Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja
Super Eagles legend, Christian Chukwu (MON), has paid glowing eulogy to former President Shehu Aliyu Shagari, who died on December 28, 2018 and was buried two days later in his village in Sokoto State.
In an exclusive telephone conversation with THISDAY last night, Chukwu lauded Shagari, who died at the age of 93, as the person who changed the face of sports in Nigeria.
On March 22, 1980, at a full capacity National Stadium, Lagos, Chukwu led a bunch of talented and determined players, when Nigeria defeated Algeria 3-0 with goals by Segun Odegbami and Muda Lawal to clinch their first ever Africa Cup of Nations title.
Incidentally, the victory which united the country, happened during the presidency of Shagari, who as a mark of appreciation, lavished the players with money, houses and national awards.
Speaking from Enugu, Chukwu said the transition of football from amateurism to semi-professionalism was enabled by the reward package he (Shagari) donated to the players, adding the Nations Cup victory opened a new vista, motivated and encouraged younger people to start playing football.
“His death is a sad one but thank God that he died at a very ripe age and was accorded rites of passage. He changed the face of sports in this county. In 1980, he was the first Nigerian president that won the Africa Cup and was also the first President that showered players with houses, cars, money and other national award. Since then the face of football changed in Nigeria. We transited into semi-professionalism and football became a thriving industry that everybody now started to play. We are sadly going to miss him,” Chukwu said.
He also added that the legacy pioneered by Shagari changed their lives and became a benchmark that future national team players that excel on international assignments began to reap from subsequent administrations.
“We got duplexes at FESTAC Lagos, money, Peugeout 504 salon cars and national honours. Those things changed our lives, till today we are still enjoying the fruits of sports. The money also had value because the exchange of the Naira relative to dollars was strong”.
One of the everlasting memories of the victory was Shagari, then 55 years old, and early in his presidency standing and leading the cheer party in the state box as Chukwu heaved the cup of unity on his head to the delight of a nation.
“That memory will remain abiding in the history of our country” Chukwu recalled, adding “I remember the words he told us on that occasion. He congratulated us and said we made his government very proud because it was his first major assignment when he took over government. He was so excited and we appreciated him. When he gave us the cup, he told us that he would shower us with presents and he did exactly that”.