By Cosmas Okoli
President Goodluck Jonathan has by the reception and honour he bestowed on the victorious Paralympic athletes who did Nigeria proud at the just concluded London Paralympic Games, empowered these athletes.
Those of them who do not have job yet, will be able to set up a business or learn a skill that will make them become more productive and independent thus joining the taxpaying segment of our population.
One cannot help but conclude that the Jonathan Administration has not ridden the crest of the euphoria generated by the accomplishments of these Paralympic heroes by not taking disabled sports and indeed, the welfare of over 22 million Nigerians with disabilities to the next logical level.
One is tempted to ask: Where is the blue print by sports administrators to ensure that Nigerian Paralympians double or triple the number of medals they won at London 2012, at the next Paralympics in Rio, Brazil in 2016? Will these Paralympians be fit to repeat the London 2012 paralympic feats in Rioin 2016?
One would have thought that this administration would further cash in on this accomplishment to recall and sign into law the disability bill as passed and harmonized by the National assembly, that will impact positively on the lives of Nigerians with disabilities and ameliorate their sufferings.
A direct consequence of this would be creation of a production line of the next generation of Paralympic heroes.Nigeria, with a population of over 164 million, would do well to emulate the Jamaican model of athletes’ development.
Jamaica, a Caribbean Island nation with a population of 2.8 million, won gold, silver and bronze medals in the Olympic 200 meters men finals; and a total of 12 medals (4 gold, 4 silver, and 4 bronze) The Jamaican medalists: Usain Bolt,26, Johann Blake,23, and Warren Weir,23, are a clear statement of the intent by Jamaica that they will dominate the 100 & 200 meters sprints in the next 3-6 Olympic Games.
With Brazil hosting the Olympics and Paralympics in 2016, one can imagine them borrowing a leaf from the Jamaicans.Brazil—with next highest population of Black people in the World after Nigeria— will probably unearth athletic talent from their abundant Black population to compete with the Jamaicans in the sprints in Rio.
It is worthy of note that Nigerian Paralympians to London 2012 won all their medals from one event: Power lifting. Likewise, the Jamaican Olympians won all their medals from Track and Field. It also seems that every Caribbean Island, with a Black population, are following the Jamaican blueprint and unearthing their own potential Olympic track and field heroes. Where, pray tell, is the Nigerian blue print for Rio 2016 Paralympics and Olympics? The time to start is now.
It seems I cannot escape my sporting past in my anecdotes. I regret that my next illustration must draw, yet again, from this past. There is a plethora of loose ends and unfinished business by Government about disability matters in Nigeria. A friend of mine that was on the 2008 Nigerian contingent to Beijing, China Paralympics disclosed to a press conference where leaders of contingents—including Nigeria — met with the press before sporting hostilities commenced.
As leaders of the Nigerian contingent filed out to take their seats beside other contingents, a startling observation was made: there were far more non disabled Nigeria officials than disabled officials. Curious glances were exchanged, with some hushed whispers and wry grins.
As questions were asked, one European journalist posed an obvious question (not his exact words) to the Nigerian contingent:“It seems that Nigeria does not have enough disabled people that their Paralympic contingent is dominated by non disabled officials”.“He further said that he thought the Olympics was for the non disabled and the Paralympics for the disabled”.
The venue erupted into spontaneous laughter!This forgettable moment would not have occurred if our sports authorities had heeded the decades old mantra of the disability movement, which has been the status quo in most countries of the World—including Africa for over 15 years. “NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US”, the mantra goes.
In recent time, the Ministry of Sports/National Sports Commission has ensured that a disabled person was put on the driver’s seat of Nigeria Paralympic Committee in the person of Mr. Monday Emoghav we, MON, a former Paralympian with outstanding sporting career, who set and broke many world records in different weight categories in power lifting.
Today,there are more disabled officials with the Nigerian Paralympic Committee than we have ever had. This is probably why the Nigeria Paralympic Committee nearly equaled the record my team set in Sydney 2000 Paralympic games. We sincerely hope that the Ministry will sustain this and make it a policy and that other ministries, departments and agencies and indeed, governments at all levels, will take a cue from this.