Buhari fulfils 31-year-old promise to Eaglets
President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday rewarded members of the nation’s Under-16 football team that won the 1985 FIFA Championship when he was military Head of State.
He announced a reward of N2m each to the players some of whom were Fatai Atere, Nduka Ugbade, Jonathan Akpoborie, Baldwin Bazuaye, Victor Igbinoba and late Kingsley Aikhionbare among others.
He also announced a reward of N1.5m each for the team’s coaches.
Buhari announced the rewards at a presidential reception organised for outstanding athletes/officials who did Nigeria proud in recent sports competitions held inside the old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Buhari however caused a stir when he first mistakenly announced rewards of N200m each for the players.
Amidst the excitement in the hall, Minister of Youth and Sports, Solomon Dalung, mounted the podium to correct the error.
For the team that won gold medal at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile, Buhari announced rewards of N1.2m each for the players; N900,000 for the coach; N300,000 for team secretary and medical team as well as N200,00 each for other officials.
For the team that won gold medal at the 2015 Africa U-23 Cup of Nations in Senegal, the players and coach got N500, 000 each; the assistant coaches and other team officials got N300, 000 each.
Odunayo Adekuoroye, who won bronze medal in the 2015 World Wrestling Championship in Las Vegas, USA, got N1.2m for her effort while her coaches, Aku Purity and Daniel Igali got N600, 000 each.
For D’Tigers that won gold medal at the 2015 African Men’s Basketball Championship in Tunisia, the players and the coaches got N600,000 each while the other team officials got N250,000 each.
The President also announced rewards for the team that won silver medal at the 2015 FIBA Africa U-16 Female Championship in Madagascar, saying the players and coaches will get N400,000 each while team officials will get N150,000 each.
For the 2015 IPC Asian Open International Power lifting Championship in Almaty-Kazakhstan, the gold medalists were promised N600,000 each; silver medalists and coaches got N450,000 each while team officials got N250,000 each.
Wellington Jighere who won gold medal at the 2015 World English Language Scrabble Championship in Perth, Australia got N1.5m; his coach, Anthony Ikolo, got N1.2m while the team secretary, Makano Adamu, got N450, 000.
Olanrewaju Durodola, who won the WBC Cruiserweight title, was also rewarded with N1.5m.
Although the names and pictures of Onye Lauritta, who won gold medal in F40 shot put at the IPC Athletics Grand Prix in Qatar, and those of her coach, Analto Patrick, and the team secretary, Olabisi Aziz, were included in the event’s brochure, no reward was announced for them at the event. But Mrs. Aziz who later spoke with The PUNCH said the situation had been explained to them prior to the final ceremony.
She said, “The President’s speech and many other things had been concluded before we returned with the gold medal. Every detail had been explained to us and it was therefore merged with those of the powerlifters. So it wasn’t that we were forgotten; we are still a part of the reception and the rewards.”
On the delay in the fulfilment of his promise made to the U-16 football team that won the 1985 FIFA Championship, Buhari said the reason was well known.
While expressing sadness that one of the players, Aikhionbare, died in 1986, he asked for a one-minute silence in his honour and directed that the deceased’s next-of-kin should collect the money on his behalf.
The President said the rewards were not payments or compensations for winning laurels for the country, but a token of appreciation for the sports ambassadors’ efforts and patriotism.
He said, “It is a well known fact that so much water has passed under the bridge between 1985 and now.
“The state governments that were to implement most of the pledges to the players and officials have changed hands so many times under different dispensations and political parties.
“In line with our belief that the ‘labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain,’ we will be saying thank you to our 1985 Golden Eaglets’ players and officials by using the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports template for rewarding outstanding athletes.
“As you are all aware, the financial resources of our nation have been dwindling since last year. Hence what we are offering you today is not payment or compensation for winning laurels for your country, rather, it is a token of appreciation for your efforts and patriotism while competing for your fatherland.”
The President assured them that the Federal Government would not relent in its efforts to ensure that sportsmen and sportswomen continue to excel at international competitions.
One of the players from the 1985 Eaglets team, Jonathan Akpoborie, told The PUNCH that the reward was a great relief.
He said, “I am happy; we’ve been finally remembered. When we came back from China, it was the same President that welcomed us but it was so painful that successive governments didn’t find it necessary to honour that agreement.
“We are not blaming the Nigeria Football Federation because we understand they could have been helpless under the circumstances. We needed our great efforts to be acknowledged and that’s what was achieved today. It is a fact that the history of Nigerian football cannot be well written without the good mention of what happened in ’85. That feat threw a lot of light on Nigerian football; it opened up a lot of doors.”
The former Super Eagles striker said his colleagues and himself were truly touched by the way Buhari handled the Aikhionbare matter.
“That he was able to speak about him separately and distinctively means he’s in tune with all that had happened.”