President Goodluck Jonathan on Saturday in Abuja rewarded members of the Nigerian team to the 2012 Paralympics Games and the national under-20 women football team.
At a reception held for both teams at the State House Banquet Hall, Mr. Jonathan announced the conferment of the Member of the Order of Niger (MON) on six 2012 Paralympic gold medallists.
The six athletes had won gold medals at the Games where Nigeria placed 22nd overall among 164 participating countries, and finished third behind Tunisia and South Africa among African countries.
Nigeria, with a team of 29 athletes and 19 officials, won six gold, five silver and two bronze medals at the Paralympic Games.
The six gold medallists, who are all powerlifters and will be decorated on Monday in Abuja, include Yakubu Adesokan, who set a new world record in the men’s 48 kg.
The rest are Grace Anozie, Ivory Nwokorie, Loveline Obiji, Joy Onaolapo and Esther Oyema.
The President also announced a cash reward of five million Naira for each gold medallist, while the five silver medallists were rewarded with three million Naira each.
The two bronze medallists in the Paralympic team were also rewarded with two million Naira each, while the team officials got N2.5 million each.
Other members of the Paralympic team who did not win any medal at the Games, which was held from Aug. 29 to Sept. 9, were also rewarded with N500,000 Naira each.
The president further announced a reward of one million Naira each for the women football team, also known as the Falconets, while their officials are to receive N1.2 million each.
The Falconets had finished fourth at the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup finals held in Japan from Aug. 18 to Sept. 8 in Japan.
Mr. Jonathan, who noted that no amount of money or award would be enough to reward the two groups of Nigerian sports figures, said the reception was a modest recognition of their achievements.
“This is a modest recognition, which is just a token in our appreciation of your efforts. It is not the value of the money, but the recognition of your achievement, which is much more than any reward,’’ he said.
The president praised the athletes, saying they gave hope to the Nigerian youths and those that are physically challenged.
“You represented our country to the best of your abilities. You competed among the very best in the world and still kept your heads. You made us proud, and I commend your exceptional courage.
“The Paralympians have also demonstrated to their fellow countrymen and women that being physically challenged is no barrier.
“It is also a great achievement on the part of the Falconets to come fourth in the world. It is not easy. You all helped to put smiles on our faces, and helped to remind the world that Nigeria is still a force in sports,’’ he said.
Mr. Jonathan however decried the dismal performance of the Nigerian athletes at the London Olympics held from July 27 to Aug. 12, and described it as a huge disappointment.
He said their performance underscored the urgent need to revamp the sporting sector in order to restore it to the glorious days of the past.
Earlier in his remarks, the Minister of Sports, Bolaji Abdullahi, had commended the president for setting a pace in hosting the Paralympians and the Falconets.
He said it was the first time such an event was organised at that level to recognise athletes for performing outstandingly.
“I however want to call on the private sector to take a cue from the gesture of the President in honouring the Paralympians and the Falconets too,’’ he said.
The minister said the performance of both the Paralympians and Falconets comforted Nigerians following the poor outing of the athletes to the 2012 Olympics earlier.
He blamed the poor outing at the Olympics on high level of indiscipline and lack of commitment on the part of the athletes who represented the country.
Mr. Abdullahi however pointed out that the greatest honour that could be bestowed on the Paralympic athletes was to give them early preparation for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, Brazil.
Speaking also at the occasion, Chairman of Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers, however cautioned Nigerians not to be too hard on the London 2012 Olympic athletes.
He blamed their poor outing on poor and late preparation and called on the relevant stakeholders to ensure early preparation for every global competition.
Mr. Amaechi also seized the opportunity to call on the Presidency to take the menace of polio as a matter of national emergency.
He decried the recent resurgence of polio in the country, and said the NGF would support the federal government in all regards in addressing the problem.
While responding on behalf of the Falconets, team captain Gloria Ofoegbu thanked the president and presented him with a team jersey signed by all players and officials.
Mr. Onaolapo, a powerlifter and world record holder who responded on behalf of the Paralympic athletes, also thanked the federal government for the gesture.
She promised that the athletes would continue to make the president and the country proud through more brilliant performances in the future.
NAN reports that the reception was attended by Vice-President Namadi Sambo, Senate President David Mark and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim.
Governors Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna, Danbaba Suntai of Taraba, Idris Wada of Kogi, Theodore Orji of Abia, Martins Elechi of Ebonyi and Sullivan Chime of Enugu also attended the event.
Also in attendance were Governors Isa Yuguda of Bauchi and Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom, as well as the deputy governors of Bayelsa, Katsina, Jigawa, Gombe, Adamawa, Plateau and Kano States who represented their governors.
The President had earlier held a closed-door meeting with the governors and their deputies about two hours before the commencement of the reception.
NAN further reports that almost all the ministers attended the event, in compliance with the president’s Sept. 12 directive to them on the reception.
Mr. Jonathan had at a Federal Executive Council meeting on Sept. 12 directed that all the ministers should be at the event in honour of the athletes and footballers.