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Allen Onyema’s Benevolence Towards Nigerian Sports Heroes
Allen Onyema

Allen Onyema’s Benevolence Towards Nigerian Sports Heroes


On July 28, 2023 Chairman and CEO of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, will confer awards, gifts and other incentives to members of Team Nigeria’s squad to the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games and the 1980 AFCON winners, to keep their memory alive and also encourage young Nigerians who may represent the country in similar events tomorrow.

During the Montreal Olympics in 1976, mostly African countries, including Nigeria, boycotted the Montreal Games when the International Olympic Committee refused to ban New Zealand, after the New Zealand national rugby union team toured South Africa earlier in 1976 in defiance of the United Nations’ calls for a sporting embargo, which caused a massive reorganisation of scheduled events.


However, it was a tough decision for Nigerian athletes, when the then military Head of State, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, ordered the Nigerian athletes to boycott the Games and return home, eight days after they had arrived Montreal.

According to Chief Segun Odegbami, who is playing significant role in making this event possible, the athletes were in top shape and posted fine outings that assured fans back home of a medal swoop in Canada. Long jumper Charlton Ehizuelen held the world lead going into the event, while the Nigerian football team, which had the likes of Segun Odegbami, Joe Erico, Christian Chukwu and others, had beaten hosts Canada 3-0 in a preparatory match ahead of the global sports fiesta.

On what motivated him to extend his benevolence to otherwise forgotten sports heroes who sacrificed invaluable opportunities to head the call of fatherland, the Air Peace Chairman said he decided to do it for the love of his country, Nigeria, stressing that those who made the sacrifice for the country deserved to be rewarded.


“We are talking about Nigerians who have given their all to the nation. We are talking about Nigerians who have made us proud in the years past. We are talking about Nigerians who have been forgotten by their nation. Is that how to build a country? You make promises to them and you don’t fulfill it. We are talking about Nigerians who in their prime had everything going for them, would have been able to use Olympics of 1976 as a stepping stone to achieve a life of success for themselves and their families. They arrived Montreal and the nation beckoned on them to jettison the game as protest against apartheid in South Africa , to jettison their opportunities. How many people will do that now? Those Nigerians are our heroes. To jettison the opportunities that were staring them in the face, come back home because of a cause the government at that time was pursuing,” he said.

Onyema recalled that there was apartheid in South Africa and Nigeria was in the forefront as a frontline state trying to end the apartheid.

“These Nigeria athletes and others had arrived Montreal, settled in their hotel rooms, preparing for the opening ceremony the next morning. And a call came that Nigeria had boycotted the event. These athletes, in absolute show of respect for their nation, packed their bags and baggage, entered the next plane and came home, fighting for a cause. How many people will do that today? Because those who did it before were not honoured. How many people will obey such calls? If you give such directive now, nobody will listen to you. Those athletes would have disobeyed the country and remained in Montreal to participate in the Olympics if you give such directive today. This is because those who did it then were not really honoured by their nation. Forgetting that you have already destroyed their youth. Some of them would have gotten into professional sport to make their livelihood. Some of them have already died in penury. The ones that are alive, nobody even know of them. These are the people I discussed with Chief Odegbami, that we cannot continue to talk about Nigeria without them.

“Everybody cannot be governor, everybody cannot be a senator, everybody cannot be a president. Where we find ourselves, we should contribute to nation building. So, when I saw Odegbami, I said how about those people? Why not we honour them, make them feel wanted in their nation. How about those who won the African Cup of Nations for the first time for our country in 1980? Some of them, if you see them, you wont believe what you are seeing. Such national heroes, no country forgets such heroes. What they did in 1980 brought the country together. I still remember as a kid in those days seeing president Shehu Shagari at the national stadium waving in support of our players. He was in the crowd there when it happened, and the country became one. Anything anybody could do to make this country great, to live a kind of life that will transcend our ethnicity and religion, I will encourage it and everybody should encourage it and that is why I think that honouring those Nigerians who sacrificed staring opportunities for the sake of country, for the love of nation, and came back from that Montreal Olympic games without participating, in honour of the call that came then should be appreciated.


“We have to honour those people. We have to bring them back and make them proud of what they did for the nation. We have to use them to encourage the youths of today, that your sacrifices and actions towards nationhood or nation building, will never ever be forgotten. We want to start today so that government will emulate what we are going to do on July 28, so that Nigerians will start having hope in the nation. Those of them who won the first African Cup of Nations are part of the group we are going to honour. A wall of fame I am sure has already been built. We promised that we will build a hall of fame where their names will be written in gold at the NIIA (Nigeria Institute of International Affairs). As I speak to you that wall of fame is up now, by July 28, it will be unveiled with their names there and on the night of 28 July they will all be honoured. Whatever we are going to offer them is not the end of the game, other corporate bodies are being enjoined to come on and see what they could do to those people and their families. What they did is unbelievable.

“On that day we are going to offer them some financial rewards. Air Peace will do that. Air Peace will also make sure that those of them that are still alive, have free tickets for the rest of their life time, flying Air Peace domestically. They will have 12 return tickets every year. So that means every month they are flying on Air Peace free of charge. At the same time, Air Peace will give them one international free ticket to any of the countries we are flying free,” Onyema said.

This Day



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