By Ukpono Ukpong
Sixty five years after his first foray into overseas sport, the family of one of Nigeria’s icons in sports (High Jump), Julius Obiefuma Chigbolu, has opened up on the unfair treatment of the record-breaking champion.
Julius Chigbolu who hails from Illah in Oshimilli local government area of Delta state, was a famous high jumper in the 50s and 60s whose name made headlines in international media due to his sterling exploits in sporting activities, especially his record-breaking performance at the British Empire, Commonwealth and Olympics Games.
Chigbolu during the 1956 Summer Olympics stunned the world with a 6ft 9in effort to break Emmanuel Ifeajuna’s 6ft 7in (2.057m) record jump two years earlier at the 1954 Olympics.
He was ranked the 9th in the world and the best in Africa, ahead of Patrick Etolu of Uganda, who came 12th in the competition.
This exceptional performance earned him headlines in various international media including a front page mention in the New York Times with a story titled, ‘Chigbolu breaks British record’.
Chigbolu also finished fourth in the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games high jump. Despite all this remarkable achievements, nothing has been recorded about him in Nigeria, while countries such as USA, England, Singapore and many others have included him in their Wall of Fame.
In an exclusive interview with Daily Times, Ambassador Augustine Chigbolu, revealed that his father who made Nigeria and, indeed, Africa proud died a man full of disappointment as a result of the ill-treatment meted on him despite his sacrifices for the country.
Amb. Chigbolu said that years after his father passed away, he ran into several documents and letters which clearly indicate that the late sportsman never got the treatment he deserved both in the service and in his sporting career.
He disclosed that aside his sporting career, the late Chigbolu also worked with the then Nigeria Prisons Service.
Lamenting that his father was a victim of politics, Amb. Chigbolu revealed that the late champion was only promoted twice during the 23 years that he worked with the prisons service.
To buttress his point, he explained that his father joined the service as Assistant Superintendent of Prisons and 23years later, retired as a Superintendent of Prisons.
“During his period, he was actually one of the best when it comes to track and field events.
If you look at records, in 1955, he was the Commonwealth and Empire record holder with 6.9ft to displace the late Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, who was the then champion with 6.8ft.
“In 1956, my father went to Melbourne Olympics and took 9th in the finals due to some circumstances.
“If you look at the records, his jumps were so spectacular that it drew the attention of the world, that after the event, the British Empire and the rest of the World had a competition in the USA where a few of them were selected to represent the rest of the world. He was part of that team.
“In 1956, he won the Helms Award. He was Africa’s Best in Track and Field. It’s just unfortunate that Nigeria doesn’t keep records.
“When we were kids, we use to see him in newspapers such as Daily Times of then and the rest but we didn’t really understand. We use to see him go to sports. Sometimes, you will hear him lament how disappointed he is, that despite his sacrifices and contributions towards Nigeria and the entire Africa sporting activities, little or nothing came in return.
“We never took it seriously until when he died. I ran into some of his documents and saw some letters and how disappointed he was.
“We were shocked that Olympics Committee in Nigeria had no record about my father, whereas, other countries such as Britain, America, Singapore and the rest have information about my father.
“At least, he deserves some recognitions. He was not fairly treated, maybe because he was a quiet type.
“My father then, was in the Nigeria Police Force but later joined the Prisons Service. He was also the Regional Coach of Eastern Sports Region.
“He worked from 1963 to 1986 in the Prisons Service, where he joined as Assistant Superintendent of Prisons and left as Superintendent of Prisons which means, he was politically kept.
He was practically promoted twice in 23years. He was devastated. “My father said that during one of his courses in the United Kingdom, his file disappeared in the Prisons Service. So he practically worked as if he wasn’t working.
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“He was so disappointed, that despite the sacrifices he has made for the nation, they still resorted to stealing his file. I feel, he was oppressed in both ways. “No matter what, my father deserved better.
My father was the type that believed the nation should recognize his sacrifices and not him calling for the recognition.
“You know when you are from the minority, in Nigeria, you are likely to be treated like that but I believe it’s not normal.
“He was a victim of the politics that was going on then. He deserved a lot which the government itself did not do, both in the Service and his sporting career.”
The late sports great is also the grandfather of Italian 400m athlete Maria Benedicta Chigbolu.
Read the Source post on Daily Times Nigeria.