ABUJA – Nigeria’s paralympic athletes have outshined their able-bodied counterparts in world competitions year after year. Yet, these athletes face such challenges as lack of proper training facilities and inadequate funding.
Abdulazeez Ibrahim, who’s known as Nigeria’s para powerlifting champion, is training hard for the powerlifting competition at the Paralympic Games next year in Japan.
In 2016, he was part of the disabled team who won medals for Nigeria at the Rio Paralympic Games.
Despite dominating world championships, Abdulazeez says the performances of Nigeria’s paralympic athletes are a result of their personal sacrifices and fighting spirits.
“I’m a champion, but when you see me along the road, I’m not looking like a champion,” he said. “But go abroad, you see their champions. They’re disabled, see their lives, see their cars. It’s different. Every day, we always make Nigeria proud, and they don’t make us proud. Why?”
Nigerian paralympians say they are treated like second-class athletes and get less funding than their able-bodied counterparts, who win fewer medals.
Queen Uboh, president of Nigeria’s para powerlifting federation, agrees.
“If they can give 10% of the attention they give to soccer or football to para powerlifting or para sports, I think that’s a good start,” Uboh said.
Nigeria’s paralympians lack proper training facilities, too.
At an underequipped facility in Abuja, para athletes like Abdulazeez say they’re making do with what’s available as they train for the Olympic Games.
But a new sports minister, Sunday Akin-Dare, who took over a few months ago, is promising to address their issues.
“I think what you do for this country in spite of the circumstances is very commendable. We invest so much in the able-bodied sports men and women. I think we should invest equally in the paralympics,” Akin-Dare said.
Nigeria’s paralympic team won all four gold medals in the powerlifting category at the Commonwealth Games, followed by Malaysia and India.
While Abdulazeez and his fellow athletes don’t have much to show for their wins, they’re hanging on a hope that things will get better.