Kingsley Obiekwu was among players of Nigeria’s senior national team coached by Dutchman, Jo Bonfrere and assisted by Musa Abdulahi that went to Atlanta, United States of America, for the 1996 Olympics. They made the country proud by winning gold medal in football. It was a historic moment and the feat brought honour to all Nigerians.
The ‘Dream Team’, as they were nicknamed back then, brought suspense to the 1996 Olympics, coming twice from behind to defeat Brazil with a 4-3 score line in the dying seconds of the semi-final after trailing 3 -1 and beating Argentina 3 -2 in the final. An Albiceleste side that boast the likes of Ariel Ortega, Claudio Lopez and Hernan Crespo.
Twenty-five years later, Obiekwu, one of the heroes of the team, has sadly become a subject of pity because of his financial situation. He is currently a commercial driver in the city of Enugu. He never bargained for it but fate has dealt with him since he retired from football prematurely. His career suffered a devastating setback when he was diagnosed with “enlargement of the heart” after signing a contract with a Dutch football club, Go Ahead Eagles FC.
The story of the Ibuzo, Delta State-born Obiekwu, became public last week when a social media user spotted him at a motor park in Enugu and posted pictures of him in a pitiable condition. The viral picture drew massive reaction and attracted a lot of sympathy for the former Udoji United Football Club defender.
Concerned about his state, Super Eagles captain, Ahmed Musa, made a cash donation of N2 million to cushion his financial crunch. Obiekwu, who confirmed the gesture said; “So yesterday, the Media Officer of the Super Eagles who works in a radio station, called me to inform me that somebody wanted to speak with me and I said he should give him my number. Musa called me and said he had heard my story and that he and his teammates will do something but meanwhile, I should give him my account number and in about an hour’s time, I got an alert of N2 million, I appreciate that a lot”.
The ex-international had in an interview lamented that, “most of the time when I come across my former teammates, they will pretend they don’t know me or I didn’t even play with them,” adding that apart from Nwankwo Kanu, other teammates were unconcerned about his plight.
The story of Obiekwu is similar to that of many ex-internationals. It reminds us of the late Rashidi Yekini, the 1993 African footballer of the year. In 2012 he was said to be sick and mentally challenged. Help didn’t come his way, until he died. His teammates, the Nigerian Government and the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), all abandoned him. He was buried without any honour and dignity as someone who brought fortune to the country.
The unfair treatment of our ex- sportsmen and women needs to be addressed. Most of them are passing through hard times but cannot come out to speak because of the shame and embarrassment and so they prefer to die in silence. We urge the government to look out for those who have brought glory to the country. If corrupt politicians and public office holders will be entitled to pension then they should also be entitled to such benefits. It is not enough to give them a handshake and national honours. Money should also be part of the reward.
But we will also advise young athletes to save money and invest wisely during the thriving moments of their career. Life after retirement can be difficult if not well prepared for. They should learn from the stories of those who have been through difficulties as a result of the wrong choices they made, especially living very flamboyant lives.
But for Obiekwu, we thank Ahmed Musa for his rare show of support. What he did needs to be commended. If people like him can continue to fill the gap for those in need, the milk of human kindness will be sufficient for all those in need. God bless Musa!