Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Kudos, Nigeria Paralympians

They were 29 in number (12 ladies and 17 men), Team Nigeria delegates to the 2012 London Paralympics which was held from August 29 to September 9. Unlike their Olympian counterparts who had no medal to show for their efforts or as opined in some other circle ‘who went to see the queen and count London bridges’, these athletes did Nigeria proud by winning a total of 13 medals; six  of which were gold, five silver and two bronze. Nigeria was patently the king of power-lifting especially in Africa as twelve of the country’s medals were in the event while a consolatory bronze medal was won in Women’s Shot Put by Eucharia Iyiazi. They placed 22nd out of a total of 74 countries on the medals table and were Africa’s third best coming after Tunisia and South Africa.  

Nigeria’s profile on the Paralympics revealed that the country made her Paralympics Games debut in 1992 in Barcelona with a team of six men who competed in athletics, power-lifting and table tennis. Adeoye Ajibola won two gold medals in sprint, while Monday Emoghawve won one gold in power lifting in 1992. In 2000, Edith Nzuruike became one of Nigeria's first female Paralympics champions, winning gold in the javelin. The same year, Emoghawve took his third consecutive gold in power-lifting, while three female power lifters (Iyabo Ismaila, Victoria Nneji and Patricia Okafor) also won a gold medal each. In table tennis, Tajudeen Agunbiade won gold in the men's singles, while the trio of Agunbiade, Tunde Adisa and Femi Alabi took gold in the team event. In 2004, Adekunle Adesoji was a triple champion in sprinting; Silver Ezeikpe won gold in the men's javelin; and Lucy Ejike took gold in power-lifting. In 2008, Eucharia Njideka Iyiazi was Paralympic champion in both shot put and discus, while Ejike and Ruel Ishaku each won a gold medal in power lifting. 

Nigeria dominated power-lifting at the London 2012 Paralympics Games with six gold medals in their 12-medal haul. The team broke four world records through Yakubu Adesokan, the Ibadan-born former shoe-maker now turned celebrated power-lifter set the ball rolling by lifting 180kg in the men’s 48kg category, breaking not only the Paralympics record, but also breaking the world record twice, first by lifting 178kg before settling for the winning weight of 180kg, a weight almost four times his body weight. Other world record breakers include, Esther Oyema, Joy Onaolapo and Folashade Oluwafemiayo, although she won silver in the women's -75kg category as her world record came in a fourth lift and thus was out of competition. Loveline Obiji won for herself a birthday gold medal in 82.50kg while Grace Anozie won gold in the women's +82.5kg.  Beyond the medal haul, it was heart-warming that none of the Nigerian athletes was found to have used any performance enhancing drugs or any banned substance for that matter. Overall, Nigeria has won 28 gold, 16 silver and 13 bronze medals in six appearances (inclusive of the 2012 London edition).

Nigerian Tribune in its September 4 edition reported a mild protest by Nigerian athletes over an alleged act of discrimination by National Sports Commission officials as it reported that the paralympians were being paid $1,700 instead of the 2,400 pounds sterling paid their Olympian counterparts. The newspaper quoted one of the athletes who spoke with it under the condition of anonymity as saying: "Why should we be paid in dollars? None of the athletes who went to London 2012 main Olympics won a medal, yet they were paid 2,400 pounds each. Here we are, we have made Nigeria proud by wining gold medals here and those at the helm of affairs only felt we should be paid in dollars. Why the disparity for goodness sake? It is unfair" If indeed this story is true, it is most unfortunate. This act of marginalization has been the hallmark of Nigerian society against persons with disability. They are hardly considered in physical planning as many of our public buildings lack access entrance for persons on wheelchair. Our news broadcast does not factor in the deaf and dumb while an average able bodied Nigerian sees persons with disability from the prism of a beggar who should be handed crumbs from a master’s table. This is a wrong attitude which we must all change. Vicissitude of life could make an able bodied of today to join the community of persons with disability tomorrow.

Declaring the 2012 Paralympics closed, International Paralympics Committee president, Sir Philip Craven, said the Games had been "unique and without doubt, in my mind and those of the athletes - the greatest Paralympics Games ever” Speaking to the 80,000-strong crowd, organising committee chairman Lord Coe said the UK would "never think of sport the same way and we will never think of disability the same way as according to him "The Paralympians have lifted the cloud of limitation."  Spot on! 4,200 competitors from about 164 nations took part in 21 sports during the 11 days fiesta.
The sterling performance of team Nigeria is worth celebrating and I am indeed happy that President Goodluck Jonathan put smiles on the faces of the Paralympians when he hosted them on Saturday, September 15. The cash reward doled out to these worthy sport ambassadors and the U-20 Falconets will motivate them to do better at future competitions as well as attract other persons to take to sports. Though the Naira rain is good and the conferment of Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) national honour on the six Paralympian gold medalists is better, other incentives like scholarship should be added. Further, state-of–the-art sporting facilities should be provided for persons with disability who may wish to take to sport to have training equipments. President Jonathan also owes it a duty to sign the persons with disability bill passed by the last national assembly. The best gift we can give to this special people is fraternal love, full integration and recognition of their fundamental human rights. To our heroines and heroes of 2012 London Paralympics I say kudos and hearty congratulations.