Nigeria Sports History Did Not Treat Our Father Well – Julius Chigbolu’s Son Laments

Nigeria Sports History Did Not Treat Our Father Well – Julius Chigbolu’s Son Laments

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By Martin Odiate

Not many Nigerians, particularly the younger generation may easily come to term with the name Julius Chigbolu . For the record, Julius Chigbolu who hails from Illah in Oshimilli local Government Area of Delta state can arguably be referred to as one of the greatest high jumpers to ever came out of the Nigeria soil. He brought honours and laurels to Nigeria in the 50s and 60s, representing Nigeria at several National, Africa and International Championships.

Chigbolu excelled at even the then Commonwealth and Olympics Games and he was so celebrated by the International Community to the extent that the New York Times featured him in the front page of their bulletin in 1955 with a story titled, ‘Chigbolu breaks British record’, a feat that was not easily attained then by Black Athletes.

The great Nigeria High Jumper was even awarded the HELMS AWARD by the Helms Athletic Foundation based in LA in California. It was one of the most important awards at that time for the recognition and sponsorship of important athletes. After every important competition then, they choose an athlete from every continent and honour them for their outstanding performance.

Such was the height he attained, but while the High jumper stole all the headlines at the International front at that time nothing much was documented about him in Nigerian history books. Little wonder his name does not ring a bell among the new generations Nigeria sporting followers. A situation the family seems not to be happy about.

Expressing the family’s disgust, one of the Children, Ambassador Augustine Chigbolu lamented that for all that their father achieved for Nigeria and her Athletics development very little was documented about him in Nigeria Sporting history. He therefore maintained that on this day, February 19th, the Family is using the opportunity of his 92-year posthumous birthday to celebrate the life of the man that contributed in no small measure to Nigerian sporting history.  

Julius Chigbolu

“My Father was one of the greatest High Jumpers that came out of Nigeria. Apart from his record of 6”9’ he was also a spectacular high jumper. Represented Nigeria in the Commonwealth Games, in the Olympics Games where he reached the final, won the Commonwealth Games. The records of the 1966 Olympics and the expectations in Africa politics played its role but he did very well. His jumping was spectacular. In the Igbo language he was nicknamed ‘ofe nenu’ meaning the man that flies in the air. It was a great period. He achieved all what a jumper could achieve, won in Nigeria, Africa, Commonwealth and got to the Olympics Games. Even the British America Games he won for the British. After the Olympics because of the performance of some of the Africa Athletes, some of them were selected to represent the British Empire and after the 1956 Olympics Game there was the American and the British Empire Competition, Julius Chigbolu still excelled in that competition. He did very well during his time.

“History did not treat him as he was supposed to have been treated. I mean the Government of Nigeria, but in terms of record he remains one of the most spectacular high jumpers Nigeria has ever produced.

“During his burial while I was looking at his documents, I happen to come across one of his writes up where he detailed his frustration about the treatment by the Government as at that time. You know Children don’t go dip into what their fathers or parents go through but at their demise you might run into documents and run into things that make you know what they went through. He was a prison officer, he was one of the coaches of prisons when he left the Eastern sports councils, they were one of the first officers employed by the prisons. Even then he had his challenges for one reason or the others, political reasons and so on. So, I think he was not fairly treated. But I thank God when sometimes even after your death he has been recognize internationally left and right and centre because of the achievement of my daughter, Maria Benedicta Chigbolu who is also an Athlete representing Italy. The world had to dig into her history and realized the achievements of the grandfather, Julius Chigbolu. So, that is life. And I maintain that he was not fairly treated by the Federal Government.

“Because of that when I met with my daughter in one of the Competitions in Russia, I told her she should never think about coming to compete for Nigeria. I told her to continue to do what she was doing, though she never thought about it because I think she is comfortable enough with the Italian Federation. She is in the Italian Military now, she runs for the Federation, she is doing her coaching courses now to grow into other activities when she leaves active athletics. I think she very well comfortable with them. Unfortunately, that’s what some of our Athletes go through, though she was not born in Nigeria, she was born outside the country, studied outside the country. She has been practicing all her activities outside the country. As a father and having gone through the experiences of my father because if my father had chosen then to remain under Britain, because then they were under the British Empire I think he would have gotten a better treatment. So, why should I encourage his own granddaughter to even think about coming to represent Nigeria? I will never encourage her to even think about it.

“At this point I am only just remembering my father. It’s up to the Government to think of what they can do for him. Though, he was sometimes honoured after his death but I was outside the country then and I could not attend the program. It is just that I think that Athletes like him and so many others who performed in the years that Nigeria Political leaders used their achievements as at that time to also campaign for the Independence of Nigeria should be remembered.

“You may want to know that the struggle for Independence was also won through their achievements in sports. Because our leaders said Africa excelled especially Nigeria then with the Athletes performances. I remember I have a lot of documents then that use to talk of our Athletes achievements during the political struggle for Independence. So, I think they should never be forgotten. Their achievement should well be documented in our history so that children who study history or physical and Health Excises in our Universities can read to know the Nigerians who laid the foundation of sports development in Nigeria. Just like New York Times of the United States once had the story of Julius Chigbolu on the front page of their tabloid.

As the Family celebrates Julius Chigbolu posthumous 92-year birthday the Ministry of Youth and Sports can join in the celebration by initiating projects to immortalize his name. By this, the family can heave a sigh of relief knowing that their father’s contribution in Nigeria Sports Development did not go in vain.

Who knows, this one action may go a long way to encouraging other Nigerians families abroad to release their children to come compete for Nigeria.

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