THE BROKEN LIMP: APCON Seek Life Support for Nigerian Ex-footballers

 Everyone saw him collapsed and never did he stood up again, but laid lifeless on the stretcher as the Ambulance zoomed off from the then national stadium Surulere Lagos. The next morning it was all over the news, Sam Okwaraji had died of congestive heart failure. “What!’ Fans exclaimed. Such a patriot, a skillful player and a trained lawyer had died on a national duty, while playing for Nigeria in a world cup qualifier game against Angola on August 12, 1989.

It was so pathetic, everyone ran to his family, NFA, Government officials and a host of other dignaries was all at the funeral and did made many promises on how to take care of the family he left behind. Several years after, Okwaraji’s family still suffer from the great fall of their bread winner on that fateful day. Everyone has now deserted them with most of the promises not kept.

Okwaraji’s death wa instant and unexpected, but today, hundreds of Nigerian ex-footballers are slowly dying painfully from the knock and falls they received while playing in their active days to put smile on the faces of millions of Nigerians. Ex-players like Late Thompson Oliha, Emmanuel Amunke, Daniel Amokachie were all forced to retire from the game due to re-occurring injuries sustained during national duties.

As we al know, some of these ex-footballers are aging now and the several knocks of the past years had developed into Arthritis, Lumbago, impaired walking posture, sitting on wheel chair…  The stretched heart veins from prolonged games and trainings has taken the form of various cardiac dysfunctions , Hypertension, diabetes, asthma… but the nation that they once played for has turned their back on them and left  these living football veterans to suffer a shameful end.

Segun Odegbami, one of the ex-footballers, in his speech at the Late Best Ogedegbe Memorial Lecture, Sited that some of them were lucky to have developed other skills and businesses that is sustaining them today. But many of his colleagues and their families are dying in abject poverty.

“Where is Sunny Ewodage, Peter Fregene, Joe Erico, Adoke Ama siemaka. Emmanuel Okala, Demola Adeshina? Have you seen them lately? We must remember  these national heroes  that once made our country proud, are still living in some remote corners of this country. We mst not allow them o suffer such ill fate.” Odegbami Concluded.

Association of Professional Footballers in Nigeria (APFON) has ben in the forefront of the campaign for the survival of Nigerian ex-footballers. Secretary General of the Association, Austin Popo said, “APFON is doing all it can to alleviate the sufferings of some of our ex-footballers.”

We have driven the campaign to government houses and we’re happy that some governors like Babatunde Fashola  of Lagos State and Emmanuel Udughan of Delta state  has responded in different ways. In the treatment, payment of hospital bills for ex-players like Jossy Lad, Peter Fragene, Raymond King… and the employment of ex-footballers like Friday Ekpo, Edema Fuludu, Bright Omokaro into their state sports initiatives.”

 “Funding has been our major challenge why we haven’t taking the campaign further, but we’ve been reaching out to our professionals abroad to partner with us in this regard. Only Obinna Nsofor donated N2 Million two years ago and that could only do as much.” Pop Explained.

“NFF should set up a special trust fund that could disburse retirement benefits or monthly allowances to these ex-footballers. NFF is better disposed to attract corporate partnership in this regard, Popo Advised. “NFF should also consider assisting through grants it receive from FIFA. It’s important that we give these football veterans a new lease of life.

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