added colour to the value of entertainment and sports. The likes of Yinka Craig, Fan Ndubuoke, Emeka Iyama, Sani Zaria, Ahmed Adio, etc, attracted the world with their sports linkage programmes that enhanced the popularity of the Green,White, Green.
Renowned editor’s emeritus like Onochie Anibueze, Ikedi Isiguzo, Kunle Solaja, Muyiwa Daniel, among others, through their widely read constructive and edifying write-ups in their papers brought the icons to the limelight and encouraged them. Most notable are born-legends like Ernest Okonkwo and Emeka Odigbo, whose comments were medicinal to high blood pressure aside being the principal authorities of movements during every championship. Journalists are easily recognised as friends in need but least in the history of icons and important priorities.
Our Hall of Fame should be deliberately managed and regularly updated to be composite, wholesome and all- inclusive. Let me identify a few of them for greater mention. Chief Patrick Ekeji, was a renowned player of the then “Green Eagles” later renamed “Super Eagles of Nigeria”. He retired as the director- general of the defunct National Sports Commission (NSC). He is an icon in local, state and national level sports administration.
To recognize an icon in one distinguished area is to recognize other icons in their different areas. Yusuf Ali, then Football Association (FA) chairman did not only finance the Nigerian Green Eagles but chartered planes that made it possible for them to compete with their peers internationally. Engr. Abu Gumel should also be acknowledged for his sports management role especially at international level. Engr. Gumel worked and retired as director of Facilities in the defunct NSC. Above all, he contributed in the commissioning of Abiola National Stadium used for the All African Games (AAG). He has given the country a place and name at the International Olympic arena, being the treasurer of the Association of National Olympic Committee of Africa (ANOCA), member, International Olympic Committee (IOC) and president, Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC). To his spectacular credit is the completion and Commissioning of ANOCA headquarters in Nigeria.
The ministry of Youth and Sports Development should keep the flames of success shining brighter. Then minister, Sunday Dare should be commended for recognising and appreciating icons of sports. The ministry should enhance this laudable action by cascading the ‘Honours Roll’ for those serving, even at the grassroots level, which is the bastion for the identification of budding talents with great potential.
Felicia Oby Okafor works with the information department, ministry of Youth & Sports Development.