The vice-captain of the Flying Eagles squad to the 1983 FIFA U-21 World Cup in Mexico, Paul Okoku, has urged Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Sunday Dare, to include the scholarships promised members of the team by the Federal Government in 1983 in a supplementary budget to be presented to the National Assembly for prompt passage.
Speaking against the backdrop of recent scholarships palliatives given to retired footballers and their families by the Minister of Sports, Okoku commended the initiative and good intentions of Dare in coming to the aid of some of his former teammates, now living in abject penury.
While recalling that the 1983 Flying Eagles squad were promised scholarships by President Shehu Shagari immediately after the tournament finished in Mexico City, Okoku, noted that the presidential proclamation was not implemented by successive governments, causing untold hardship to many of the members of the team.
In fact, while waiting for the fulfilment of the scholarship, some members of the team, like Ali Jeje, the skipper, have died, albeit in penury, prompting renewed calls for the redemption of the presidential declaration before other members of the glorious team die unrewarded.
While thanking the Minister of Sports for visiting the family of late Ali Jeje, where he gave them financial aid, Okoku urged Dare to deepen the narrative by revisiting the pending scholarship through a supplementary budget to the National Assembly.
Okoku said, “We the members of the Flying Eagles squad to the 1983 FIFA World Cup in. Mexico, commend the Honourable Minister of Sports for his visionary leadership.
“We also thank him for all he is doing to ease the suffering of many former players of the national team, like my deceased captain, Ali Jeje. We are pleased with his kind heart.
“But it is important to bring to the minister’s notice the presidential declaration of former President, Shehu Shagari in 1983, where he said all the members of the Flying Eagles team to the FIFA World Cup in 1983, be given scholarships to study in universities as all of us were school kids
“Regrettably we are yet to get the scholarships but have been made aware by the National Assembly, who has acknowledged our yearning that the Minister of Sports should include our scholarship in a supplementary budget to be forwarded to then for passage so that the labour of our heroes past will not be in vain”, added Okoku.
Okoku informed that his former teammates in Nigeria and Diaspora, have been calling him to know the extent of progress that has been made on the scholarship, pointing out that he has been trying to assure them that the government would soon make good on its promise by giving then the scholarship.
“As the vice-captain of the team, my former teammates have been calling me to know where we stand on the scholarship. Humphrey Edobor, Femi and Segun Olukani, Chigozie Ehizojie, Deji Akinlotan and a host of others have called me and I just hope that the promise of 1983 will be redeemed this year “, said Okoku
The 1983 Flying Eagles side, were the first team in the history of Nigeria, to play in any FIFA organized tournament.
They also won the WAFU Cup, defeating Ghana in the finals, in October, 1983.
The side also defeated Cote d’Ivoire to win the Tesema Cup, to become the best U-21 team in Africa, after both countries had qualified for the U-21 World Cup in Mexico.
The Ivorian side was led by Yusuf Fofana, who went on become one of the legends of African football.