IFEAJUNA Emmanuel(Late)

A Natural Spring by(Uzor maxim Uzoatu). Emmanuel Ifeajuna is without question one of the most controversial names in Nige rian history. Hisachievement insports won him the adulation of Nigerians. His later activities in the military, however, enraged some Nigerians so much that they no longer want to hear of the honour he brought the country through his ex cellence as an athlete. Ifeajuna was yet to join the military when he made history as a world-class high jumper. He was only ajunior clerical officer at the chiefsecretary's office in the seat ofthe colonial British government inLagos. He was one ofthe athletes selected to rep resent the country in the Empire Games billed for Vancouver, Canada, in 1954. On July 31, 1954, in faraway Vancouver on the west coast of Canada, the 19-year-old Ifeajuna had a date with history. The highjump bar was set at a staggering height of6 feet 8 inches. This was 132 inches over the height of Ifeajuna himself, and no athlete in history had ever jumped over a bar set so high above his own head. This young lad, however, was determined. He scaled height after height, out classing many other white competitors. The time to go for broke had come and Ifeajuna gave it his all. He knocked down the bar In his first attempt. In his second attempt, he did something uncannily dramatic. He removed one of his spike shoes. Then he measured the height with narrowed eyes and ... one ... two... three ... he scaled over the bar, thus becoming the first ever Nigeria to win a Commonwealth Games gold medal. Ifeajuna's feat threw the entire nation into an orgy of celebration. Even one British paper, writing on the /feajuna feat, said: "Africans have a natural spring". He made headline news across the then Brit ishEmpire. Editorials extolling his accomplishment were written in purple prose. The jumping Ifeajuna was on the cover of school exercise books. He in stantly became a folk hero and everybody hailed "The Man Vancouver" or Emma Vancouver", as he was variously dubbed. His unique style ofjumping be came the rave as all other high-jumpers strove to emulate him. It was not until the coming of the Forbery Flop style of jumping in 1968 that Ifeajuna's patented straddle was displaced. Curiously, on24 April 1987, when the first National Sports Awards Ceremony for Heroes and Heroines ofyesteryears was held at the Federal Pal ace Hotel, Lagos. Ifeajuna's name was missing from the list of seventy-one sportsmen and women, ad ministrators, philanthropists, referees, sponsors and sports writers honoured. Incidentally, K..A.B. Olowu, who won a silver medal in long jump at the same Empire Games was the first name on the honours list!This sparked offheated controversy. An edito rial on the 4 May 1987 edition ofTheGuardian said: "What the Sports Heroes committee failed to admit isthat its members were working according to a po litical wicket. They would not want to admit it, but it is clear that Ifeajuna's participation as the leader of themilitarycoupd'etatof 15 January 1966, informed the effort to make the first not just the last but noth ing".Thegovernment-ownedDaily Times, in itsedi torial of 30April 1987,said: "IfIfeajuna's omission was an oversight, it was a very expensive one in deed. If on the other hand, it.was a deliberate omis sion, as we have been made to understand, it is a great disservice to justice and honour which these awards are supposed to be all about. It is also a very unacceptable rewriting ofour sports history. Born in Onitsha, Anambra State, in 1935 to a civil servant father and a mother who was a fulltime housewife, Ifeajuna was admitted into the fa mous Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha in 1946 . He spearheaded a school riot that marked him out as a lad to watch out for. He got a job as clerical officer II after completing his secondary school studies. A keen sportsman, he excelled in his chosen sport, high jump, and was selected to represent the country. The rest is history. He studied Chemistry at the University Col lege, Ibadan, and graduated in 1958; but not after he had participated in about three riots. He was given a job as a teacher, but he found it boring. Together with other firebrand graduates such as Uche Chukwumerije, he sought admission into the mili tary. He was accepted, and he changed the course of Nigerian history on 15 SJanuary 1966, when he staged the first military coup". According to Ifeajuna in his unpublished autobiography, "At dusk on 14 January, we saw the sun disappear behind the horizon. We knew that some people will not see it again. And it might be us". Ifeajuna survived the bloody night on which so many were killed. He disguised as a woman and fled to Ghana. The poets, Christopher Okigbo and J.P.Clark had to go to Ghana to bring their friend back to Nigeria. He was detained in Uyo prisons, and was later released by Emeka OdumegwuOjukwu when Biafra seceded. He had no choice but to enlist in the Biafran Army, though he still nursed the ambition of hatching a full Nigeria revolution. He was executed on the orders of Ojukwu on 20 September 1967. He is survived by his wife, Rose and two sons. Whatever anybody may say about Ifeajuna's politics, the man remains an inimitable hero in the annals of Nigerian sports. Sporting records cannot be destroyed by military fiat or political gobbledygook. The world knows who won Nigeria's first Commonwealth Games gold medal. It was Emmanuel Arinze Ifeajuna.
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