OUR Olympics dreams were in tatters when our London 2012 contingent returned home empty handed, further compounding the woes of a troubled nation.
But glory to God, our Paralympics champions stepped forward to redeem our battered image with a face- saving performance that put Nigeria at number 22 in the final medals table.
Prince of Nigeria and Chairman of the FRESH Party, Rev Chris Okotie, joined other Nigerians in singing the redemption songs that our Paralympics representatives put in our mouths when they returned home with a total of 13 medals from London at the just concluded Olympics for the physically challenged.
Speaking at a forum of his party in Lagos, the outspoken pastor-politician paid a long tribute to the Paralympics champions and expectedly took a swipe at their failed counterparts in what is now widely regarded as our Olympics of shame.
To fully capture the sentiments of the cleric, the tribute titled, “Learn from our Paralympics medalists”, which was circulated in the media, is reproduced: “On behalf of our great party, FRESH, I salute our indefatigable Paralympics athletes who did us proud in the just concluded Paralympics in London.
“Coming on the heels of our disgraceful showing at the Olympics – London 2012, the physically challenged athletes who put Nigeria in the 22nd position on the final medals table with 6 gold, 5 silver and 2 bronze medals, have virtually redeemed our battered image in the global sports arena.
“The fact that the Paralympics ambassadors put us ahead of great sporting nations like Japan, Mexico, Sweden, Egypt, Austria, Switzerland and Norway, shows how important their feat is.
“We came third in Africa on the overall medal table, behind Tunisia and South Africa. Our athletes braved all odds like poor facilities, inadequate funding, and corruption in the sports sector to post such impressive performance, whereas, our London 2012 representatives who are products of the same environment failed woefully.
“This is a message for our government: no excuses for poor performance. The Paralympics champions are saying loud and clear that we can still excel in Africa in all spheres of human endeavour, despite Boko Haram, corruption in high places, and the general infrastructural deficits etc. What makes the difference is our attitude to national service”.
Well spoken, Pastor Chris. The Nigerian factor is basically an attitude problem. We must address it squarely if we are to move forward. If the Paralympians share the environment with their Team Nigeria London 2012 counterparts, and they come out of the games with two opposition outcomes, the problem really must be attitudinal.
To be sure, patriotism and positive attitudes do play a part in service delivery, but one must never lose sight of the fact that the government largely determines how people respond to national service.
A caring government that is alive to its responsibilities to the citizenry is obliged to enjoy loyalty, commitment and genuine respect from the people. In that case, a call to serve becomes a thing of honour, of joy and pride.
If, as it is now in our case, where government virtually alienates the populace, there’s little one can expect in terms of inspiration and motivation to go the extra mile for the love of country.
Going the extra mile is the stuff champions are made of. Those who excel at sporting competitions know this.
A dysfunctional state as presently obtains in Nigeria cannot, therefore, be expected to create a positive atmosphere that could encourage championship performances by our athletes in any field.
When athletes are proud to display the flags of their countries, they are counted on to give their best. Rev Okotie’s argument is that, though poor performances could be a consequence of inept sports administration, it should never be an excuse for failure for those who know their onions.
A thirst for sporting glory should be the primary motivation for athletes who truly desire success, notwithstanding the man-made impediments that stand in the way. We are to brave all odds to succeed. That should be our mantra.
That also applies to rulership, as the reverend suggested. Our elected leaders have no excuse for their current failure to deliver on their election promises.
If a leader fails to deliver, he must not blame it on the opposition or other environmental causes. In fact, the task of problem-solving is why we elect leaders in the first place.
Our Paralympics champions are equally hampered by poor facilities and pandemic bad administration of sports in this country, yet they were able to prove their mettle in London. Clearly, they are saying something loud and clear.
Nigerians should learn to brave the odds currently facing us and try to move this nation forward, inspite of the monumental challenges on ground.
It is a good thing that the Paralympics medalists were rewarded with national honours and cash by the Federal Government. It must not end there. This is the time for government to look carefully into the plight of the physically challenged across the country.
There’re thousands of potential Paralympics medalists within the ranks of city urchins who beg for alms in this country.
Something must be done urgently to rehabilitate them. They need not be athletes. The government could put them into vocational training centers. Physical challenges should not be an excuse for poverty.
Mr . TAIWO GIDADO, a public affairs analyst , wrote from Lagos.