Billionaire businessmen Aliko Dangote and Sir Kesington Adebutu, popularly known as Baba Ijebu, were among the 60 Nigerian sports icons unveiled by the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development on Friday, in celebration of the country’s 60th Independence anniversary.
But WBA, IBF and WBO world boxing champion Anthony Joshua, as well as former Super Eagles captain Mikel Obi, one of the country’s most decorated footballers of all-time, were missing on the list of awardees.
The event took place at the Velodrome of the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja.
The awards, according to sports minister, Sunday Dare, are meant to reward heroes and heroines who had worked hard to put the country’s name on the world map.
The list of the sports icon was dominated by members of the Super Eagles of 1980 and 1994, the Atlanta 1996 gold-winning football side, as well as track and field athletes and boxers.
Ex-Eagles stars Nwankwo Kanu, Austin Okocha, Daniel Amokachi, Garba Lawal and Emmanuel Amuneke of the famed 1994 and Atlanta 1996 teams were selected for the awards.
Also selected were Christian Chukwu, Segun Odegbami, Emmanuel Okala and Mudashiru Lawal, all members of the 1980 Green Eagles squad that won Nigeria’s maiden Africa Cup of Nations on home soil.
The 1985 U-17 World Cup winning team captained by Nduka Ugbade and coached by Sebastian Brodricks-Imasuen, were also recognised.
Nigeria’s first Olympics medalist Nojeem Maiyegun, first gold medalist Chioma Ajunwa, Mary Onyali, Sunday Bada, Commonwealth Games medalists Olawunmi Majekodunmi and Samuel Igun, former world boxing champions Hogan Kid Bassey and Dick ‘Tiger’ Ihetu, as well as female wrestler Odunayo Adekuruoye were also among the awardees.
However, former Chelsea star Mikel, who won the Silver Ball at the 2005 U-20 World Cup behind Lionel Messi, was shockingly omitted.
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Mikel won the 2013 AFCON and the 2016 Olympic Games bronze at international level, and won the Champions League, Europa League, two EPL titles, three FA Cups, and several other awards while with English giants Chelsea, as well as the 2020 Turkish Cup.
Ruth Ogbeifo-Balofin, a silver medallist in the 75kg weightlifting category of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and a bronze medalist in the same category at the 1999 World Championships in Athens, Greece, also missed out. She holds the record of the first African and Commonwealth female weightlifter to win an Olympic medal.
Rafiu Ladipo, President-General, Nigeria Football Supporters Club, a staunch supporter of the Super Eagles since the 1970s, is equally not on the list.
Others notable heroes, who missed out are Shuaibu Amodu, who qualified the Eagles for two World Cups; Kadiri Ikhana, 1980 AFCON winner and first Nigeria coach to lead a team to win the CAF Champions League; Vincent Enyeama, the country’s most capped footballer; Victor Osimhen, U-17 World Cup winner and record scorer at the tournament; ex-African squash champion Samson Egbeyemi, and two-time African champions Enyimba.
Ace sports journalist Emeka Nwani
wondered why some of these icons were omitted from the list of awardees.
“If we have names like Rafiu Ladipo, Victor Osimhen, Amodu and the likes omitted, I don’t think Dangote and Baba Ijebu should be there,” Nwani stated.
“I have not seen anything that they’ve done for sports other than taking up the challenge to renovate the Abiola stadium in Abuja, but we are talking about 60 years. Baba Ijebu was at one point involved with table tennis, but for how long?
“Amodu qualified Nigeria for two World Cups and was denied the chance to take the country to both tournaments in 2002 and 2010. Anthony Joshua is a world champion with three belts, but he was omitted and we have Baba Ijebu.”
Patrick Nwaogu, Abia Warriors Sporting Director, added, “Amodu holds the record of only Nigerian to have qualified the country twice for the World Cup. In 1989, he broke the northern FA Cup jinx by leading BCC Lions to win the title, before winning the Africa Cup Winners Cup the following year.
“Joshua has been defending the country’s colours even though he didn’t grow up in Nigeria. He still adopted the country and he is always proud to be a Nigerian. Whenever he is fighting, he carries the Nigerian flag; that shows that he is a patriotic Nigerian and should be given the full recognition.
“These ones should have made the list in my own opinion.”
Falilat Ogunkoya/Atlanta ’96 4x400m
Sunday Bada/Sydney 2000 men’s 4x400m
Atlanta Olympics football team
Nduka Ugbade/Sebastine Broadricks-Imasuen/1985 Eaglets
Barcelona 92′ quartet (Men’s 4x100m Relay)
Super Eagles 1994
Muda Lawal/Emmanuel Okala/Green Eagles 1980
Teslim Thunder Balogun
Chief MKO Abiola
Dr. Larry Izamoje
Mazi. Ernest Okonkwo
Alh. Aliko Dangote
Sir Kesington Adebutu