Brown Ebewele… His unfulfilled dream for Nigerian junior athletes
On the last day of competition at the 2021 World U20 Athletics Championship held in Nairobi, Kenya, Brown Ebewele looked at the medals’ table displayed on the scoreboard inside the Moi International Stadium and nodded his head repeatedly with a smile.
“Our young athletes have really done well, and I am sure Nigerian athletics will take its rightful place at the senior level very soon.”
Ebewele pointed at the duo of 17-year-old Imaobong Nse Uko, who won gold in the women’s 400m with a new 51.55 seconds personal best, and United States-based speed star, Udodi Onwuzurike, who also gave Nigeria a gold in the men’s 200m with a new 20.21 seconds personal best.
Before Nairobi 2021 (August 18 to 22), Nigeria’s best placing was seventh at the 1990 edition in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, where she won two gold, two silver and two bronze medals.
To get a better result in Nairobi, Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) President, Tonobok Okowa, brought in veteran coach Seigha Porbeni and Brown Ebewele to tinker the team. It paid off in a big way.
Team Nigeria’s trip to Nairobi 2021 was historic, finishing in third place for the first time in history of the competition with four gold and three bronze medals, losing the second position narrowly to Finland, who got four gold and one silver medal. The host, Kenya, topped with eight gold, one silver and seven bronze medal at the competition attended by 166 countries.
Ebewele told The Guardian before he left the Moi International Stadium that he would play his role in the building process of the young athletes to become world-beaters. “The challenge is now on us (coaches). With the right steps, I am sure some of these junior athletes will win medals for Nigeria at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England.
Ebewele continued: “Look at our 4x400m mixed relay team setting a historic, championships record of 3:19.70 here in Nairobi. I see Nigerian athletes ruling the world again.”
Sadly, Ebewele could not live to fulfill his promise of helping the new AFN board build the young athletes to become world-beaters at the senior category. He died on the eve of the New Year after a surgery in Warri, Delta State. He had suffered serious injury on his leg during a car accident along the Lagos-Benin high way a few years ago.
The news of Ebewele’s death on Friday evening came as a big shock to Nigerians, particularly those in athletics family.
Ebewele, an ex-Olympian and former Edo State Commissioner for Sports, led Team Edo to the 20th National Sports Festival held in Benin City last year.
Popularly called ‘Juju man’ by his fans, Ebewele introduced decathlon into the nation’s athletics in 1978, while competing as an athlete for the then Bendel State.
Highly reputed athletics coach and activist, he rose to become a Director of Sports in Edo State and later a Commissioner for Sports in Edo State during the administration of former Governor Lucky Igbinedion.
As Director of Sports, Ebewele piloted Team Edo to the top of the medals table, when the state hosted the 2002 edition of the Sports Festival.
Ebewele was also instrumental to Team Nigeria’s victory at COJA 2003 All Africa Games in Abuja, as he championed the inclusion of special sports as medal-winning sports.
Nigeria’s medal haul at the Games came from special athletes.
At the beginning of his athletics career, Ebewele competed for Lagos State as a junior athlete in the maiden edition of the National Sports Festival in 1973. He was a junior hammer thrower then. He also represented Lagos State at the second edition of the fiesta in 1975. The two editions of the sports festival were held in Lagos but were won by the then Midwest state.
Ebewele’s first competition for the then Bendel State was at Kaduna ‘77 edition of the National Sports Festival. Competing as a mature athlete, Ebewele won a gold medal for Bendel State, and also set a national record in the hammer event in Kaduna.
He went on to represent Nigeria at the 1978 All African Games in Algiers, and grabbed a silver medal in decathlon. He also represented the country at many international competitions.
AFN President, Tonobok Okowa, and Technical Director of the federation, Samuel Onikeku, described Ebewele’s death as a big loss to Nigerian athletics.