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Rehabilitating Past Heroes Of Nigerian Sports

A nation that maltreats her past heroes will only make future stars to lack the sense of patriotism. These neglected stars used to be the role models of the youths, and any maltreatment meted out to them may redound on how the young ones approach national duties

It is indeed quite pathetic how many Nigerian sportsmen and women who earned the country so much distinction in the past end up being totally neglected, only to die unsung. There is the pathetic case of Dele Jonathan, the once lionized Commonwealth Lightweight boxing champion, who lives in deep pains in the city of Ibadan.

Back in the days of his prime, Dele Jonathan on May 3, 1975 at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos defeated Britain’s Jim Watt on points over 15 rounds to win the then vacant Commonwealth Lightweight title. Born on October 20, 1946, Dele Jonathan who has the global boxing number 15927 had a record of 58 fights, winning 40 bouts, with 24 via knockouts, while losing only 10 times even as eight of the fights ended as draws.

Dele Jonathan obviously did his best in enshrining Nigeria’s name in the boxing map of the world. The current reality for the once-great boxer is that he stayed dejected in his Ibadan home not able to provide N250,000 to get out of pains and urinal difficulties. He was in dire need of urgent surgery as he had been diagnosed to be suffering from bladder stone and prostate enlargement. Dele Jonathan needed to be helped with management, constant monitoring, laboratory tests etc so that his case would not get cancerous.

It’s not as though he had not over the years tried to help himself. He had invested in interstate transport service but the business crashed, and his children cannot cope with all the expenses. Even so, Dele Jonathan remains a steadfast member of the Nigerian Boxing Board of Control (NBB of C). A short documentary on Dele Jonathan by the acclaimed filmmaker and writer Muritala Sule depicts the fading star with all the starkness of his woes. The ex-boxing champion dared to keep hope alive until rehabilitation emanated in the reprising of the words of the National Anthem boding that the labour of our past heroes shall not be in vain.

Our past sports heroes have almost always died broken and unsupported. Former National Team goalkeeper and 1980 African Nations Cup stalwart Best Ogedegbe died unsung. The ace Green Eagles defender and IICC Shooting Stars captain Sam Ojebode also passed on without any help forthcoming. Aloysius Atuegbu, the Green Eagles 1980 Nations Cup midfielder and Enugu Rangers mainstay, had things very rough in the last days before giving up the ghost. His erstwhile colleague Okey Isima went he same way. Foster Ikeagu of Enugu Rangers lost the battle of life without being assisted in any manner.

Former Stationery Stores master dribbler Haruna Ilerika of the Green Eagles gold-winning team of the 1973 All-Africa Games in Lagos has equally passed away. Peter “Eusebio” Anieke suffered the same fate. The saddening list is indeed endless. Like Dele Jonathan, other former sporting greats who are still living are equally hurting. The legendary goalkeeper Emmanuel Okala of the then Green Eagles and Enugu Rangers is now a shadow of his former self. The boxer Obisia Nwankpa who nearly won the world title for Nigeria can do with some attention.

The boxing Olympian Jerry Okorodudu had to cry for years on end before he had to be reconnected with his coaching duties. The inescapable fact is that the exertions through sports in one’s youth eventually take a heavy toll upon the advancement of the years. The knees would start to give up. The joints would then be jangling badly. Even in the United States, the travails of arguably the greatest boxer, Muhammad Ali, is a clear and present pointer to the prize that is paid after many years in sports.

The likes of Dele Jonathan had their forays in sports when they were not money-spinning as is the case today. These sportsmen and women deployed their talents with passion towards the promotion of the nation. They participated to safeguard the pride of the motherland without asking to be paid unlike what obtains today when elite sports stars insist on having to be paid before participation. There is the need to put in place a sports endowment fund for the upkeep of the retired stars.

A nation that maltreats her past heroes will only make future stars to lack the sense of patriotism. These neglected stars used to be the role models of the youths, and any maltreatment meted out to them may redound on how the young ones approach national duties.The highlighted issue of Dele Jonathan clearly shows that with even as little as less than one million Naira some of these former heroes can be rehabilitated. It is incumbent on the Ministry of Sports to have an inventory of Nigeria’s past sports stars. This way, they can be given regenerating roles as coaches, advisers and scouts. When they fall ill they do deserve free medical care. The former stars who earned Nigeria her esteemed place in the sun of the sporting world should henceforth be made to stop suffering neglect.

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