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Football | Nigeria at 50

Sam Ibiam@Who wants to be a millionaire

Lifeline for forgotten national heroes



Two of Nigeria's former football stars, 75-year-old coach Willy Bazuaye and 87-year-old Sam Ibiam, the only surviving member of the famed 1949 UK Tourists, were literally exhumed from obscurity as they won in the celebrity segment of the 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' TV show.

It was the former Nigerian Olympic champions team coach of 1996 that first hit the jackpot on Friday night when he became an instant millionaire after winning the show. Just as he was being hailed, another forgotten national hero, Pa Samuel Ibiam, who was Nigeria's first ever national goalkeeper, followed by winning in another segment of the programme on Sunday night.

The segment was designed to recognise and reward the relatively forgotten heroes and heroines who have one way or another contributed positively to the growth and development of Nigerian society. Bazuaye not only brought humour and fun to the programme. He also proved that his recollection and deep knowledge of global affairs are still very much with him, even at 75.

Then, on Sunday night, after the Nigerians had celebrated the Flying Eagles’ emergence as African champions, Pa Ibiam also became a champion in his own class. Flanked by the duo of Stephanie Okereke, a popular Nigerian home video actress, and Azu Arinze, the editor of society magazine Encomium, the three won one million naira for Pa Ibiam. In addition to this, he was given a 5.5kva power generator and a pack of souvenirs dedicated to the ‘living legend’, Ibiam.

The question that earned Bazuaye the one million naira was, ‘which of these is the highest falls in Africa?’ [A]Victoria Falls [B] Thomson Falls [C] Tugela Falls. Neither Farouk nor Ogbeiwi, Bazuaye’s fellow contestants, knew the answer and they opted to use a life line. They turned to the audience and Victoria Falls was chosen. However, after putting their heads together, the team rejected that answer and decided to go for a 50-50 chance. It turned out that they were right as the answer was Tugela Falls and Bazuaye had won a million naira.

Coach Willy Bazuaye has become a household name since his exploits at the Atlanta Olympics of 1996 when he led the Nigerian gold-winning under-23 team to victory. Now he clearly remembers how he disengaged from the Nigeria Police Force after 19 years of meritorious service to face the football world. As a coach he attended a number of courses, including the famous Aldershot coaching course, and remained dedicated to his career. However, on one afternoon in 2003, he was struck by a strange ailment that has left him partially paralyzed.

Coach Bazuaye was grateful for the help he received.. He said: “People from this side are marvellous. I am now a millionaire, God is wonderful.”

Pa Ibiam was also grateful. He was Nigeria's first national goalkeeper and was popularly called "The Black Magnet". Before the weekend, the greatest honour he ever received was a handshake from Nigeria's first president, the Right Honourable Nnamdi Azikiwe. That was in the 1950s. He recalled the game against Ghana in 1958. "When the match ended, Zik sent for me and gave me a warm handshake. Each time I remember that I always marvel at my performance and the reward that followed -- a presidential handshake."

He retired from active football as a player in 1962 and was then engaged as a coach. Ibiam has, however, been honoured on some occasions. It was a day of glory and a day of re-union for the old sports heroes as he, along with some of his contemporaries, was listed for the Distinguished Award by the National Sports Commission in 1987.

The players that made-up the UK Tourist team in 1949 with him were Isiaka Shittu, Dan Anyiam, Sokari Dokubo, Gabriel Anosike, A.T.Ottun, Teslimi (Thunder) Balogun,Titus Okere, Etim Henshaw(Captain) ,Isaac Akioye, John Dankaro, Hope Lawson, Olisa Chukwura, Justin Onwudiwe, Peter 'Baby' Anieke, Ebenezer 'Salamo' Edet Ben, Messembe Otu and Okoronkwo Kanu. Ibiam is the only one alive today.

Now he lives in his home village, Unwana via Afikpo in the Afikpo North Local Government area of Ebonyi State, in a small bungalow attached to his original family cottage, which was bombed during the Nigerian Civil War.

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