With Pains, Agony Nigeria’s Para-Athletes are winning laurels for the country

With Pains, Agony Nigeria’s Para-Athletes are winning laurels for the country


With Pains, Agony Nigeria’s Para-Athletes are winning laurels for the country

SPECIAL REPORT With Pains, Agony Nigeria’s Para-Athletes are winning laurels for the country

Hassan Abdulsalam 11:22 - 23.02.2024

It was pathetic that the first Nigerian to score for the Special Eagles of Nigeria at the Amputee Football World Cup, Ezeji Kennedy, had now resolved to a point-of-sale (POS) business transaction to survive.

Despite the success of Nigeria's para-athletes on the international stage, they have been left to face their struggles alone. HASSAN ABDULSALAM writes about how the para-athletes have overcome incredible odds to bring glory to their country, yet they receive little to no support from the government.

From being the first Nigerian to score for the Special Eagles of Nigeria at the Amputee Football World Cup, Ezeji Kennedy now resolved to a point of sale (POS) business transactions to survive.

“I have a POS business Shop to manage myself for now,” the Para athlete, who is also a para-athletic, revealed how he is battling the unforgiving challenges of being a disabled Athlete in Nigeria.

Ezeji Kennedy scored Nigeria’s First goal at the Amputee Football World Cup

Kennedy becomes the First Nigerian to score for the Nigeria Amputee football team in their first world cup at the Mexico 2018 Amputees Football World Cup against Sierra Leone.

Kennedy helped the Special Eagles of Nigeria record some records in their first outing at the Amputee World Cup, in Mexico, by recording a first goal and the first win in their third game against El-Salvador. They played in a complex group where they got thrashed in their first two matches of the World Cup.

“This is the stuff of dreams. We won a game at the World Cup. Ezeji Kennedy scored and entered the record books as the first Nigerian to ever score in an amputee World Cup game.

Ezeji Kennedy
Ezeji Kennedy

“Man of the match should go to Kennedy, who scored the goal and had some outstanding plays. It was a fantastic outing for the Nigerians,” Stefan Lovgren, a Swedish journalist, reviewed the match.

From World Cup goal scorer to POS merchant

It was pathetic that the first Nigerian to score for the Special Eagles of Nigeria at the Amputee Football World Cup, Ezeji Kennedy, had now resolved to the point of sale (POS) business transaction to survive.

Special Eagles of Nigeria at the Amputee Football World Cup

“I trained every time, but nothing came, and I have a POS business Shop to manage myself for now; one of the challenges we are facing is lack of sponsorship. I appreciate my family and friends for their support and belief in me.

“In 2018, I was one of the Nigeria amputee national team players who traveled to Mexico for the World Cup, and we traveled for three days on the air. The same day, we had two matches, one in the morning and one in the evening.

“I am playing the world defending champion, which is Brazil. It was not funny like, seriously, but after losing two matches, in our third game, I scored a free kick; I'm a defender, a Central defender. I scored the free kick, which was the winning game against Sierra Leone,” he said.

Continue to shine despite disabilities

With history and records showing that Nigerian Para-Athletes are making the country in their respective sporting competitions, their achievements have brought joy to the country and serve as a source of hope and encouragement to aspiring athletes and people with disabilities worldwide.

Here are some of the medals they won for the country.

At the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Esther Oyemabo was the first Nigerian woman to win the gold medal.

Nigerian Para-Athletes are making the country in their respective sporting competitions

She took home the gold medal in the Powerlifting category for women 75kg with a massive 130kg weightlifting effort to record an all-new Paralympic record. The victory brought national pride and acclaim, inspiring a new generation of athletes who want to be Para-athletes.

Nigerian Para-athletic legend Ali Jaw Jaw cemented his legacy while participating in the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens.

He took home double gold, winning the 50m and 100m men's freestyle S9 events. Jaw's determination and dominance earned him the status of a national hero and inspired generations of Nigerian para-athletes to dream big.

Laetitia Taminimi won silver medal for Nigeria's Paralympic record in Rio 2016. Taminimi competed in the shot-put women's F57 class, throwing a stunning distance of 10.70m, and secured the second position at the top of the list.

Nigeria rule African Para table tennis Championships, Bags 12 Gold

Nigeria won 12 gold medals, dethroning Egypt as Africa's new para table tennis champion. Nigerians established themselves as the continent's new powerhouse in para table tennis by dominating the singles event and securing the most seats at the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.

Woes Of Para-athletes

As the breadwinner of his family, Williams Ukare, who is presently ranked number 2 in Nigerian wheel chair tennis, explains how tough it is for him as a para-athlete.

With his family depending on him, despite being disabled, he has no one to run to in hard times except for few loyal friends.

Hailing from Benue to relocating to Lagos for survival, Ukare has been successful in his journey as a para-athlete, ranking 145 in the world.

However, according to him, he faces challenges almost every day because he is an athlete with disabilities.

In his words, whenever you mention disability sports, people are not interested; they forget so soon that we deserve more than the able because, despite our challenges, we don't want to be on the street begging.

He stressed that, in the country, para-athletes are performing better than the abled, adding that, yet, they don't want to see that people with disabilities in sports need more in this country.

Citing the challenges para-athletes are facing, he lamented that they are always being discriminated against and cheated in many ways.

He said, "If you look at it presently in Nigeria, para-athletes are being discriminated against because, like in tennis, where I focus, if you look at our calendar, you'll see that the able have more tournaments than the disabled athletes, which is not supposed to be so."

Also, he said that despite the fact that the abled can do other jobs as part-timers, para-athletes can't, which is why they needed more attention.

He therefore sought the attention of the government to help the situation, as it needed urgent attention.

Special Eagles of Nigeria in training

Highlighting his needs on behalf of others, he said, "We need allowances, we need wheelchairs, our wheelchairs are cost, if you look at our wheelchairs, one wheelchair is more than £12,000, and if you calculate in naira, you'll see.

"So, I believe if all the corporate bodies invest in para-sports and we have like 20 tournaments a year, I believe athletes can be able to, on their own, get whatever they need."

He also advised upcoming athletes that,"despite their challenges, they should always see ability in disability."

United Nations and Sports and the Paralympic Games

The United Nations is incorporating the power of sport in many of its endeavors. UNESCO, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the International Labour Organization (ILO) have all focused on the value of sport. UNESCO has affirmed the right of persons with disabilities to participate in physical education and sport. For decades, WHO has engaged with the sporting world to promote a healthy lifestyle and the benefits of regular physical activity.

For many years, the United Nations system has acknowledged the importance of sports in society. United Nations bodies have enlisted star athletes and major sporting events in campaigns to promote immunization against childhood diseases and other public health measures, to support the fight against racism and apartheid, and to promote human rights. An increasing number of non-governmental organizations at the local, national, and international levels are joining forces with the United Nations to encourage development, health, human rights, and peace through sporting events; the Paralympic Games in Beijing this year is a prime example of this international trend.

United Nations confirmed that Persons with disabilities have the right to participate in sporting and recreational activities at all levels, organize and participate in sports, receive the necessary instruction, training, and resources, and access sporting, recreational, and leisure venues. In addition, children and youth with disabilities have the right to play and equal access to sporting, recreational, and leisure activities, including those within the educational system.

The right to play and to participate in sports has been enshrined in the newly adopted Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as well as other instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. All human rights are universal, indivisible, interrelated, interdependent, and mutually reinforcing. Therefore, the right to enjoy and participate in sports is directly linked to other human rights, such as personal mobility and cultural life.

Para-athletes need Specialized training and coaching - experts

Experts have called for specialized training and coaching for the Para Athletes' development and growth.

The Communication Officer, Center for Inclusive Media and Education (CIME Nigeria), Hamzat Ibrahim Abaga, said, “Disabled athletes often require specialized training and coaching tailored to their specific disability. Coaches and trainers need to understand the athlete's needs to provide the appropriate levels of support.

He continued, “There are several measures the government can put in place to better the lives of disabled athletes: Develop policies to support the integration of disabled athletes into mainstream sporting and other significant activities in the country. Increase funding for specialized training, coaching, and equipment for disabled athletes.

“The government should Establish disability sports programs in schools and universities to encourage the development of disabled athletes. Provide tax and other financial incentives to businesses supporting disability sports programs. Create accessible infrastructures that enable disabled athletes to participate in sports facilities and public spaces.”

How Sports improves mental health disables – Health expert

On her part, Suleiman Afusat, a Nigerian registered nurse and a mental health care provider, revealed that sports will help equip the athletes and help them fight mental health.

“it is widely believed that disabled individuals may experience social isolation. Engaging in sports not only improves their mental health but also reduces their risk of becoming isolated from the general public, as they have the opportunity to interact with more people,” she said.

She added, “On the other hand, having more disabled individuals participate in regular sports exercises can significantly contribute to reducing the stigma associated with physical disabilities.”