AHEAD of their formal reception by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian contingent to the 2022 Commonwealth Games tagged Birmingham 2002 are in high spirits, and deservedly so. Amidst the many challenges with which they had to contend, they put up a sterling performance that turned out to be Nigeria’s best in the history of the games. Nigeria participated in nine sports, namely athletics, wrestling, boxing, karate, table tennis, weightlifting, para-athletics, para-powerlifting and para-table tennis, ending up with 12 gold, nine silver and 14 bronze medals. The 12 gold medalists were Olarinoye Adijat (women’s 55kg weightlifting), Folashade Lawal (women’s 59kg weightlifting), Chioma Onyekwere (women’s Discus throw),Goodness Nwachukwu ( F42-44 women’s Discus throw), Folashade Oluwafemiayo (women’s para powerlifting), Odunayo Adekuoroye (women’s 57kg freestyle wrestling), Blessing Oborududu (women’s 68kg freestyle wrestling), Mercy Genesis (women’s 50kg wrestling freestyle 50kg), Eucharia Iyiazi (women’s F55-57 shot put) and Tobi Amusan (women’s 100m hurdles). The combination of Tobi Amusan, Favour Ofili, Rosemary Chukwuma, Grace Nwokocha and Udo Joy Gabriel won the women’s 4x100m relay while Ese Brume defended her long jump title and even set a new world record.
Naturally, the president, who had joined millions of sports-loving Nigerians to watch some of the colourful and spectacular moments in the 11-day competition which had 5,000 athletes representing 72 nations and territories and competing in 280 medal events, commended the “94 worthy ambassadors that proudly flew the Nigerian flag in nine sporting events, and for those exciting moments when the medalists brought smiles to our faces by breaking world, national, and games records, as well as achieving personal bests in their career”. According to him, “it is noteworthy that the majority of the medals , including 12 gold for the country, were championed by our talented young women and girls.” On his part, the Minister of Youths and Sports Development, Mr. Sunday Dare, said: “Our success in Birmingham is an indication that Nigerian sports is on the rise again in spite of the global economic downturn. Our youth have shown the resilience Nigerians are known for and we, as a sports ministry, will ensure we continue with the reforms we started in 2019 and which have resulted in the geometrical growth of the sector.”
The sports minister dedicated the award to President Buhari, “who approved various reforms and created the enabling environment for sports to thrive in Nigeria.” Also, the president of the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC), Habu Gumel, praised the team for emerging Africa’s number one on the medals table. He said: “This is the most remarkable outing in terms of gold medals won, which are 12. We are proud of the efforts of the Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, who worked tirelessly with the NOC to ensure the best welfare packages for the athletes.” The medallists in Birmingham got rewarded for their efforts. While the gold medal winners received $5,000, silver medalists got $3,000, and bronze medalists $2,000.
At a time Nigeria is faced with myriads of challenges, it was gratifying that Nigerians excelled for once. At least for a moment, Nigeria became the centrepiece of global attention. Team Nigeria’s performance at Birmingham 2022 definitely shows that inbuilt in Nigerians is a spirit of excellence. Though however held down by bad governance, it still manages to shine forth. And in this particular instance at least, it is apposite to observe that the government and the sports ministry showed some commitment to the athletes and the nation in terms of preparations and the welfare of athletes. Although their overall attitude to sporting events is still poor, they deserve plaudits for the brief change of attitude that contributed to the memorable outing at Birmingham 2022. They, however, need to do much more to consolidate on Nigeria’s record at the international showpiece and in other competitions.
Instructively, Nigeria’s gold medalists were all females, showing that Nigerian women are vastly talented and can rule the world in different spheres once the right climate has been created. In case anyone has missed the point, excellence does not reside in a particular gender. The fact that all the gold medals came via female athletes signals what the country continues to miss by not providing for equal and effective contributions of its female population at all levels of organisation, particularly at the political level. It is time for the country to acknowledge the potential of the female population and seek to involve them in all spheres of the national life. We congratulate the winning athletes and salute their doggedness and grit in overcoming all odds to win accolades for themselves and the country.
We are excited that Nigeria’s performance at the just concluded Commonwealth Games has continued to bring smiles to the faces of Nigerians. It is an important positive lift to its image around the world. With a record haul of 35 medals, it is only natural that Nigerians have been giddy in their vociferous appreciation and celebration of the athletes who did the country proud. And who could resist the feeling of ecstasy in being Nigerian as the Nigerian anthem was played for every gold medal won? The reality is that talents, and indeed superior and phenomenal talents, cannot but reside among the more than 200 million Nigerians. The only reason those talents have not shone as brightly as they should and taken on the world is the lack of effective and inspirational leadership in the land. We expect the government not only to celebrate the recent achievements but to learn from them and seek to have a new vista for societal organisation that would be promotive of all talents to the benefit of Nigeria.
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