Heroes of Nigerian football can be likened to brave soldiers who risked their lives for their country. It is expected that this class of people should not only be accorded respect but honoured. But the reverse is always the case in Nigeria .
It is the dream of every sportsman or woman to represent his or her country.
However, only a handful gets the opportunity to actualise their dream as there may not be enough space that will accommodate them.
But the few that have done so have tended to regret representing their country. This is because they have not only been neglected, but forgotten. This neglect is more pronounced in football, which is the king of sports in the country.
Their regret is occasioned by the treatment meted out to them after their active years, especially in their time of financial need occasioned mainly by ill health. Those who have been victim of this callousness have been mostly those who represented the country in the 60s, 70s, 80s and in the early 90s when financial reward was the exception and not the rule.
Former Governor of old Bendel State, Tunde Ogbeha, decried the poor treatment of past heroes, saying, “You cannot expect to get the best from serving players when they see how you treat past heroes. We must begin to appreciate our heroes dead or alive.”
Former Green Eagles captain, Segun Odegbami, summed the plight of past heroes thus, “When footballers complete their assignment as players and retired from the game, they enter another phase of their journey completely different from the first.
“There is little or no provision in the system to adequately accommodate them, so they end up in jail of neglect, sickness, joblessness, depression, and premature death. The system not only forgets them, but forgets the family they leave behind.
“Many of us, heroes of our various generations in the chronology of football, are still alive but barely living through a journey that has turned from good to bad and now to the ugly,” he said.
The list of those who have fallen victim of this official callousness is endless.
Dreadlocked star, Samuel Okwaraji, collapsed 10 minutes from the end of a 1990 World Cup qualifier against Angola at the mainbowl of the National Stadium, Surulere Lagos, and died as a reslt of congestive heart failure. Okwaraji was a qualified lawyer, who had masters in international law from the University of Rome. His bust statue was erected at the National Stadium in Lagos in his memory, however, is that enough to celebrate a man who died on the line of duty for his fatherland?
1993 Afrian Footballer of the Year, and winner of the African Cup of Nations in 1994, Rashidi Yekini, died under controversial circumstances with the government failing to investigate the cause of the death. The government only came to his aid after a national cry and when his condition was beyond redemption.
A member of the team that won the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations, Thompson Oliha, until he died last year did not get the house promised him by the government for winning the trophy for the country.
Mudashiru Babatunde Lawal won the 1980 Nations Cup and died July 6, 1991 in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.
Late Alloysius Atuegbu, an integral part of the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations winning squad, died in Ilorin of heart failure following the refusal of the Nigeria Football Federation to pay him the N400,000.00 owed him.
Best Ogedengbe, who won the Africa Cup of Nations for the country in 1980, succumbed to the cold hands of death on September 29, 2009, after failing to come out of a coma, following a surgery to remove a brain tumour at the University College Hospital, Ibadan .
Sam Ojebode died in Ibadan after a long battle with cancer of the lungs. He was also a member of the then Green Eagles (later renamed Super Eagles), playing in the left full back position and captain the team to the 1976 Nations Cup. He is one of the forgotten heroes.
The tragedy of the situation is that the government and officials of the Nigeria Football Federation have looked the other way when these past heroes need their financial assistance.
Though there are some of the players do not deserve financial assistance having failed to plan for the raining day, but several of them are not educated, hence they failed to invest.
Former Super Eagles captain, Nwankwo Kanu, in his reaction believes that the authority should as a matter of policy honour their heroes while alive instead of crying ‘out their eyes’ and making eulogies after their death.
“Those who gave everything in the service of their country must be accorded the desired attention at all times. Yekini suffered and died like an orphan. Today, everybody is lamenting his death. Nobody cared for him while he was alive and suffering,” said Kanu. -DailyIndependent