The name Chukwumerije still rings bell in Nigeria’s sporting fraternity after years of dedication and purposeful impact, especially in Taekwondo by an entire family spearheaded by late father Senator Uche Chukwumerije. Of all his children, Chika Chukwumerije, an Olympian who made the country pround when he won ‘golden’ bronze at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing has continued to sustain the family’s highly respected sports profile even beyond the shores of Nigeria till date. IKENNA OKONKWO takes a look at Chika’s steady exploits as he gets ready to lead another Olympic star in the making Elizabeth Anyanacho out to compete at the 2020 Games in Tokyo, Japan.
It’s exactly 13 years after Nigerian-born Taekwondo giant Chika Chukwumerije represented Nigeria during the summer Olympic Games in Beijing where he successfully won bronze and has since been recognised as a star athlete who ensured Nigeria made it to the podium.
His long-standing feat in Taekwondo before and after he won an Olympic medal has been unequalled by no other, and he has never stopped.
Chika, a mechanical engineer and masters degree holder in Operations and Supply Chain Management from the prestigious University of Liverpool in United kingdom, has been trudging on, transforming from being active athlete after 2012 London Olympics and later to a coach and sports administrator of high repute.
Records have also revealed that his meticulous and vast experience led World Taekwondo to appoint him into crucial Global All Taekwondo Committee, a position he still hold till date. The World Taekwondo, a global body that oversees Taekwondo practice all over the world also named him as one of seven continental global Taekwondo educators, the only from Nigeria.
In Nigeria, Chika has groomed from scratch many athletes through his foundation known as Chika Chukwumerije Sports Foundation (CCSF). Most of these athletes, many of them on his payroll and educational scholarships, have already become National and Continental beaters with medals of different colours that stood them out.
In 2020, one of them, Elizabeth Anyanacho, a 21-year-old, 300-level student of Federal University of Technology Owerri (Owerri) competed and qualified to represent Nigeria at this year’s Olympic Games. As I pen down this piece, she’s already in Japan to be part of global highest sports fiesta, and no other personality than Chika is her guide.
Despite Chika’s years of unwavering passion and dedication, there have been attempts to derail his focus with unfounded allegations of physically malhandling of athletes which has been thoroughly and unanimously described as false by many Taekwondo practitioners.
Former team captain of the entire 16 Taekwondo athletes during 2015 African African Jamilu Mohammed said, “As a captain, I didn’t witness where our coach then Engr. Chika Chukwumerije touched anyone, talk more of beating any of the athletes. Not even one athlete reported such issue to me or any other at that time. Before then and after, even up till now, he has been championing the course of athletes’ welfare, more reason all athletes had elected him to represent all of us on the board of Nigeria Taekwondo Federation (NTF).”
Incumbent chairman of FCT Taekwondo association, Grand Master Anthony Anafulu, who has been surprised at the allegation levelled against Chika, was resurrected again few weeks to a proposed 2021 Sports federation election said, “Before the last board, the allegation reared up and now, it’s coming again just before another election.
“The physical assault allegation is a political vendetta spearheaded by impeached former President of NTF George Ashiru who believes that Chika was behind his impeachment when he was the President. Chika didn’t even spearhead his impeachment I did when I pointed out the fact concerning his gross misconduct during one of our meetings we held in Lagos as a board then.
“…I was the one who raised the motion for his impeachment because we felt it was improper for a seating President who lives in Lagos to come to a meeting he organised two hours late, and to add salt to injury, he told us he can’t continue with the meeting because he needed to hold another meeting with Koreans who are sponsoring a championship. At that point I felt angry and raised a motion for his impeachment, and it was carried… So George is still nursing that grudge and he’s using to get at Chika.
“The issue of assault was just a side talk which was never officially reported to the board. The normal process was not followed, so the board then threw it out. No committee or panel was set up to look into the issues. We had a female member, Mrs Margaret Bimga, who is the current NTF President in that board. If a committee was set up, she should be there as the only female board member because the matter concerned female athletes.
“I was the head of coaching both for the Federation and at the camp, no one notified me of any of such. It was only recently I heard a panel was set up outside the board and they found him guilty and that is very surprising, where was the board, so the truth is that there is no truth in this matter.
“I want you to realise the fact that election is around the corner and you can’t know what anybody is planning. So this would be a good way to ridicule Chika who was technical assistant and planned a programme that worked for us that made Nigeria do well at the 2015 African Games. Nobody in Nigeria tackwando has done what Chika has done. Since he came on board, I’m proud to say tackwando has changed. We have standardised Taekwondo, everybody is envious of what taekwondo is doing in Nigeria and is because of Chika’s commitment and diligence. He has spent personal efforts, personal funds to make sure Taekwondo grows.”
Speaking further, former board member and Chairman of NTF technical committee, Alhaji Sani Lawal, and Chika Chukwumerije’s teammate when they were active athletes affirmed that NTF with Chika as the technical director designed and changed the face of Taekwondo practice in Nigeria within a short time.
He said, “People were asked to do pay before they’re even called to camp. People were asked to do alot of dirty jobs under George Ashiru as NTF President… All those things are no more. Our programmes speak for itself.
“The Global Membership System (GMS) that has been in existence from 2011/12, the Ashiru regime held it so close, nobody knew how they picked people they want to do the GMS for. The few they eventually picked, they charged them big money.
“But when we came on board, we opened it up. We teach and tell people to go and do it by themselves. Today as I speak to you, we have more than 4000 persons who have gotten GMS numbers, compared to only 70 people between 2013 a d 2017 under Ashiru.
“Now, look at the belt grading, they were hiding it as well. They go behind and collect money from individuals to do this grading at the rate of $150 to $250. When we came on board, we made it $30. We did what they couldn’t even dare. As a civil servant, the then Secretary-General should be queried and punished for getting involved in very dirty political things.”
Talking about Chika’s care and commitment to protecting the rights of athletes, female Taekwondo captain during 2015 African Games Chinazum Nwosu said, “If you want to see how coach Chika will react, touch any athlete. Athletes are so dear to him. Even, I could remember vividly how former NTF Vice President Mrs Margaret Binga called all of us to ask us if any incident took place while in camp before we left to Congo Brazaville for All African Games, no one reported any or such issue. Even before, as the female captain, I didn’t see or hear of anything that’s outside our routine training and camping programmes.”
At the moment, Chika Chukwumerije who is already in Japan is tinkering and focusing how only Nigerian female athlete, Elizabeth Anyanacho, who qualified for the Olympic Game will deliver good performance, 16 years after any Nigerian female Taekwomdo athlete made it at that level.
And should Anyanacho make it to the podium, Chika will certainly achieve another milestone 13 years after he did it as an athlete.