AFTER the dismal and embarrassing performance of Nigeria’s athletes at the Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil, Nigerians had cause to cheer and celebrate, courtesy of the outstanding performance of Team Nigeria to the Paralympic Games.
While the country’s able-bodied athletes had a crisis and controversy-riddled preparation and only a bronze medal to show for the huge expectations on the Olympic contingent, the physically-challenged athletes of Team Nigeria to the Paralympics finished commendably with eight gold, two silver and two bronze medals.
By so doing, Nigeria placed 17th on the overall medals table, emerging the best African country and finishing ahead of our usual continental rivals, Tunisia, South Africa, Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia and Kenya.
Our Paralympics athletes received a heroic welcome on their return to the country, underlining the saying that everyone loves a winner.
President Muhammadu Buhari was among the first to congratulate them for the heart-warming performance. He commended them for their focus and tenacity in bringing glory to the country in the face of adversity. This was in stark contrast to the unsung way the campaign of the able-bodied athletes ended, with the Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung, under fire before, during and after the Games.
Now that the celebration and fanfare are over, what next for them? That is the issue that matters the most. The physically-challenged athletes have always carried the flag of this nation aloft wherever they go for competitions, and they have always been praised. However, a few weeks after, it is astonishing to see the level of neglect and destitution most of them have fallen into.
Most of them do not have decent roofs over their heads. They squat in any available corner at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, and other stadiums around the country, and most of them have to beg for a living. That is not the way to treat national heroes!
We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to concretely demonstrate the gratitude of Nigerians by offering both the medal-winning and non-medal-winning members of the Paralympic team generous financial rewards, recession or no recession. They need it for their survival, at least for a while.
We also advocate a special package to enable all disabled athletes who have represented Nigeria to have a decent owner-occupier accommodation. Those who are willing to go to school and pursue professional careers should be offered the opportunity to do so, while those who want to acquire skills as artisans and entrepreneurs should also be given the platform free of charge.
We commend members of the National Assembly for offering to pay N50,000 each as financial compensation and urge other well-endowed individuals to emulate them.
We must treat them as true heroes and heroines.