Olympian Ayodele Peters laments living in poverty despite being a former international sportsman.
.Lost his wife, kids for N5, 000 medication
.Regrets rejecting citizenship of France, Britain
.Leaves in an uncompleted building
.Forced to retire prematurely
.Wants his entitlements paid
A line in the National anthem says ‘The labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain’ But whether this promise is strictly adhered to has become an illusion to the majority of Nigerians. But that is one promise that has been called to question in the lives of many who have spent their active years serving the nation. This particularly true of sports men and women abandoned by the nation at the most critical times of their lives
The families of sports legends like Hogan ‘King’Bassey, Rashidi Yekini, Muda Lawal, Sam Okwaraji, Christ Odumezua, Sam Ojebode, Joseph Ladipo, and lately Thomson Oliha, would testify to this fact. Even the living ones like Joe Mensah, Sebastian Brodericks, Paul Hamilton, Davidson Andeh, Tunde Disu, Sunday Onyerekwa, Peter Konyegwachie, Peter Aneke, Joe Lasisi, and the first Olympic medalist for Nigeria, Nojeem Mayegun, who now resides in Austria, cannot boast of enjoying the best of rewards for the services they rendered to their fatherland.
One of the latest victims of this official neglect is Ayodele Peters, a retired boxer who went as far as representing Nigeria at the Olympics games in 1980. But all he has to show for that today is grinding poverty on account of which he lost his wife and children and now lives in an uncompleted building in a remote part of Lagos.
Peters abode is situated on Kehinde Onifade Street, a lonely street in the Alaja area of Ayobo, a Lagos suburb. It is a three bedroom bungalow devoid of any identification number because of its remote nature. It has no doors or windows and looks abandoned in every sense. Tattered cloths serves as window blinds in the apartment he also shares with some domestic animals. The room that harbours him also harbours a stove, pots, and other cooking utensils,
Like most Nigeria’s sport legends, his journey from grace to grass started when according to him he fell out with the officials of the Ogun State Sports Council in 1989. Having started his boxing career as a student of the Lagos State Technical College, where he graduated with a certificate in Building Technology in 1976, Peters was immediately co-opted as one of the pioneer staff of the Ogun State Sports Council after its creation same year. Recounting his ordeal, ‘Anikulapo’ as he is fondly called by his admirers narrated how he watched his wife and kids, a boy and a girl snatched away by the cold hands of death in a bizarre circumstance in 1996. According to him they had fallen ill at different times and he couldn’t provide five thousand naira for their medications.
Just 56 years of age, the frail –looking ex-boxer is already looking 80. He took this correspondent through a long walk from the Megida Bus/stop, Ayobo to his resident, on Kehinde Onifade Street, as he keeps apologizing after every ten metres walked: “My brother I am really sorry taking you through this stress, I am ashamed we could not board an okada (Commercial motor-cycle), that is because I don’t have the hundred naira to spear. Please forgive me. This is what I have had to face for so many years now. At times I walk longer distance,” he had said repeatedly.
Peters had represented Nigeria at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, where he fought his way to the quarter finals before he was stopped by an Iraqi boxer in the 63.5 kg weight category. Before his Olympic appearance, he made his mark on the local scene as one of the most decorated boxers in the country, winning laurels at the prestigious National Sports Festival and other competitions for Ogun Statein the 70s and late 80s, with the dreaded Davidson Andeh as one of his contemporaries.
“I was employed into the Ogun State Sports Council the same year it was created. So we were the pioneer employees of the state and I was placed on grade level 03. By 1978, I had four fights for Ogun State and after our recruitment, a former light- heavy weight champion then Archi More was in Nigeria on contract with the National Sport Commission and seconded to the Nigeria Amateur Boxing Association. He left Lagos and after some months came to Abeokuta. It is through him I discovered the secrets of boxing and after taking us through a course I was awarded a grade 3 coaching certificate.
“Later I had to fight at the Alake area of the state against Kwara and Benue states all of which I won convincingly and I was in Ilorin and Makurdi as well and repeated the same feat. By 1979 I had boxed my way into the national team during the fourth National Sports Festival,Oluyole‘79 where I met the dreaded Davidson Andehin the finals and I had a cut on my eye-lead. I love him, I have a lot of regard for him, he’s got speed and one of the best boxers Nigeria has ever produced. I won silver for Ogun State at the competition but three months later we met again in the champion of champions’ competition (Eagles’ Belt) in Lagos, thought i had a good fight, but he defeated me again with a slim margin.
“By 1980 I was one of the four boxers invited to the national camp and I was the only one that qualified because I won my three fights via knockouts to be the only qualified boxer from Ogun State ahead of the European championship, and by God’s grace I excelled. I returned from the competition and I was selected to represent Nigeria at the 22nd Olympics in Moscow same year where I lost in the quarter finals to an Iraqi boxer, I have forgotten his name now. Coming to Nigeria I was supposed to commence my annual leave after the Olympics, but was invited to the state camp in preparation for the all Technical Colleges Games hosted by Kano ‘tagged’Dala 80’. I reported to camp in Ijebu –Ode,my leave notwithstanding. I won the only gold medal among all the Ogun State contingents to that game. Though I got the award of the best sportsman of the year in Ogun State that year, but the sports council didn’t inform me so it was done in absential. Though I was sad about it, I had to move on. In 1981 I was selected again to represent the country at the European championship where I performed very well,” he explained.
Expressing regrets at sticking with Nigeria when he had options of taking up the citizenship of top European countries like France and Great Britain, the Lagos born former athlete has had to leave from hand to mouth in his country of birth. Claiming to have lost everything he worked for in life, Peters’ only consolation is the fact that he is hale and healthy, and that his aged mother, who according to him is approaching her 90s and resides at the Magodo area of Lagos, is still alive.
“I love boxing because it is a way of life. I am so sad now that I rejected the citizenship of some countries especially France way back in 1980 because I was carried away by patriotism for Nigeria. I loved representing my country, but now I don’t know how I feel about Nigeria. I feel deadness within me, I feel like I don’t exist anymore likewise some of my other colleagues, who are still alive. I am even grateful to God that I am able to walk around. There are some of my contemporaries that are very sick, blind, and yet the country they served all their lives is not looking their way why? Why are we like this? When will things change? Why do we do this to ourselves?
“I regret being a Nigerian and I am ashamed. I am really ashamed; I don’t see anything good coming. This is a country where its only when you are active that you are remembered after that you are finished nobody looks after you. Look at countries as small as Benin Republic here they don’t neglect there ex –sportsmen or women. We call ourselves the largest black nation and we are like this. I am sad for Nigeria, and sad for the children coming into the world through this country. Is this what they will also face in the future? For one to spend his fruitful years serving a country and now leaving in an uncompleted building in my home state. What can I say, except that God should help me. I can’t pray for death, no. And I have become the greatest coward, the moment it comes to committing suicide, I am the number coward I can’t. I hope God will do something fast, put it in somebody’s heart to take me out of this mess. I am sorry in 1996 I lost my wife and two children to death for lack of money to purchase prescribed medicine I am a sad man. I am a loner,” he lamented.
Peters continued: “I hope I will not die in this situation because it will not be a good story for the land and even those living on it. If so many of us have died mysteriously, then why do we need to serve the country? People keep billions in their accounts, what do they do with it? Our mind sets must change, what would have been enough for children yet unborn, one individual will just put it in his account. I am just praying that God will not allow me die this way. Since 1994 that the sports council threw me to the street because of money and title, yes I mean the Ogun State Sport Council. From 1976 to 1994 they pushed me out on compulsory retirement, by 1996 they asked me to write an application for voluntary retirement. I made grade level 07 since 1986, so how can the sports council place me on compulsory retirement without the Ministry of Sports? The Sports Council is a parastatal under the Ministry of Sports, so they can’t say they place me on compulsory retirement without the Ministry of Sports.
“By 1991 I have made grade level 09 and this was why I was pushed out. They said I am not an indigene of Ogun State, when I was representing and winning laurels nobody saw that. The lord has been preserving my soul otherwise I would have been dead by now. I am more saddened and look humiliated being a Yoruba man from the South West, because all they want to do is to try and get you down. I watched how Abiola was killed and I cried for myself, my people are terrible. I was asked to go and box forOgun State, even when they know I was involved in a serious motor accident, I still have the scar on my head, 18 stitches and I have the medical certificate. I was asked to stay away from active boxing and the sports council asked me to go and box as the only condition to effect my reinstatement as directed by Cornel Raji Rasaki, since February 1988 before he was transferred to Lagos. Do you know I still had to box in 1989? But God helped me. The day Okwaraji died I was boxing at the University of Lagos where they put the ring. The 8th National Sports Festival and I still won a medal. Unbelievable! And the state governor, Military Administrator Navy Capt. Lawal, at the time said all medalist in the employ of the sports council should be promoted to the next salary grade level so that has put me to level 08 since ’89 but all through that year, the sports council didn’t effect it.
“A new Director of Sports came on board, I went to him and he gave me a new appointment, placing me on grade 07, a position I attained in 1986. I was advised to take it because it will give me better opportunity to fight my case. So I took it and started writing letters and by 1991 the Commissioner for Sports who signed my reinstatement, Dr. Ibikunle died suddenly, and since then the sports council have failed to implement what has been given to them,” he narrated.
According to him by 1989 the Director of Sports and the Administrative Officer in the state’s Sports Council were removed by the state government for financial impropriety. A Sole Administrator was appointed in person of one Mr.Runsewe. He went to him and presented his case again, but to his amazement, Runsewe expressed fears, revealing that those behind his case were too powerful to handle.
“He said to me in confidence, Peters I have seen your paper but I am afraid, your people here are too powerful, I don’t want to die. Your case is before me but there’s nothing I can do. He then said if I can win a medal for the state at the sports festival he will have the basis to do something. I felt so bad after I have been asked to stop active boxing, but like I said earlier I won a medal to the glory of God. In 1991 a new Commissioner for Sports was appointed in the person of Mrs Oshifunke Kuku, you remember I said the other Commissioner, who signed my reinstatement died suddenly. I went to Kuku with my petition, and she assured me that I will receive a letter from her office, which I truly received three days later. I wrote the petition through the Sports Council as directed, and she confirmed that truly my reinstatement has been sent since 1988. She said she has effected it including the outstanding promotions for the medals I won. She told me that I will be given grade level 09 step 2. And I was congratulated by the Honourable Commissioner,” he said.
He wallowed in that situation for some more years before a certain Military Administrator ofOgun State, Cornel Daniel Akintande warded in. He was addressing a forum at the Cultural Centre, where Peters indicated his intention to present his case. The governor requested that he’s allowed to speak despite efforts made to shut him down. And after presenting his case, he was asked to rout the details through the Director General Bureau of Establishment and Training at the Sports Council, Alhaji Egberongbe. The details was sent to the Sports Council as directed and three days later he was attacked by nine men for going to the cultural centre to talk to the Military Administrator.
“I still have the Police and hospital reports in my hands. Despite the fact that I recognized two out of the nine men, who attacked me the Police didn’t arrest any of them in 1994. They said I must have stepped on powerful toes. I almost died after the attack but thank God for the passersby who untied me. My hands and legs were tied together and I was dumped in a thick forest for over three hours. That was at Ayeloja Village, behind the mechanic village Ita-Oshin.
“All I am asking for is that I should be reinstated and paid my arrears of pension. It is my entitlement and I should not be denied. I also want to beg Governor Fashola to help me with a descent place to leave in and a job I can do for the state, I am a qualified boxing coach. Boxing gave us the kind of recognition we enjoyed on the world stage. It started in 1968, you remember Nojeem Mayegun, who won the first medal for Nigeria at the Olympics. Thank God he does not leave here but in Austria. I am grateful to God for him. But recently I learnt he said he was home sick and want to return home but that he’s afraid to come home. I love Governor Fashola for what he is doing for sports. Have you watch him play football, he is a beautiful footballer. I love him so much, and I know that if he was a boxer, things would have been better for the ex- boxers because those in boxing don’t value their own.
“Go to the National Stadium and see where my coach Hogan Bassey is buried, he was buried like a pauper. I have told myself that if I have the money I will go and rebuild his tomb and make it more beautiful. His tomb should be a tourist attraction, he was a world champion. I don’t know but I pray His Excellency Governor Fashola can give me a place to leave. I want to discover and develop boxers for Nigeria. Already he has made a name for himself for what he has done as far as sports development is concerned. I love him for that and I don’t care about his religion,” he said.
Comparing his situation with that of the biblical Job, Peters is fast losing sight of the fond memories he enjoyed representing Nigeria in boxing as he seems to have nothing to be proud of anymore. His present condition is so devastating that he feels abandoned by a country he spent his youthful years serving in the area of sports. Praying that succor will come his way soon, he is however determined to keep hope alive until his change comes.
“I don’t think there’s any future for the sports in the country. If I had children I won’t allow them represent this country. My only option for them will be that they rather represent a country that will see to their welfare when they grow old. Even if you are injured while representing the country, they will still take care of the individual not a country like Nigeria. I am just being frank with,” he said.
But if Peters’ claims are anything to go by, then something drastic should be done before we lose another sports legend as a result of negligence.
© Culled from The Nation