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FG’s Reward to Athletes Renews Hope in Brighter Future

Tobi Amusam receives award from Buhari
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Recent government actions have revealed an encouraging shift in the official treatment of the country’s representatives, especially those who go above and beyond to make the nation proud.

On Thursday, September 15, Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, conferred a host of national honours on the wildly successful Nigerian contingent to the Commonwealth Games, held in Birmingham between July 28 – August 8. This gesture of recognition was in appreciation of the scintillating performances that Team Nigeria recorded by at the quadrennial international multi-sport event, carting home 12 gold, 9 silver, and 14 bronze medals to end the Games as the seventh-best team in the competition and the highest-ranked African country.

Contemporaneously, the Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, had made it abundantly obvious that the country was proud of their sterling accomplishments and could not wait to celebrate them. Just before the team left the UK for Nigeria, the Minister informed them that they will get a heartfelt welcome from a grateful nation and that President Buhari was eager to celebrate them.

He said, “We are all so proud of what you achieved for Nigeria and yourselves. Mr. President is also very proud of you and has approved that a presidential reception be held to honour you for the historic feat at Birmingham 2022 We will immediately start to plan for the reception and once we have tightened things up, we will announce the date, invite you over from your different bases and you will have that privilege of meeting Mr. President. This is a performance like no other, many new records were set, old records broken, long standing jinxes of not getting on the podium in some sports were destroyed.”

That assurance was echoed by the President via the agency of Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, who passed on the commendation of his principal to the athletes. While confirming the president’s happiness at several reports of a calm environment, solidarity, and camaraderie in the camp during the Games, which had a beneficial impact on the team’s spirits and helped the Nigerian contingent not just win a record number of medals but break records en route, he said, “President Buhari looks forward to a rousing reception from Nigerians for members of Team Nigeria Birmingham 2022, even as he assures all stakeholders that youth and sports development will remain a priority for this administration.”

Last Thursday, September 15 was the day for the fulfillment of these promises and the rousing reception held at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

Feting the Nigerian continents to both the World Athletics Championships in Oregon, USA, and the Commonwealth Games, the President elevated them to Officers of the Order of the Niger whilst splashing cash awards on the winners to the tune of N200 million. Speaking at the occasion, President Buhari said, ”I have followed keenly your achievements at the World Championships in Oregon USA and indeed your remarkable performance at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, United Kingdom. And I am very pleased that you displayed at both the personal and group levels great sporting talents and delivered for your country great podium performances.” For each of the 12 times Nigeria’s national anthem was played and her flag hoisted for a gold medal celebration, the President noted: “You all Team Nigeria made that possible. You brought glory and honour to our country. And today, on behalf of the nation- I say, thank you!”

The gratitude of the country was more concretely expressed in the quick disbursement of their due allowances and bonuses. By the conclusion of the Birmingham competition, the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development had handed Team Nigeria’s medalists and their coaches their cash prizes. Gold-medal winners received $5,000, silver-medal winners received $3,000, and bronze-medal winners received $2,000 each. Nigerian athletes who competed in the 4 x 100 relay were awarded $15,000.

Iyiazi

The ministry also gave rewards to the coaches and officials for their contributions to Team Nigeria’s victory. These were before the awards ceremony where the amazing relay quartet of Ese Brume, Blessing Oborududu, Fumilayo Folashade, and Amusan received N4.5 million each as reward for representing their nation with honour. Like them, each gold medalist received N4.5 million in addition to the national honour of Member Order of Niger (MON). The category C and D silver and bronze medalists received the Federal Republic Medal Classes 1 and 2, along with cash awards of N2.5 million and N1.5 million, respectively.

Coming so soon after the competitions ended, it is unlike anything that has been witnessed in recent times regarding government’s treatment of what is due to the country’s sports ambassadors in terms of their allowances and bonuses, without going as far as properly recognising their accomplishments for the country and adequately celebrating them with national honours and cash rewards. It was not that long ago that the Buhari government fulfilled the promise of gifting residences to the victorious 1994 Africa Cup of Nations Super Eagles’ team, which remained unfulfilled for 28 while years. It was unfortunately too late for key players like Rashidi Yekini, Uche Okafor, Thompson Oliha, Wilfred Agbonavbare and Stephen Keshi, who helped the team to glory in the competition, but died without seeing the promise come to life in their lifetimes.

More recently, the most successful African national football team, the Super Falcons of Nigeria, who were participating at the July TotalEnergies 2022 Women’s African Cup of Nations had to go as far as staging a protest on the Wednesday prior to their third-place match against Zambia on Friday due to unpaid allowances and bonuses. It led to a scramble by Sports Ministry officials to offset what was an embarrassing situation with the entire continent as witnesses. Toyin Ibitoye, the Special Assistant for Multimedia to the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, later confirmed that the President had approved the intervention fund requested by the Ministry, adding that the Ministry of Finance was already processing and releasing the funds. Yet, payment of match allowances, bonuses and other allocations have incessantly been a thorny issue between government and the country’s representatives for different sports and the Super Falcons have had a spectacular falling out with the NFF previously over similar circumstances.

That is why this quick turnaround is commendable in many ways. It is early days to attribute it to be government’s new standard operating policy, having learnt a lesson or two from history but there is no discountenancing the part that such a practice will play in inspiring a new generation of sportswomen, given how dominant they were at the Commonwealth Games, and men to pick up the gauntlet and join the ranks of those who have written the name of the country in gold and emblazoned their own names in marble in the country’s sporting history for generations to come. The prize monies aside, the national honours are a well thought out reward as it matches the value they have brought to the country’s image by their exploits and it cannot be any less deserving.

The onus on the Sports Ministry and sporting federations to not rest on their oars but carry this momentum forward with athletes to Amusan, whose World Record of 12.12s in the semifinals of the 100m hurdle was ratified by World Athletics last week, ready to continue to blaze a trail for years to come. There was no better way to put it than as Adesina said on behalf of his principal: “President Buhari urges the officials to work with all relevant stakeholders to build on the success of the 2022 Commonwealth Games, begin early and earnest preparations to surpass this spectacular achievement in upcoming competitions.”