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Otedola, Chukwu and plight of national heroes

By Editorial Board
11 June 2019   |   3:55 am
Mr. Femi Otedola’s graciousness to pay a whopping fifty thousand dollars for the medical treatment of national football hero Christian Chukwu...

Former Super Eagles Coach, Christian Chukwu

Mr. Femi Otedola’s graciousness to pay a whopping fifty thousand dollars for the medical treatment of national football hero Christian Chukwu abroad is a commendable act of generosity to a fellow man. In the face of other options to which he could apply his money and possibly earn material returns, the donor has opted for the moral choice to be his brother’s keeper. This is a good and worthwhile decision. Of course, there is another form of return that accrues to one who gives out of genuine concern for the plight of a fellow man. The spiritual significance of this gesture in most cultures are quite clear.

The lamentable condition of ‘Chairman’ Chukwu and the generosity of Otedola have thrown up salient issues about the value of national service to self and to the nation. The story is a salient lesson on how a working citizen should plan his life too against the vicissitudes of post-active life. The human-interest story is also about the responsibility of a country to its citizens in general, and its heroes in particular. It is also about the moral responsibility in society, of the haves toward the have-nots.

The Christian Chukwu we know is not just another citizen. His many obvious personal achievements, which coincide with his service to Nigeria, include being Captain of the Nigerian team that won an Africa Football laurel (Cup of Nations) for Nigeria 1980, being Assistant Coach to the Golden Eaglets that won the Olympic Gold Medal in 1985 and being an Assistant Coach of the Super Eagles that qualified for the first time ever for the World Cup finals in 1994. And between 2002 and 2005, he was Head Coach of the national football team that won bronze medal at the 2004 African Cup of Nations in Tunisia. This is to say that, much of his active working life has been spent serving and bring glory to his country in the football arena.

Chukwu played for his country in an age when, as noted by Segun Odegbami who indeed should know, it was more for the passion of it and for the glory of national service, than for the money. The first point from this is that he, like his many fellow footballers of that era, made little money from what they excelled at. The second is that, even with the little they made, relative to these days, they failed to conserve enough and plan for life after football. Which is a pity.

There are, of course, others – the Segun Odegbamis, the Adokiye Amesiemekas, the Patrick Ekejis and the Felix Owolabis – who did not make similar mistake: they went on to get education, veer into other professions and take other (extra-curricular) jobs that today stand them in good stead.

From the unhappy plight of a multiple medal winning footballer and others like him, it must be obvious to the present generation of sportspersons to take appropriate insurance policy against the vagaries of life after sports. Luckily, the insurance industry offers a variety of packages to this end. Besides whatever they are currently engaged in, we should think that nothing stops the Kanus, the Okochas and others from going back to school for further education in or outside sports. They can only be the better for it.

For instance, former Director-General of National Sports Commission (NSC), Pat Ekeji said that he once proposed a contributory pension scheme for Nigerian sports men and women but it failed to fly.  It is curious that any government would let such an opportunity pass. But it is not too late to revisit the idea and begin to implement it forthwith.

If a national football icon such as Chukwu did not save enough for the rainy day, this cannot obviate the duty of the nation he served to return the good he deserves especially in his time of dire need. As it is for Chukwu, so this applies to Peter Fregene, Emmanuel Okala and every one, in the past, in the present, and in the future, who give their ‘heart and might’ to win laurels for their fatherland. The national anthem states inter alia that, ‘the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain’

The situation whereby national heroes are, in time of need, abandoned to their fate is not fair. It is in fact callous. And it speaks poorly about the value attached to selfless service, even about the moral condition of society. We should warn that the grateful treatment that Nigeria gives its heroes in the various fields of endeavour is being noticed by discerning youths and their parents. It serves as a guide to how much they will sacrifice for their country even at this moment.

Specifically, Otedola has shown the way for the rich in our midst on what a sense of social responsibility means. It is generally held that a man is blessed not for himself alone, but for the purpose to bless others.

Nevertheless, there is a necessity to prevent, ab inito, the situation that makes possible the impoverishment of citizens – heroes or ordinary – to the extent that they are at the mercy of the generosity of their fellowmen.

The government must, as it is done in more humane societies, institutionalise a system, which assures that the very basics of human needs are available to every man. Beside that it is a moral imperative, this is a constitutional injunction upon the government of the day as stated in Chapter II (14) (2) (b) of the constitution, which provides that welfare and security of the citizens shall be the primary purpose of government.

In other words, we will continue to ask why the most populous black nation in the world with 36 states and 774 local government councils cannot boast of world-class hospitals where Citizen Christian Chukwu’s medical condition could have received attention. This too is a sad commentary on our so-called 20 years of unbroken democracy and indeed the Democracy Day the nation is marking tomorrow.