As far back as 1992, Monday Emoghawve (MON) was among foremost paralympians who won gold at Barcelona Paralympic Games. After opening the floodgate of medals for Nigeria then, the country’s Paralympic Athletes have been winning many medals at every other Paralympic event. Emoghawve who is contesting to become President of Para-Swimming federation ahead of February 15, 2018 election even as the President of Nigeria Paralympics
Committee (NPC), told
IKENNA OKONKWO AND PAUL OKAH of his intention and milestone since 1990 when he teamed up with other Physicallly-challenged Persons in Sports.
As an Athlete
When I started as an athlete, I, alongside others were flown out of the country in 1990 to England. I was into athletics at that time but I didn’t impress in my performance because of lack of equipment and I was looking around to see other sports I could do. I eventually settled for power lifting and collected the rule book on it.
There was no direction on the athletics we were doing then: no rule book, no coach. I was able to beg Black Moses who was coaching able-bodied athletes and he converted to become para-athletics coach.
Today, power lifting sports have been the engine room of para sports because we win a lot of medals at international competitions. When the need arose for us to establish Paralympics Committee of Nigeria, the authority of International Paralympics Council, the umbrella body that oversees all para-sports with headquarters in Germany, said that the three sports including para-lifting, table tennis and athletics we were doing, were not enough.
So, in 2010/2011, the sport ministry, Para-lifting Committee of Nigeria, the umbrella that overseas all para-sports inaugurated five sports federations to join the three federations I mentioned earlier.
I became the president of the apex para-sport organization in Nigeria. I was also mandated to take charge of para-swimming federation because nobody could handle it or identify with the federation when it was inaugurated and there was no athlete or official on ground.
So I took it upon myself to look for athletes for the swimming federation.
To this end, I travelled to Bayelsa, Ondo and other Riverine states in Nigeria in order to recruit athletes and we were successful.
Four months after the inauguration, we were prepared by the sports ministry for an international competition then known as All African Games in Maputu, Mozambique and we won bronze at the very first attempt. Today, the swimmers have developed very well and can challenge athletes anywhere in the world.
My travails of a physically-challenged athlete
Actually, as an athlete, it has not been easy. My friends and I were in the Spinal-cord Injury Association of Nigeria rehabilitation centre. We didn’t have donors. People and foreigners were visiting the centre and shared video tapes with us and from them we knew that disabled people could take part in sports and some of my colleagues who were lucky enough to be flown abroad for treatment, returned to intimate us on how disabled people were taking part in sports abroad.
The idea was transformed into physical activities and we undertook different kinds of sports even without direction. We told the Ministry of Social Development about our sports intents and were able to attend a championship in 1990 and were better exposed to pressurize the federal government to move us from the rehab centre to the sports ministry because our sports was no longer recreational.
The National Sports Commission sponsored our trips abroad where we were able to discover other sports and events such as; wheel-chair basketball, amputee football, tennis and para-swimming. We were hitherto into only table-tennis, para-athletics, para-lifting but we later introduced five more sports.
When I was in athletics, I won gold throughout in all the competitions I was involved in such as All African Games, National, Regional, Continental, World Championships. I also won three gold medals in Olympics. I won first medal para-lifting in Barcelona, Spain 1992 when the organisers of the paralympics were given me awards for the best power-lifter of the year, which was the year I also represented the country as Athlete Representative. My colleague,late Ajibola Adeoye and I reprentated Nigeria.
He won two gold and one silver medal, while I won one gold. In Atlanta ’96, we repeated the same feat. I repeated it in Sidney 2000. So I won back-back gold medals every four years for myself and country. When I retired from active participation, I went into para-sports administration.
Para-Sports hurdles and leadership charisma
It has not been easy. As an athlete, before you will even make it to become a national athlete, you must have spent four years, just like in the University. With God on your side, you can either make it or continue struggling.
One of the reasons why we pressurized the federal government to move us to the sports ministry is because of the facilities there. They provide facilities for our training and travelling logistics and recommend us to the presidency for awards. So they have done so well. The sports ministry created a good atmosphere and employed many people with disabilities into the sports council.
Ahead of para-sports election
The election is coming up next week and I’ve been moving and rallying support for zonal election before the general poll. The ministry made it mandatory for a disabled person to emerge from the zone. So I am going to move to my zonal headquarters in Jos, North Central and from there, move to the national federation.
So I am in contact with people as the man that started the paralympic sports. I need to win the election for a second tenure because I started it out of nothing. Those coming after me will learn from me and manage the federation very well. I have my techniques in managing the sports and people. Human management is important.
Stubborn athletes need special techniques to get the best out of them.
They are many things involved. For instance, when you are given limited money to travel out, you can drop in order for the team to travel. We need sponsors too because we don’t leave everything to the government. We need passionate people who have the zeal for paralympic sports and not just to make it an appendage to one’s CV.
The sports minister has been able to use paralympic sports to elevate the status of people living with disabilities. I am a living example of someone who has surmounted obstacles to become a sport administrator and Olympic champion.
Concerns over Electoral guidelines
The first election which was for every other able-body federation that was done, we were exempted. It was unusual. The timeline given to able-body athletes was longer than that of the physically challenged. The election guideline came out in the middle of January and we are expected to conduct zonal elections on the 12th of February. Then, we go into federation election on the 15th. For physically-challenged people, we are not given enough time especially as it involves visiting all the states in Nigeria to campaign. We don’t have enough time to advertise our manifestoes to the electorates to enable them select credible candidates for vacant posts.
Facilities and the future of paralympic sports
When you talk of facilities in sporting activities, we do have obsolete equipment. We made it known to the sports ministry and they procure good ones for us. Once you use equipment for a competition like Olympics, it is subject to modification before the next edition.
Because of paucity of funds, we don’t change the facilities like it’s obtainable in advanced countries. The good thing is that Nigerians excel in competitions no matter the challenges posed by obsolete equipment.
We are blessed and talented and defeat even people with modern facilities. We will not relent. We have good facilities in wheelchair tennis but we need sponsors and partners in paralympic sports in order to develop and perform better. These disabled persons should be encouraged in order to keep their minds occupied.
I was among the committee that formed para-soccer in University of Lagos, Akoka campus, when one of the lecturers, late Andrew Ajudua was the chairman and served as the president of our federation then.
Cosmos Okolie formed the committee and was the chairman then when we consulted Dr Andrew Ajudua and we had the vision of developing the sports very fast but there was no money then to register and push the organization as we planned. When I came as the president of Paralympics, I called the president of para-soccer to tell me how far he’s gone and he told me he has covered four West African countries. I requested for him to raise a letter for me so that I can send it to International Paralympics Committee (IPC) in Germany to open a sports federation.
Again, I raised the issue to IPC to establish a body to regulate para-soccer all over the world and I was told that it is an unknown indigenous sport and that I should liaise with Nigeria’s sports ministry to spread the sport across the world and then get back to them because they can’t open a para-soccer federation without its being known in Africa and the world. Money is our greatest problem.