Jerry Okorodudu shot into global limelight in 1984 when he boxed his way to a silver medal at the Los Angeles Olympics Games. That was his finest moment. Today, his story has changed for the worst as he is facing a survival battle, which he insisted was caused by the Ministry of Sports and National Sports Commission.
Just yesterday, he clocked 50 but did not celebrate because of the situation he faces. His case is a pitiable one as JOHN EGBOKHAN, discovered, during an extempore chat with the famed pugilist at the National Stadium in Lagos. Excerpts:
In the Beginning
What I’m facing now was caused by my father, who was an ardent christian to the extent that he instilled the habit of stating the truth in me My father was the type of man who would punish his children if they failed to say the truth, no matter what. I grew up in that set up and imbibed this art of speaking the truth, no matter who was offended. But sadly, Nigerians do not like the truth.
In fact, the truth gets you into trouble in Nigeria even to the extent that the former Secretary of the Nigeria Amateur Boxing Association, Francis Gbiri, on day called me and said that the truth that I am always fighting for was complicating my problems by the day.
He said that those that I am fighting for are the ones working against me. He said Nigerians do not like those who fight for the truth But the problem is that the system of sports administration in Nigeria is corrupt and does not recognise truthful people. I don’t like this sort of system and that is why my life is like this.
I started fighting injustice may years ago. Being someone who studied sports not only in Nigeria but also abroad, I was always running into trouble with administrators, who felt that sports people were drop-outs. But my grouse with them is that they are feeding from what the dropouts were doing, without due recognition of our efforts.
They easily gorget that in boxing, your mentality needs to be very high for you to win a bout. Boxing is more of an intellectual sport because you use your brain to fight. It is not about power alone, so they were wrong to label boxers mere drop-outs. I fought that tag and they decided to deal with me for standing up for the truth.
Our shameful performance at the London Olympics Games was expected. Look at the boxers we took to London, they were chosen from the Sports Festival and were largely greenhorns and you expected them to box their way to medals in London. It was a mission impossible because they were not the best at the festival. In fact, the officiating at the festival was very bad, as states wanted to win medals at all cost, which made them to compromise the referees and judges.
The painful aspect was that the secretary at that time was the one who invited the boxers at that festival to national camp for the London Games. I complained that this was bad but they shouted me down but look at the shame that they have brought to this country, with talented boxers
In 2003, during the All Africa Games in Abuja, I was mandated by Dr. Patrick Ekeji to take charge of boxing and to the glory of God, my boxers win four gold, two silver and two bronze medals. Six of my boxers qualified for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, where two boys got to the quarterfinal
At the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, two of my boxers got silver medals. These were good times for Nigerian boxing and some people were not happy with me because I was always asking for a freehand to to do my job. I lost out because I kept telling them what I want. Ekeji said I was not going to be reinstated even though a letter to that effect was signed.
LIVING FROM HAND TO MOUTH
Because of my financial plight, I’ve been leaving from hand to mouth. Sadly, my wife is the bread winner of the home and I don’t have a say in my home. It is very bad, because I don’t money, so I live at the mercy of some Nigerians.
This is what our sports authorities have reduced me to. My case is at the Court of Appeal. We have been there in the last three years, without any meaningful progress while my situation is getting worse by the minute. It is so sad that we use our sportsmen and dump them at will.
My salary is not up to N200,000 if reinstated as national boxing coach yet, people want me to suffer and die just like that. I’m an Olympic silver medalist, a Commonwealth silver medalist and an African champion but when you see me, you see poverty written all over me…
To the glory of God, two of my daughters, who are graduates are consoling me that things will be well but how can I be at ease when my life has been a living hell. I will be 50 years on Friday (yesterday) but I have nothing to celebrate about. I do not have money to even by myself a bottle of coke. I depend of people to give me stipends to get on with the day.
PRESIDENT JONATHAN’S ROLE
When President Goodluck Jonathan, who like me is from the Niger Delta region, declared his ambition to contest for the post of the President of Nigeria, I was so excited and gave him my maximum support. I was one of the sports persons who championed his cause and mobilised my colleagues to vote for him because I thought that his victory was going to usher in a new lease on life for sportsmen.
But more than a year down the line, things have changed for the worst because I see that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. My effort was in vain because theyused and dumped me in the end.
My birthday wish is for the National Sports Commission to give me back my job. After serving my country meritoriously, the least that I deserve from those running our sports is to give me back my job. I have not been paid for 17 years because I spoke the truth, which was one of the virtues that I learnt from my father. It is so sad that I am paying for my father’s policy.