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Nigeria @ 60: Sportsmen, women who made Nigeria dazzle globally

24th Oct, 2020 | By Gyang Dakwo | ||

Nigeria clocks 60 on October1 as an independent nation. The occasion calls for stock-taking and throws up memories of the country's significant sporting exploits which have attracted global attention. Arguably, sport has been the number one unifying instrument in the Nigerian society as testified to in any sporting event especially football. Abuja Digest Weekly in this write-up pays tribute to personalities, some now deceased, for their sacrifices and personal contributions to the country's sports development.

Boxing gave Nigeria her first ever Olympic medal through Nojim Maiyegun, famously called 'Omo Oloja' by fans. Born on February 21, 1944 in Lagos, he won the bronze medal in the men`s Light Middleweight (71 kg) category at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Aside winning the Olympic medal, he won a bronze at the Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1966 and a few more medals which included an African Championship gold and a medal from the 1960 Independence Celebration Tournament.

Another Olympian boxer was Peter Konyegwachie who won Nigeria's first ever silver medal in the men's Featherweight (54–57 kg) category at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Nigeria wrote its name in bright colours when the legendary Dick Tiger, who was born as Richard Ihetu on 14 August, 1929 in Amaigbo, present day Imo State, became a two-time undisputed World Middleweight boxing champion, beating Gene Fullmer in his first outing, in 1962.

Through sheer determination and a wealth of talent, Tiger fought in rings around the world and helped keep interest in boxing alive during the 1950s industry recession. He also later won the undisputed World Light-Heavyweight title dethroning reigning champion Jose Torres of Puerto Rico in 1966. Also worthy of note is Samuel Okon Peter who shocked the world to become the revered World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight champion to the delight of Nigerians---the first black African to achieve the feat. Nicknamed 'The Nigerian Nightmare' even ahead of the title fight against Oleg Maskaev, Peter won the prestigious title in six rounds. In his prime, he was known for his rivalry with the feared Klitschko brothers, having faced Vladimir twice and Vitali once.

In wrestling, the late Michael Okpala, popularly known by his ring name of Power Mike, became a household name globally from 1973 when he won the world title, making mincemeat of the dreaded undefeated Ali Baba of Lebanon in Kampala, Uganda. Before then, in 1970, he had defeated Gambian Massembula to become African Wrestling Heavyweight champion. Power Mike fought several times in Madison Square Garden, New York, known as the Mecca of professional wrestling.

In 1975, he defended his world title against an angry Ali Baba, winning again, though that turned out to be his last title fight before his retirement from the sport. One of Nigeria's recent sports stars is Kamarudeen Usman who competes in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). He is the current UFC Welterweight Champion. Usman is also The Ultimate Fighter 21 tournament winner. As of July 14, 2020, he is number 5 in the UFC men's pound-for-pound rankings.

Also in the UFC is Israel Adesanya, who is the UFC Middleweight Champion and has an undefeated record of 19 wins and no losses. In kickboxing, he is the former Glory Middleweight contender winner and King in the Ring two-time Cruiserweight and Heavyweight champion. As of 24 May 2020, he was number 4 in the UFC men's pound-for-pound rankings. Adesanya is often regarded as one of the best strikers in the world of mixed martial arts as well as one of the best in the sport's history.

In the realm of football, Nigeria also accomplished a lot. The country's defining moment in international football came in 1980 at National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos when the Christian Chukwu-led Green Eagles won the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time. The squad had some of Nigeria's finest footballers, including Segun Odegbami, Aloysius Atuegbu, and many others.

Odegbami in particular was the linchpin of the Green Eagles. Nicknamed 'Mathematical' for his precise style of play and pinpoint killer crosses, he was famous for running down the touchline with the ball to prevent opponents from getting it. Odegbami is regarded as one of the greatest Nigerian players of all-time. Fourteen years later, Nigeria once again seized the attention of the world by performing creditably in the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

On this greatest of global sport stages rose Nigeria's 'Gangling' Rashidi Yekini who won the hearts of supporters and broke the hearts of opponents with his scoring prowess through his deadly finishing in front of goal posts. Yekini became a national hero in June, 1994 when he scored Nigeria's first-ever goal (against Bulgaria) in a FIFA World Cup tournament. Earlier that same year, he had helped his country capture another Africa Cup of Nations, scoring a tournament-leading five goals.

A much-feared striker, Yekini, in his 14-year career (1984–98) with Nigeria's Super Eagles scored 37 goals in 58 matches---a national record that stood at the time of his death. For his efforts, he won the highly-coveted African Footballer of the Year for 1993. Another key player was Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, captain of the national team for many years. He led the country to the 1994 FIFA World Cup, played in five Africa Cup of Nations championships and was a part of the team when they won the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations.

Keshi played as a center back and was nicknamed 'The Big Boss', a direct result of his authority and leadership capacities. From 2004 to 2006, he coached the Togo national team and led them to their first ever FIFA World Cup championship in 2006. Keshi also guided the Mali national team for two seasons and led Nigeria to qualification for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, which they went on to win, defeating Burkina Faso 1–0 in the final. On 18 November 2013, Keshi set a record in African football by being the first African coach to successfully qualify two African nations (Nigeria and Togo) to the World Cup Finals.

Tragically, he passed on in 2016 at 54 due to heart attack. Another Nigeria soccer icon is Nduka Ugbade, captain of the Nigeria Under-17 male soccer team that won the first edition of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in 1985. The event was held in China and ushered Ugbade into world prominence after securing what was Nigeria's and Africa's first major win in football on the global stage. Four years later, he was also part of Nigeria's Under-20 football team at the 1989 FIFA World Youth Cup that placed second in Saudi Arabia. Although Nigeria lost to Portugal in the final match, Ugbade and his teammates were the toast of the spectators after posting spectacular wins over hosts Saudi Arabia, highly favoured United States, and the defunct USSR.

Against the USSR, the Nigerian team recovered from a 4-0 deficit to level 4-4 with Ugbade scoring the fourth before Nigeria won on penalties. This win is fondly referred to in Nigerian football folklore as the 'Miracle of Damman'. Another legend is Kanu Nwankwo or 'Papilo'. The lanky forward is one of few players to have won the English Premier League, FA Cup, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup and an Olympic gold medal.

Kanu's rise to global recognition came in the wake of his winning the 1993 U-17 World Cup. He was the hero of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta,US, when Nigeria defeated Brazil and Argentina en route to gold medal. He made 87 appearances for the Super Eagles between 1994 and 2011 (during which time he played at three World Cups and six Africa Cup of Nations tournaments) and also won the African Footballer of the Year gong two times: 1996 and 1999. The Nigerian made the third most-substitute appearances in English Premier League history, appearing from the bench 118 times and is regarded as one of the best players in African football history.

Turning to athletics, Chioma Ajunwa's feat at the Atlanta 96 Olympics where she leapt to an historic gold medal in the long jump pit has made her one of the greatest Nigerian female athletes of all time. Ajunwa's road to Olympic glory started with a 6.81m leap in the qualifiers before returning the following day to make the most important leap of her athletics career---a massive 7.12m in her very first jump in the final. This shook the world because Ajunwa was relatively unknown and as pitted against highly fancied American competition.

It was a new Nigerian and African record. The first long jump medal by an African woman at the Olympics. The first and so far only individual Olympic gold medal by a Nigerian in the history of the Games. Renowned sprinter Innocent Egbunike studied at Azusa Pacific University,US, where he still holds the school record at 400 metres and the automatically timed NAIA meet record at 200 metres.

At the 1985 Summer Universiade, he won the 400 metres. At the regional level, he won the 1987 All-Africa Games as well as three gold medals at the African Championships in addition to a silver medal in 400 metres at the 1987 World Championships. He won an Olympic bronze medal in 4 x 400 metres relay in Los Angeles 1984 alongside Rotimi Peters, Sunday Uti and Moses Ugbusien, and finished sixth in the final of the individual 400 metres contest.

After retiring from competition, he became the coach of the Nigerian track and field team at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics and head coach at the 2008 Olympics. Mary Onyali-Omagbemi was the greatest sprinter that came out of the African continent in the 1980s and 90s. She dominated the Nigerian and African sprint scene for nearly two decades, but it was her global accomplishments that made her a candidate for the award of greatest Nigerian female athlete of all time. Onyali led the Nigerian 4x100m relay team to a historic bronze medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. It was historic because it was the first time an African nation made the podium in the event.

Four years later, Onyali ran the race of her life to win her first and only individual Olympic medal---a bronze---in the 200m. She instantly became the first Nigerian to win two medals at the Olympics. She followed it up with a 100m bronze at the IAAF World Cup in Athletics in Johannesburg in 1998, running 11.05 seconds behind Marion Jones (10.65) and Bahamas' Chandra Sturrup (10.97). In table tennis, Atanda Musa, 10-time African Men's Table Tennis Singles Champion, is arguably one of the best table tennis players to contest out of Africa. Musa's backhand play and the loop associated with it was the major weapon in his arsenal. In 1982, he won the table tennis singles event at the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, before partnering with Sunday Eboh to take the doubles gold in the same discipline.

Alongside Francis Sule, Atanda again won the table tennis doubles gold medal at the 1985 Commonwealth Games. He represented Nigeria at two Summer Olympics in 1988 and 1992, taking part in both the singles and doubles events. In 1991, with Bose Kaffo as partner, he won the Commonwealth Games Mixed Doubles event for table tennis. At Nigeria's debut at the 1992 Summer Paralympics in Barcelona, Adeoye Ajibola made the nation proud with his medals haul.

Competing mainly in category TS4 sprint events, Ajibola featured in the 100m, 200m and long jump at both the 1992 and 1996 Summer Paralympics. At the 1992 games, he did not start the long jump competition but broke the world record in both the 100m and 200m to win gold in both events. At the 1996 Summer Paralympics, Ajibola defended both sprint titles and won a silver medal in the long jump.

News Update

Malam Bello made the call while decorating his newly-promoted Chief Security Officer (CSO), Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) Ahmed Rasheed, and three other officers in his security team with their new ranks.

The Chief of Medical Service, NAF Headquarters, Air Commodore Gideon Bako, said that NAF had been supplying oxygen to hospitals across the country since the emergence of COVID-19 in 2020.

"Explaining the debilitating effects of the pandemic on virtually all aspects of human endeavour globally, Mallam Abdulrazaq stated that Covid-19 did not, however, stop the Secretariat from delivering quality service to FCT residents.

The Administration cited illegality in the location of the farms, adding that the farms were built on an area designated for Kubwa District Centre and other parts to individuals for residential purposes.


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