Mohammed Yahaya’s unfulfilled Olympics dream for weightlifters
In the build up to the 2019 African Games in Morocco, the President of Nigeria Weightlifting Federation, Mohammed Yahaya, set a target of 15 gold medals for his athletes and coaches. But the weightlifting federation returned with a bag full of medals, comprising 16 gold, 13 silver and 18 bronze medals at the end of the Games, the highest number by any federation.
Yahaya told The Guardian soon on arrival from Morocco that Nigerian weightlifters had grown and that his target was to lead the athletes to break even at Tokyo 2020 Olympics by winning at least three gold medals for the country.
Sadly, the dream died on Sunday afternoon in Kano.
The Weightlifting Federation boss, who until his death served as the Special Assistant to Governor Muhammad Badaru of Jigawa State on Assembly Matters, gave up the ghost at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital after a ‘protracted illness.’
Many Nigerians, particularly stakeholders in the weightlifting family, are still in shock since the news of Yahaya’s death was broken.
Yahaya was a man of many titles in Nigerian sports circle. While some call him ‘Bigman’ because of his philanthropic nature, others refer to him as ‘Golden President.’
Nigeria’s only Olympics medal in weightlifting, a silver by Mariam Usman, came at Beijing 2008. That was 12 years ago.
After the ‘harvest’ of gold medals at Morocco 2019 African Games, Yahaya declared that Nigerian weightlifters would take the world by surprise in Tokyo Olympics.
“I have the feeling that our first Olympics gold medal will come at Tokyo 2020 because we have some of the best lifters in the world at the moment,” Yahaya said in a chat with The Guardian. “All I need do as President of the weightlifting Federation is to give them the best of training and competitions ahead the Olympics. I am happy we have a sports minister who is ready to give the sports federations the financial and moral assistance we need to do the country proud at the Olympics.”
Part of Yahaya’s plans for Nigerian weightlifters ahead of the Tokyo Olympics was to source for funds to attend two championships in Tunisia and Qatar as part of the qualifiers for the Games.
But for the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted every arrangement and eventually led to the postponement of the Olympics, Nigerian weightlifters would have commenced camping two months ago going by Yahaya’s projection.
“We will have at least five months of camping for our lifters ahead of the Olympics, and our target is to win as many gold medals as possible in Tokyo,” Yahaya stated then.
Nigeria paraded some of the youngest weightlifters at Morocco 2019 African Games, including Emmanuel Appah, who got three gold medals in the men’s 61kg category -Snatch (120kg), Clean-Jerk (151kg) and total 271kg.
“Appah won three gold medals for us at the 2014 African Youth Games in Gaborone, Botswana and a silver at the Fifth Commonwealth Youth Games (CYG) held in Samoa in 2015. I am looking forward to seeing Appah rule the World in Tokyo because he has demonstrated the quality of a star Team Nigeria can bank on for medal at Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games,” Yahaya said then.
He was also banking on the likes of Joy Eze Ogbonne, who also grabbed three gold medals in the women’s 64kg – clean and jerk (121kg), Snatch (97kg) and a total of 218kg, Folashade Lawal, who claimed three gold medals in women’s 59kg category (210kg), Clean-Jerk (117kg) and Snatch (93kg) as well as Fatima Musa, who won three gold medals in Women’s 81kg (219kg), Clean-Jerk (122kg) and Snatch (97kg).
Yahaya was equally banking on the absence of Egypt to harvest medals at Tokyo Olympics. The Pharaohs, who dominated the weightlifting event at Morocco 2019 African Games, winning 56 medals (31 gold, 20 silver and five bronze), were banned from participating in the World Weightlifting Championships for doping offences. The suspension could have been extended to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games.
Though Yahaya’s journey as President of Nigeria weightlifting Federation ended on Sunday in Kano, his legacy as sports administrator continues to live on.
From the Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, to the President of Nigerian Olympics Committee (NOC) Habu Gumel, the Nigeria Wrestling Federation (NWF) and other sports federations, it has been expressions of one ‘huge shock’ since Sunday afternoon.