By Gbadebo Akinyemi
Sports lovers recently woke up to the unpleasant news of the painful death of one of Nigeria’s finest and most exposed pugilists, Jeremiah Okorodudu. He died at a relatively young age of 64, at a time he still had a lot to aspire to and hope for. He spent the last two of those years in harrowing anxiety, still hoping for some miracles though doctors had slammed him with a verdict that one of his legs would have to be amputated.
Jerry died ‘guilty’ and his only sin was that he was born in Nigeria. Perhaps he could have fared better if destiny had been fair enough by ensuring he was born in a saner country where humanity is valued. Here in Nigeria, you are on your own if you are poor and don’t have the opportunity to help yourself to any form of wealth, clean or dirty.
Your frustration starts from trusted friends snubbing your calls or sounding harried and irritated at the other end of the line if at all they pick up your call. Beefy, talented singer, Teni Apata was right when she sang that adulthood is a scam in Nigeria and that if you are poor nobody will give you money. Yet she didn’t hit the nail on the head as much as another artiste, Victor AD who sang “If you no get money wetin you get ooo”
So technically it’s almost a tragedy to be born into a materialistic country like Nigeria. It is a greater tragedy if you grow up and fail to make it. Former jolly good friends will keep their distance so you would not come near to foul their space. They are not ready to buy you good clothes and shoes.
But they won’t hide their disdain for your uninspiring dress sense. I have read many pieces in which the Sports Commission has been blamed for its nonchalant attitude toward Jerry’s plight. But I ask, where were his old Secondary School classmates, fellow sportsmen and women, and the Obi Cubanas of this world who daze the rest of us with their fairy tale spending binges?
Where were the lawmakers
I ask again, where were the Senators and House of Representative members representing the political constituency that produced Jerry. ? And where were our corporate organisations that splash millions of dollars on media buying to promote obscenities on our screens?
Curiously, his outstanding bill of N600,000 was paid to get his corpse released by the hospital that had earlier confiscated it. If that money had been handy while Jerry was still breathing, maybe he would have made it. Shame on all of us that Jerry died so miserably. Shame on all of us that many other past heroes who served this country with their blood and tears are currently wasting away at different locations in varying degrees of deterioration and atrophy.
Avoidable death like that of Jerry will surely taunt and haunt all of us for a long time. Now that Jerry no longer needs our help to live, his ghost will be mocking us as we shed crocodile tears and write flamboyant tributes for him. If just one hundred sports lovers in Nigeria had put heads together to support Jerry with about N50k each, it would have gone a long way. And that was quite doable with the social media platforms.
But Okorodudu’s death throws up three salient questions bordering on our attitude to health insurance, personal lifestyle, and responsibility of government. Our country is a place where there have to be certain prosecutorial measures for us to buy into the Insurance scheme.
Everyone who owns a vehicle takes the vehicle insurance policy seriously more out of fear of being booked by ‘our wetin you carry ‘ officers on the road. But a negligible few of us consider it necessary to have personal insurance policies. Sadly, we prefer to spend much more than required to insure ourselves on pepper soup, owambe, and other vanities.
Insurance is key
If we ignore something so critical about life, then we lack the moral ground to blame the government for ignoring us when the inevitable occurs. This is not making a case for the government or helping Insurance companies to sell. But it is a wake-up call to us to know that we owe ourselves the primary duty to insure ourselves against the blows of fate.
It amounts to a somewhat foolishness, to expect help from a system that has proven over the years to be hopeless and helpless as far as the social security of citizens is concerned. Imagine if Jerry had taken up a good insurance policy since his heydays in Amateur and Professional boxing career and had faithfully nurtured it. He would have built a safety nest for himself during his turbulent times. I concede that most Nigerians, including myself, are guilty of this indifference to Insurance.
But I guess the wise ones among us have made their future surer through Insurance. The essence of Insurance is to insulate ourselves against the dangers of the fickle present times and possible harsh realities of the unpredictable future.
The second salient point thrown up by Jerry’s death is about the lifestyles of our athletes during active careers and after retirement. Many of them fail to plan for the rainy day. To begin with, a good number of them fail to develop themselves through continuous education.
It is in Nigeria coaches’ rant that the authority is not sponsoring them to upgrade themselves. With a good certificate under his belt, Jerry would have enhanced his self-presentation and secured a weapon to negotiate for better treatment from the system. He had not always been poor.
There were times early in his career when he could afford to enhance his education, even if through distance learning. Had he done that, he would have been better rated than the lowly position of an Assistant Coach that he fought all his life to keep.
Okorodudu: Questions about his lifestyle
I wasn’t close to Jerry in my active days as a Sports Writer. But even from a distance, Jerry usually came across as somebody who missed out on something crucial in life. He was usually surrounded by entertainment seekers who would keep nudging him for more of his Uhrobo vibes. No wonder he was better known as “Uhrobo lip”. With a good Degree and postgraduate qualifications, perhaps he would have done far better even if he chose to diversify into stand-up comedy.
Education has a way of illuminating our minds, enhancing our sense of self-worth, and helping us to keep an eye on the ball. It was not by accident that the likes of mathematical Odegbami and Dr. Felix Owolabi are getting by long after retiring from football.
They had secured their future with a sound education. I am not saying that education is an automatic surefire ticket to success in life. But It usually helps in some ways. I suspect that Jerry, having found a space in the Sports Ministry would have gained an irreproachable clout with better education.
I recall sadly how Jerry had first gotten it all wrong while still basking in the euphoria of his Bronze medal prize from the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane and his exploits some years later at the Olympics. He married a foreigner whom he brought back to Nigeria. He perhaps stressed himself financially to keep the relationship going.
He probably had the burden of spending fortunes on his Jerry curls that dripped with fresh salon oil every time. I am not blaming him for his choice of a foreign woman. Neither do I blame him for trying to cut an identity for himself with the expensive curls. But the question is, could he really afford the fripperies?
His expatriate wife soon got disillusioned and returned to her home country. Jerry himself soon did away with his delusional curls and returned to his natural hair.
The point I am making here is that our Sports heroes usually have this penchant for the ‘prodigal son’ approach to life. The riotous lifestyle drains their pocket very fast and makes them financially flustered when their career nosedives and money stops flowing in. There are so many of them on the street today, languishing in penury after frittering away the wealth they got when the going was good.
Obviously, Jerry also made a lot of other wrong choices. Personally, I still wonder why he chose to return to Nigeria when he had opportunities in Europe to grow his career or find greener pastures. So many of his fellow Olympians stayed back in Europe and today they thank their stars for the decision. For instance, a much younger sports hero, Daniel Ighali switched nationalities to become a Canadian. After securing his future he came back and got a job as the Technical Adviser in the Wrestling Federation.
Nobody can mess around with Ighali in the Sports Ministry or else he packs his things and returns to his secondary country. Well, I guess Jerry was beaten by the bug of patriotism, forgetting that our beloved country does not reward loyalty and commitment, so she is not worth dying for. Our medical doctors and nurses are fleeing the country in droves because they telescope the future of this country and what they see is gloom.
The ‘japa’ syndrome is gradually giving even our impervious leaders concern. That was why one of them recently proposed the lacklustre bill in the National Assembly to make it mandatory for graduate doctors to work for a number of years in Nigeria before they can ‘Japa’. In reaction to the cock-eyed bill, my late mum would have turned and hissed in her grave, saying ” won fi eete sile ,won fe pa lapalapa”, meaning they want to major in the minor.
That brings us to the point that has to do with the responsibility of our government. Those ruling us owe us the responsibility to look after our welfare, security, and health, but they continue to play possum in this regard. Okorodudu didn’t have to be a boxing hero to get good medical attention.
It is a statutory duty of the government to care for everybody, not minding his status. And failure to do so is a brazen crime that can only happen in our own type of lawless country. Jerry’s case was something his local government should have been able to address as a matter of obligation. But will that not amount to asking for the moon from the local government that can hardly acquit itself on something as mundane as refuse disposal.?
And what about Jerry’s Edo state government? Would it have been too much for Governor Obaseki to ask for his transfer to the state-owned general hospital for closer monitoring and better attention? How much would that have cost a state where billions of Naira war chest was upended not too long ago in the governorship election.?
Couldn’t the state government have offered Jerry a coaching job when the National Sports Commission, began to play ludo game with his career? All that Jerry needed to live a decent and responsible life was a good job that guaranteed regular pay. But he was denied his right to good life and dignity. Shame on all of us again!
Jerry may have been dead but there is still a lot to do for him even in his death. Those who understand the tapestry of his unfinished legal battle with the Sports Ministry should help to exhume his case and get justice for him. If the authority can be made to cough out his backlog of salaries of 15 years or thereabouts, his children and wife would have something to succour them. Could someone please pick up the fight where our beloved Jerry left off.?
… Gbadebo Akinyemi is a Pastor and veteran Sports Journalist