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THEWILL EDITORIAL: Wanted: Trust Fund For Nigeria’s Sport Heroes

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A timely gesture by the Lagos State Government may have brought some relief to ailing former Green Eagles star, Henry Nwosu, members of his family and millions of football fans who have watched with anxiety as his health worsened by the day.

As of last Tuesday, news reports indicated that Nwosu, who was the youngest member of Nigeria’s 1980 African Cup of Nations winning team, would be heading to Lagos for more advanced medical attention, courtesy of the Lagos State Government which offered to take care of his treatment in a specialist hospital.

Nwosu’s former Green Eagles teammate and legendary football player, Segun Odegbami, had raised the alarm over his worsening health condition, promptly drawing the attention of some state governments, individuals and organisations with a view to stirring them into action.

In a statement issued last Monday, Odegbami painted a distressing picture of Nwosu’s condition and literally screamed for urgent proactive measures to save the latter’s life. According to him, Nwosu could no longer sit or eat unaided and was suffering from memory loss.

News reports claimed that Nwosu was virtually tottering between life and death, he was constantly in pain and hardly able to talk audibly as his health deteriorated further. The overall impression was that his condition had approached a point at which something had to be done urgently to save his life. It was that bad.

Before responses began to pour in, the erstwhile national football star had been on admission at the Asaba General Hospital in Delta State, bedridden for the most part of the six weeks and broke, having spent all his savings on treatment without positive results.

Although the Delta State Government undertook to settle his medical bills, the reality on the ground was that Nwosu, who not only played for the Green Eagles but also coached some of Nigeria’s national teams, was in a precarious situation unless something was done urgently to save him.

So far, there have been reactions to the call to help revive the football hero’s health. According to reports, a telecommunication company and businessman, Femi Otedola, have indicated interest in the matter. So did the Old Boys Association of Nwosu’s alma mater, St Finbarr’s College in Lagos and the Professional Footballers Association of Nigeria (PFAN).

A former Captain of the Green Eagles and Coach of the Super Eagles, Christian Chukwu, had a similar experience in 2019. He, too, was down with an undisclosed ailment in Enugu and languishing for want of proper medical attention until a patron of the Enugu Rangers Football Club Players Association, Bensom Ejindu, raised the alarm on his condition.

At a point, when it seemed that no help was coming, Otedola graciously stepped in and facilitated Chukwu’s trip to a specialist hospital in London, England for treatment of his health condition, with a much-needed donation of $50,000.

The businessman’s participation in the rescue effort did not stop there; he personally paid a visit to the hospital to ensure that Chukwu’s treatment went according to plan.

These cases involving Henry Nwosu and Christian Chukwu expose a lack of planning for a sustainable welfare programme for Nigeria’s sports heroes. We affirm that like other citizens of this country, our sports heroes and heroines have a right to live in relatively good health, more so, after serving their country meritoriously.

With regard to national football players, who have distinguished themselves on the pitch in the service of the country, we believe that a holistic approach to player welfare benefits the well-being of the players themselves and can influence the perception of sport as a whole and its subsequent power to be a vehicle for positive societal change.

Indeed, what it will require to guarantee adequate healthcare and welfare for the country’s sports heroes and heroines after retirement is for government, corporate organisations and public-spirited individuals, who are not really in short supply, to pool resources together and set up a trust fund or some other related financial facility that will cater to their health needs and welfare.

We call on the relevant government agencies, private organisations and well-meaning Nigerians to do everything possible to bring Nwosu back to good health.