One year ago, Nigeria began her quest for medals at the 2016 Paralympic Games, which was held from September 7th to 18th in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Having claimed only one Bronze medal at the Olympics a few weeks before, the country’s already battered image was in dire need of redemption after finishing joint 78th on the medals table, and just like previous years, the Paralympians came to the rescue, returning from Rio with a haul of 12 medals comprising of eight gold, two Silver and two Bronze medals.
Nigeria’s 23-man team to the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, which competed in Powerlifting, Athletics and Table Tennis, finished 17th overall on the medals table, the best position by an African nation at the Games. It was also the country’s best GOLD medal performance at the Paralympics.
Team Nigeria at the Paralympics
Nigeria’s Paralympics team has never returned empty-handed since making their debut at the Barcelona Games in 1992 with six athletes, and returning with three GOLD medals.
At the 2016 Games in Rio, the Paralympians didn’t only win gold medals; at least six World Records (WR) were set by Paul Kehinde (Powerlifting, Men’s 65kg); Bose Omolayo (Women’s 79kg); Lucy Ejike (Powerlifting, Women’s 61kg); Josephine Orji (Powerlifting, +86kg); Lauritta Onye (Para-Athletics, Women’s Shot put F40) and Flora Ugwunwa (Para-Athletics, women’s Javelin F54), en route the path to victory in their respective events.
Other gold medallists in Rio include Roland Ezuruike (Powerlifting, Men’s 54kg) and Ndidi Nwosu (Powerlifting, Women’s 73kg). Latifat Tijani (Powerlifting, Women’s 45kg) and Esther Oyema (Powerlifting, Women’s 55kg) won Silver medals, while Nnamdi Innocent (Powerlifting, Men’s 72kg) and Eucharia Iyiazi (Para-Athletics, Women’s Discus throw F57) scooped Bronze respectively.
The country has amassed a total of 70 medals: 36 Gold, 18 Silver and 16 Bronze, from seven outings at the Paralympics, almost tripling the number of medals their able-bodied counterparts have won at the Olympics, a total of 25 medals from their participation in 16 games.
Team Nigeria’s spectacular feat in Rio elicited a lot of celebrations home and abroad. Sports officials were overjoyed, showering the team with encomiums. Political office holders were not left out, with some of them pledging support for members of the contingent.
At a brief reception held at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja, for the first batch of athletes that returned from Rio, Mr. Luka Jonathan Mangset, who received the athletes on behalf of the Minister of Youth and Sports, Barrister Solomon Dalung, promised that a bigger reception would be held for the team when the other members of the contingent returned to the country.
He said: “On behalf of Mr. President, Vice President and the Honorable Minister of Youth and Sports, the Permanent Secretary and all good people of Nigeria, I welcome you back to Nigeria. We are celebrating you now because you have done this country proud. History was made with your glorious and victorious outing to the Rio 2016 Paralympics.
“We appreciate your individual and collective efforts which placed Nigeria on a very prominent position on the medals table. I am happy that Nigeria topped all the African nations in this outing. I want to congratulate you and pray that when the others come, we will give you a more befitting welcome”.
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, also commended the Paralympians, saying, “We are happy they are back. They did very well; we need to encourage them and engage them; that should be our focus for now. We shall engage them and see what we can do and definitely, there must be something for them. They have done well and they deserve that; we are proud of them”.
Members of the House of Representatives had also pledged to reward the team with N18million for their efforts in Rio after a former board member of the then Nigeria Football Association (NFA), and now Deputy Chairman House Committee on Sports, Ayo Omidiran, proposed a N50,000 donation from each of the 360 members of the House, which was agreed on. Also, the lawmakers agreed to host members of the team at a special plenary session.
However, these pledges are yet to be fulfilled one year down the line. And nothing has really changed in the lives of these athletes who have defied their physical disabilities and limitations, to give their all for the nation.