OCTOBER 1 will forever be a significant day for Nigerians home and abroad, as it marks the end of a colonial era and the birth of a nation. Divided by ethnicity but united by sports, known as the ‘Giant of Africa’, Nigeria has produced proud and iconic stars and moments in the world of sports; some expected, others shocking.
In the light of celebrating Nigeria’s 60th independence, it is paramount to recollect that even before independence; some Nigerians had made appreciable impacts in global sports. Such Nigerians who come to mind are Emmanuel Ifejuna, who won a gold medal in high jump at the 1954 Commonwealth Games. Hogan Kid Bassey emerged World Featherweight Boxing Champion in 1957, as well as Dick Tiger, who won the Middleweight title and later, the World Light Heavyweight crown. These were indeed remarkable feats that prepared the ground for Nigeria’s exploits after independence.
. The most notable pre-independence achievement was by Hogan ‘Kid’ Bassey, who won the World Featherweight Boxing Championship fight in Liverpool in 1957. After Independence, in 1963, another Nigerian, Dick Tiger, fought America’s Gene Fulmer, and won the World Middle Weight Boxing Championship. It was fought at the Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, Nigeria, in a historic fight that was covered by Africa’s first television station at the time, WNTV/WNBS, and may have been the first live transmission of a sports event in Africa
Nigeria continued her fine form after independence. In 1976, Nigeria had the world focused on her as she hosted the 2nd edition of the All Africa Games which was a morale booster for the then Green Eagles as they won the gold medal in football just as the country placed second on the overall medals table. This further boosted the confidence of the most famous football clubs in the country, the IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan and Enugu Rangers, who won the Africa Cup Winners Cup in 1976 and 1977.
Another concrete feat was hosting the 1980 AFCON and winning it at the same time. After two consecutive third-place finishes in the 1976 and 1978 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament, Nigeria finally got her hands on the title on home soil in 1980.
This was also her first appearance in the final and goals from Wole Odegbami- who netted a brace- and Mohammed Lawal gave Nigeria a 3-0 win over Morocco in the final.
Nigeria set a very impressive record and landed an everlasting feat when they won the first edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, which was just for the U-16s, In far away China. The likes of Nduka Ugbade, Fatai Atere, Jonathan Akpoborie, Baldwin Bazuaye, Victor Igbinoba and the late Kingsley Aikiobare, won Nigeria its first international football trophy. They won four games out of five en route the final where they beat West Germany 2-0 to lift the trophy.
So many old timers amongst us will remember the Miracle of Dammam in 1989.
Nigeria remains the only country to have a record of almost losing a 4-0 match only to reply with a heroic comeback. Nigeria’s Flying Eagles performed a miracle at the 1989 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Saudi Arabia. Nigeria won one game and got a draw in the Group Stage to progress to the quarter-final where they met The Soviet Union. Within 46 minutes of the clash, Nigeria were already down 4-0. The late Olatunde Disu led side fought back to level 4-4 before winning the tie via penalties. With that feat, they became the first team to come back from four goals down to equalise and then go on to win a FIFA World Cup match at any level.
This game was so iconic it got a name of its own. The Dammam Miracle they call it, in reference to the city of Damman in Saudi Arabia where the game was played.
Most medals Nigeria had ever won at a Summer Olympics were the two she got at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, but the likes of Oluyemi Kayode, Olapade Adeniken, Mary Onyali and Christy Opara Thompson made history by winning four in Barcelona, Spain in 1992.
Kayode, Adeniken, Davidson Ezinwa, Chidi Imoh, and Osmond Ezinwa won silver in the Men’s 4 × 100 m Relay while David Izonritei also won silver in boxing.
Perhaps the most memorable moments for Nigerians at the 1992 Olympics was the feat of the quartet of Beatrice Utondu, Faith Idehen, Onyali and Opara Thompson who won Bronze for Nigeria in the Women’s 4 × 100 m Relay
Super Eagles of Nigeria took the world by storm when they qualified for the first time in a World cup tournament which held in 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States. Led by Dutch coach Clemens Westerhof and playing an exciting brand of football, Nigeria went on to beat the likes of Bulgaria and Greece in the Group Stage to announce themselves on the world stage.
What a moment it was for the Super Eagles. Despite a second-round loss to Italy, the Super Eagles left their first ever FIFA World Cup with their heads high and some memorable moments.
One of the most iconic Nigerian photos is that of the late Rashidi Yekini holding the net after scoring Nigeria’s first goal at the FIFA World Cup.
So many Nigerians will never forget Atalanta Olympics of 1996. Some had to be awake to watch the Super Eagles play at mid night due to different time zones.
Captained by a young Kanu Nwankwo, Nigeria went on to beat superpowers like Brazil and Argentina to win the gold medal in the football event of the Olympics. Also Chioma Ajunwa, won gold at the Women’s Long Jump event, Mary Onyali, won bronze in Women’s 200 metres, Falilat Ogunkoya also got bronze in Women’s 400 metres while Duncan Dokiwari, also got bronze in Men’s Super Heavyweight.
Ogunkoya, Bisi Afolabi, Fatima Yusuf and Charity Opara also together won silver in Women’s 4×400 metres Relay.
Glittering on a giant wall inside the Atlanta Olympic stadium, embossed in gold letters, are the names of 22 Nigerian football players who put up some of the most spectacular and most entertaining football displays of any Olympics in history, played against two of the strongest teams in the world at the time, Argentina and Brazil, and came out victorious in grandest style. Nigeria’s football Gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games is definitely one of the two undisputed greatest moments in the history of Nigerian sports. The players include Victor Ikpeba, Mobi Okparaku, Tijani Babangida, Daniel Amokachi, Emmanuel Amuneke, Jay Jay Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo and so on.
Another feat came in the boxing world, as a boxer, Samuel Peter was one of the best out of Nigeria. The whole country saw him win the WBC Heavyweight title in 2008, defeating Oleg Maskaev by TKO. After dominating the game, Peter caught Maskaev with his right hand which put the Russian-American on the back foot. Peters continued to attack to win the game.
Currently Nigeria can boast of well respected fighters in wrestling and in boxing, the name Anthony Joshua, Kamaru Usman AND Isreal Adesanyan spawn fear in the minds of UFC challengers. Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua, is a two time unified heavyweight champion, having held the WBA (Super), IBF, WBO, and IBO titles since December 2019 and previously between 2016 and June 2019. The highlights of his career happened twice last year, in June, when he lost his title to Andy Ruiz, but on December, 2019, he shocked the world when he regained his title back after winning the same opponent in Saudi Arabia. Anthony Joshua is expected to defend his title once more against Pulev in December
Israel Adesanya is a mixed martial artist. He is currently signed to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), where he is the UFC Middleweight Champion and has an undefeated record of 20 wins and no losses. His latest win was against Paulo Costa on Sunday, 27th September, 2020. Costa, who was undefeated suffered a great loss under the brutal hands of Adesanya, Sunay Dare. The sport minister of Nigeria was the first to congratulate him on twitter. As of 24 May, 2020, he is #4 in the UFC men’s pound-for-pound rankings.
Kamaru Usman is the current UFC Welterweight Champion. Usman is also The Ultimate Fighter 21 tournament winner. As of July 14, 2020, he was ranked 5th in the UFC men’s pound-for-pound rankings. He has only lost one fight in his professional career and won 17. Usman is scheduled to defend his tite against Gilbert Burns, on December 12, 2020 at UFC 256.