Lagos 2019: Team Nigeria Para Powerlifters Disrupt Closing Ceremony

Team Nigeria’s Para powerlifters at the World Para Powerlifting Invitational Competition holding in Lagos staged a protest during the closing ceremony at the Oriental Hotel demanding their unpaid camping allowances and winning bonuses.

The athletes who have been in camp since the 3rd of January said they haven’t been paid camping allowances for the closed camp at the National Stadium from the 3rd to the 26th of January.

The visibly angry athletes also said that since moving to the venue of the competition at the Oriental Hotel, they were yet to receive any competition allowances and the prize monies promised for winning a medal haven’t been redeemed. The organisers of the event had announced $2,500 for a gold medal, $1,500 for a silver medal and $1,000 for a bronze medal.

Another of the athletes’ grouses was centred on the lack of official competing gear and tracksuits for them. This resulted in Team Nigeria’s athletes dressed in disparate uniforms with no uniformity as many were forced to dress in self-sourced gear. This was in stark contrast to the athletes from other countries that competed and dressed in uniform tracksuits. 

The athletes who have nursed their misgivings for the entire duration of their camp and competition finally gave vent to their pent up frustrations after a meeting with representatives from the Nigeria Para Powerlifting Federation which didn’t provide any clarity or certainty about when or how much they would be paid.

Several of the athletes who attended the meeting told that the federation’s officials were trying to “use our heads” by promising them paltry sums.

Whilst there was no agreed sum between the athletes and the federation for their camping, there is an established practice of paying athletes a daily allowance of not less than N1,500 for closed camping for local competitions. Furthermore, the athletes told that for international events they get paid at least $100 daily.

With the World Para Powerlifting Invitational Competition termed an international event, the athletes were under the impression that they would receive the same amounts normally reserved for international events but the federation informed them at the meeting that they would only get paid N1,500 for each day at the closed camp (3-25 January)and N10,000 for each day spent at the venue of the competition (26 -30 January).

The offer of N1,500 was accepted by the athletes although they rejected out rightly the N10,000 competition allowance demanding the $100 or its equivalent in naira. The athletes threatened to stage a protest and vowed not to check out of their rooms at the Oriental Hotel until their demands were met.

The athletes duly made true on their promise to stage a protest when they besieged the hall of the closing ceremony with their demands. It was indeed a shameful and heartbreaking sight, seeing athletes supposedly the focus of the ceremony appear all haggard and unable to attend their own event on account of how they have been treated.

The contrast between their appearance as they protested for their allowances and the glamorously made up hall for the closing ceremony on which no expense was spared was truly striking.

With A list comperes Denrele Edun and Bovi holding court inside, the athletes converged at the entrance of the hall and threatened to disrupt the ceremony.

A spokesman for the protesting athletes Aligekwe Obioma who won gold in the senior men’s +107kg weight class told that they were being “treated like beggars” and mascots useful only for gaining leverage and recognition but discarded the minute they served their purpose. 

The athletes were only prevented from getting unruly by the appearance of the President of the Nigeria Para Powerlifting Federation Mrs. Queen Uboh who addressed them and promised to pay them the same amounts earlier proposed by the federation.

Mrs. Uboh claimed that the competition was designated “a developmental competition” by Ministry of Youth and Sports and as such couldn’t be seen as “a normal international event”. She claimed that for this reason the athletes couldn’t be paid the sums normally reserved for international competitions.

This presented quite the turnaround for the president who had been happy to let it be known that Nigeria was hosting the first ever international Para event in its history. Furthermore, the supposed position of the sports ministry wasn’t communicated to the athletes prior to the start of the competition leaving many to assume they would be due the benefits normally associated with international events.

The athletes however resolved within themselves to accept the assurances of Mrs Uboh that they would be paid N1,500 for each day of their 23 days of closed camping and N10,000 daily for 5 days of competition. They also accepted her promise that their prize monies for winning medals will be paid in the morning of Thursday before they checked out of their rooms at the Oriental Hotel.

This episode marks a sorry end to what has been a largely positive development for Nigeria with athletes from six African countries converging on the country for a competition which was the first of its kind in Para sports in the country’s history.

It also brings to the fore the never-ending tales of neglect and broken promises that is the usual backdrop when athletes give their all to represent and bring honour to their country.