Air Peace CEO, Allen Onyema, on Sunday in Lagos, stated that the aviation firm would give life flight tickets to members of Team Nigeria’s squad to the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games and the 1980 AFCON winners, as part of efforts to honour them on July 28 at the Eko Hotel and Suites, Lagos.
Twenty-nine countries — mostly African and 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 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.
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.
But, the athletes heeded the clarion call from home — even though they had a choice to defy Obasanjo’s order and compete as individuals — and boarded a chartered flight provided by the government back home.
“Air Peace will ensure those still alive will have tickets to fly for the rest of their lives, they will have tickets monthly. Air Peace will give them one international return ticket yearly, we’ll give tokens to them and make them ambassadors to encourage them. There will be posthumous award for the dead members and we’ll give money to their families. It won’t increase their bank accounts but we want them to know that even though they have been forgotten, there are people who still remember them,” Onyema said in Lagos on Sunday at a media parley on NIIA Sports Diplomacy.
Onyema added, “You can’t believe the state some of them are today. I think honouring the Nigerians who sacrificed opportunities for the sake of the country and came back home must be honoured, we have to use them to encourage the youths of today, that their sacrifices will never ever be forgotten. We want to start today, so that Nigerians can start having hope in their nation. The 1980 AFCON winners are going to be honoured too. A Wall of Fame with their names at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs will be unveiled and on the night of July 28 they will all be honoured.”
A member of the Montreal contingent and 1980 AFCON winner Segun Odegbami thanked Onyema for remembering the forgotten heroes.
“Some of the athletes lives changed, they went into depression and they can’t wait to meet you and thank you. For what you’ve done for us, we are truly grateful. Of the 45 athletes in 1976, close to 20 of them are dead, of those left that will come, half are either sick, can’t walk well or just had surgery. For the group of 1980, six are dead, five of them have one major incapacitation or the other. It’s a truly sad situation. We look forward to July 28.”