Nigeria’s Sports Hall of Shame!

Maigani

Most countries in the developed world have a Hall of Fame. This is a structure housing memorials to heroes and famous individuals in a particular sector. The best known is in Sports. It is the highest honour for an athlete to be inducted into his country’s Hall of Fame.  Nigeria did not have any such institution until 1998, when the Federal Government established the first ever Sports Hall of Fame for Nigerian Athletes in the city of Abuja.

At the time, General Abdulsalami Abubakar was Head of State, Late Air Commodore Emeka Omeruah was the Minister of Sports, Late Alhaji Babayo Shehu was the Director-General/Permanent Secretary, and Dr. Amos Adamu was not just a director in the Ministry of sports, but the most influential man in Nigerian sports, an unofficial ranking he had held since joining the Sports Ministry in 1991 and that subsisted up till 2008 when he was redeployed to another ministry.  I went to Abuja a few months ago and fulfilled a promise I had made to a young man, Nicholas Maigani, who had been pestering me about visiting his project in Abuja. I was curious because he called the project the Sports Hall of Fame and told me it was located inside the premises of the M.K.O Abiola International Stadium, next door to the office of the Sports Minister. That could mean only one thing – the project had the backing of the Sports Ministry.

My visit was, therefore, apart from satisfying my curiosity, was also to find out what had happened to the first Sports Hall of Fame of which I was a part and a beneficiary that was established in 1998. What became of it?  Mr. Maigani turned out to be a very fine young, hardworking gentleman, firmly committed to building a home to store, document and exhibit the history of Nigerian sports. He had written a book on sports heroes. That, plus several pictures of more recent sports personalities, represent the content of the new Hall of Fame when I went in there to see things for myself.  I remember the first one that was established some 22 years ago, in 1998, by Emeka Omeruah’s administration. There were two elaborate ceremonies organized for the event coordinated by the Senior Special Assistant to the minister then, veteran journalist  Mr. Fan Ndubuoke.  At a massive well-attended and televised event in Abuja, the Ministry honoured 10 Nigerians as Official Sports Ambassadors of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. These were new titles at the time without portfolios or specifically defined responsibilities beyond the liberty and authority to add the official appellation of ‘Sports Ambassador’ to their names.

The honoured Nigerians were – Alhaji Buba Ahmed (late), Alhaji Ibrahim Galadima, Alhaji (Dr). Dan Kabo (late), Deacon Ayo Ositelu (late), Mary Onyali-Omagbemi, Innocent Egbunike, Fanny Amun, John Fashanu, Christian Chukwu, and yours truly (Segun Odegbami).  A day after their installation there was another elaborate outdoor drink-dance-and-dine ceremony laced with citations, to mark the official opening of the Nigerian Sports Hall of Fame. It was done with much fan fair and the gathering of who’s who in Nigerian sports from all over the country. All were treated to superb entertainment by Daddy Shokey and delectable Ms. Yinka Davis.

Shockingly, the national Hall of Fame was located in a rented flat inside an office building complex at the Abuja Central District Area, on the outskirts of Abuja.  No one could explain why such a project was sited in a rented property when the National Stadia in Abuja and Lagos had more than ample room, and were more appropriate, to house such a national heritage project. But there it was, in a small rented office space, in a building far from Abuja township, jam packed with priceless artifacts, souvenirs, films, pictures, books and videos of Nigeria’s famous and legendary sports heroes through several generations across all sports from even before Independence.  I recall the work done by Fan Ndubuoke and Ikeddy Isiguzo in going around the country and persuading former ageing sports men and women, or their families, to part with their precious  memorabilia – belts, boxing gloves, rackets, bats, running or playing shoes and boots, medals, trophies, jerseys, track suits, pictures, videos and so on. The ministry also commissioned some wood works and sculptures of some sports heroes that were dead and had no artifacts of any kind.

It was a vast collection, the largest and most comprehensive in Nigeria’s history. Although tightly displayed in the small space, they were a fascinating collection. There was a television set on which was running different and endless footage of some of Nigeria’s greatest moments in sports collated, collected and edited for viewing as one went around the hall.  There was a booklet that listed the names of some inductees into the Hall of Fame on the occasion even though the institution that selected them, and the criteria used in the selection were not known. In short, the conventional process of selecting inductees was not in place. It was done at the pleasure of the Sports Minister because it must have his approval for it to be made public. Normally a standing permanent committee made up of persons of integrity, experience and knowledge should be in place to meticulously scrutinise deserving athletes that fulfill the requirements to be honoured on an annual basis.   It was apparent that it was not entirely well with the project. You could almost see it hovering around the event on that day that some persons in the sports ministry did not fully ‘buy’ into the project.  But the Minister, Emeka Omeruah, was a man driven by great ideas and a clear vision. Once he bought an idea would bulldoze his way and vigorously pursue it. He went ahead with it and did what he could. Those that did not buy into it just waited for his exit which came soon enough when the new Civilian administration Chief  Olusegun Obasanjo took over government and the guards at the Sports Ministry were changed in 1999.

 

I can wager that there is not an official register of those that were ‘inducted’ into Nigeria’s Sports Hall of Fame anywhere today.  Some of those listed in the handbook of the event on that day were Chioma Ajunwa and the Under-23 Olympic Eagles with their freshly minted Gold medals from Atlanta 1996. There were Boxers and Athletes and a few footballers. I can’t confirm the full list.  Bottom line is that the rent of the apartment soon expired and needed to be renewed. The place was so remote from civilization that the public did not visit the place. It never became the sport tourism destination that was promised. The new Minister was either not even aware of the existence of the place, or chose to distance himself from it. Any way which way, though, the lease was not renewed, and nobody took charge or was responsible.  For many years I had been asking questions around the sports ministry about what happened to the project, and the hall and the artifacts. I tried to get any of those that was around the Sports Ministry at the time for answers. The only thing every knew was that the place was abandoned.

After several fruitless years, this past week, I resumed my inquiries. I called up Dr. Ademola Are, Dr. Simon Ebhojaye, Alhaji Abba Yola, Dr. Pat Ekeji, Mr. Fan Ndubuoke, all past and present personnel of the Sports Ministry. They all directly or indirectly joined me in the ‘search’ after an initial blank response from every one of them.  Finally, there is some faint light been shone on the project.  A retired staff admitted to discovering some of the artifacts packed in one of the Executive suites ringing the main terrace of the National Stadium in Abuja. When the stadium was to be prepared for the last National Sports Festival held in Abuja some three years ago or so, he found them there.  He also confirmed they were moved out of the suite to another location, likely within the same stadium complex, because the Executive Suite was needed for another purpose during the festival.

The search shall resume when the current national lock-down ends very soon, God willing. So, that is the story of Nigeria’s Sports Hall of Shame. The priceless memorabilia that tells the stories of our activities in sports that money cannot buy, are lying somewhere wasting like beautiful flower in the desert air. Some persons deserve to be in jail for this rape of our national heritage.  Mr. Sunday Dare is the new Minister of Sports. He is a man with a vision and on a mission to transform Nigerian sports. He has clearly shown interest in what Nicholas Maigani is doing inside the M.K.O Abiola National Stadium to resurrect Nigeria’s Sports Hall of Fame. He should look into this matter very quickly and do something about it before some of us will gladly take the Ministry to court to retrieve our priceless artifacts.

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  15. Brother Segun, I predict your persistence and commitment will produce results because the issue is too important to allow to fade. Halls of fame serve as community treasures, giving cities and countries an identity while serving as major attractions for visitors.

    You’ve written a compelling story about the lack of support for the hall and don’t give up.

    1. The good news is that we have a new Minister who has been on the right track of sports development.
      He has already stepped into the matter of recovering all the memorabilia and artifacts that were collected from athletes. You are right, with some perseverance a proper Hall of Fame looks very probable in the future.
      Incidentally, you have tremendous experience in the field and your support will be sought if the opportunity presents itself.

  16. Alan Hawkes

    Hi Sheg
    I have been reading your comments re your National coach Mr Rohr that he should be let go from his job. Some years ago I suggested either to you or Chief Salami (I forget which) that you should select one of your ex internationals (one with a brain)
    to forgo a period of at least six months in say Germany or the U.K. to experience their methods of training and preparing their teams for top competitions.
    I am no longer in the game, too old to be of any help,. but I would be willing in any way I can to get one of your lads fixed up with a Club in this country to get this sort of experience I am talking about. Think about it. You can’t be worse off than you are now . Keep well my friend. Alan Hawkes

    1. My greatest Coach, good to hear from you.
      I can also feel your sustained interest in our football development.
      I shall surely mention you and your offer if the opportunity presents itself.
      Thank you Coach. Good to know you are still in touch with your greatest passion.
      All your players that are still alive in Shooting Stars remember you very fondly.

  17. Gabriel Tivlumun Nyitse

    Real Sports Hall of Shame, well written usual in lucid and delectable style, but you didn’t do much justice to the Maigani project which was the reason you went to the MKO Stadium , Abuja. You are beauty to read when you do right from your days you wrote for The Guardian, I must say.

  18. Sule Alli

    Please update us on Lee Evans and your sports academy in Wasimi? We are hoping for a great future of your program.

    1. Lee Evans is doing very well. He is in lockdown too since schools were closed.
      he will be back as soon as the lockdown is lifted and schools reopen.

  19. Sule Alli

    What a story. Keep writing my friend because you are the only living history of Nigeria sports today. May God bless you.

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