By AYO ADEMOKOYA
World and Paralympics record holder in powerlifting, Yakubu Adesokan, has revealed that patriotism, not money, has been the secret behind his success. Speaking to Daily Sunsports recently on his journey to stardom, the Ibadan-born gold medallist, who broke and set a new world record by lifting 175kg at the London 2012 Paralympics, reveal the good, the bad and the ugly part of his life.
He further said that despite not been hosted by the Oyo State government, he considered it a great privilege to be part of the Oyo State contingent currently participating at the National Sports Festival (Eko 2012) in Lagos. He assured his teeming fans that he’s ready to do the state proud to prove that patriotism to one’s state and country should be uppermost in the mind of every athlete.
The 35-year old Nigerian powerlifter popularly called known as ‘Agbarapo’, said growing up as a physically challenged person was really tough, but today he has reasons to glorify God for his mercy.
“Ayangbe Aja dun, ki la ma je ki Aja to jina’, as he began with Yoruba popular adage, which means roasted dog meat is truly delicious, but what can we eat before it is thoroughly roasted.
“I was born 35 years ago. My father was a bricklayer, while my mother sold solid pap (eko) for 13 of us (their children) to survive. Our house was at Odinjo Academy, near the late Chief Lekan Salami’s house, and going to and from school was a big challenge.
I attended Idi-Oro Academy Primary School and had to drop out when I was in primary five because of the death of my father, who was married to three women and had 13 children. My mother was the second wife and she had seven children for my father. So, catering for four boys and three girls of hers out of the 13 children from other wives was another great challenge.
“Life became pretty tough for my mother and I had to learn to cater for myself early in life, as I realise that my mother could not send me to school from the stipends she was making from the ‘eko’ she was selling.
“I decided to become a cobbler. I never wanted to beg. I believe that giving is more honourable than receiving. That has been my message to my fellow disabled men and women. I often wonder what people could give me as a beggar that can sustain me. I believe in hard work. So, I would trek each day for more than an hour from my house at Idi-Oro to where I served as an apprentice shoemaker. I did it for many years. It was tough, but I was determined to be a professional cobbler.
“I am happy to tell you that my mother is still alive to see me become great. She is hale and hearty, while reaping the fruits of her labour.”
Yakubu spoke at length about the challenges he faced before the family of the love of his life, Saadat Iyabode, accepted him as a son-in-law considering the fact that their daughter is an able-bodied person. It was difficult for them to comprehend why their daughter would be so adamant to marry a disabled person. “Can’t she wait to find an able-bodied person?
“Many do not believe that I got married some 18 years ago to a very beautiful able-bodied woman. My first child is 17 year old, while I have two more aged four and two.
“My wife has been very supportive. She is a great pillar behind my success. My wife’s family strongly opposed our relationship, but she was very determining to marry me against all odds. She went against her family’s wish, insisting that I’m her husband ordained by the Almighty Allah, disabled or not, she was ready to elope with me.
“True to her word, we got married and she stood by me through the thick and thin. Today, she is enjoying the fruits of her labour. My first daughter, Barakat is 17 years old, while Sufiyat is four and Fawaz, a boy, is two years.”
Yakubu further shared his experience on his incursion into sports and powerlifting, the sport that has brought him to the limelight.
“My journey into the world of sports is more of a coincidence. I was a football fanatics and a staunch supporter of Shooting Stars FC. I would do anything to make sure I watched any match involving the team. So, one day, when I was at Lekan Salami Stadium to watch Shooting Stars’ match against Rangers International of Enugu, the game that Saturday ended in a 2–2 draw. That match was very crucial to the survival of Shooting Stars, which needed at least a draw to remain in the Premier League. So, we were happy with the result.
“Thereafter, I suddenly noticed that some disabled people were playing table tennis in one of the rooms in a building at the stadium. So, I moved closer to ask what they were doing there. ‘We are preparing for the National Sport Festival coming up in Abuja in about three weeks time,’ one of them replied.
‘Do you mean that there is an avenue for disabled persons to engage in sports? By the way I am very good at playing table tennis too,’ I told them. ‘Then, come and join us if you are that good.’ I went over and collected the bat from one of them, who demanded that I should return his bat once I finished playing. He urged me to buy mine.
“He told me that a quality bat costs about N9,000 and I was discouraged. I could hardly feed myself from my cobbling job, so how would I raise N9,000 to buy a table tennis bat? When one of them saw my countenance, he said: ‘Kilode te kuku lo join awon to ngbe weight? Eyin te lapa bayi.’ Meaning ‘why can’t you go and join the powerlifters? You seem to have the muscles.’ Yes, I can give it a trial. After all, I keep fit at home doing powerlifting, I said to myself.
“The next morning, I trekked to the Lekan Salami Stadium and approached the head coach of powerlifting, Taofeek Aransi, who gave me a chance to try my luck. I went straight and lifted 80kg. The coach was shocked and exclaimed. ‘A-gb-a-r-a-p-o! Agbara eleyi ma poju ke,’ meaning, ‘too much power. This guy is really full of strength,’ and the nickname: “Agbarapo” stuck till date.
“I was allowed to join the state contingent to Abuja 2004 as an observer, and few days before the tournament, I was already lifting 95kg. My breakthrough came in 2006 at the Gateway Games in Ogun State. It was an open tournament where elite athletes were allowed to compete in the Games. But I beat them all to win the gold medal in my category. Governor Adebayo Alao Akala later gave each gold medallist at the Games N250,000 and from there, my life began to changed for the better.
“Later in the year, I was invited to the national camp in preparation for the All Africa Games in Algeria. But unfortunately, the events meant for disabled athletes were canceled and we were decamped.
“Then, came my failed journey to the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. I actually did well in the qualifiers, but was asked to step aside for the eventual gold winner at that year’s Paralympics. I led that guy by about 5kg at the qualifiers because his maximum lift was 169kg, while mine was 175kg. Our officials thought otherwise, claiming that I was not ripe enough for international tournament like the Paralympics and that the other fellow was more experienced than I. They also claimed that I hadn’t an IDC, whatever that was, I don’t know. But that guy went to Beijing and made Nigeria proud by winning the gold medal. If I had gone to the Games, Nigeria would have set the record I later set in 2012 in London.
“In 2009, at the Kaduna Sports Festival (KADA), I broke my senior colleague’s record of 169kg, which he set at the Beijing Paralympics Games in 2008. I lifted 170kg, but nobody paid attention to it. The Paralympics and the world record stood at 169kg till I went for the Commonwealth Games in India in 2010. Things began to get better for me at the preparation towards the Games in India.
“At the qualifiers in Dubai, I broke the world record and set another. Still there, I broke my own record and set a new one. I lifted 170kg at the first attempt and 172kg in my second attempt and 177kg in my third attempt. The noise was deafening that countries like Germany, Russia, South Africa and most especially, Jamaica to mention a few, approached me to naturalise and represent their countries. But one thing held me back; that was patriotism. Besides, I was made to understand that if I naturalise, there was an existing law that won’t allow me to compete immediately for my adopted country at the London 2012 Paralympics. I was told that I had to sign so many papers before the Federal Government of Nigeria would release me.
“I must confess that the packages from those countries were too good to resist and our officials in New Delhi noticed that some agents were already getting me confused, so they monitored my movement seriously and limited my interaction with people from other countries.
“When we came back from India, Prophet T.B. Joshua hosted some of us that did Nigeria proud. He gave me some cash with a Toyota Camry car, which I use till date. In fact, I am using this opportunity to thank the prophet for his kind gesture and for making me have more faith in Nigeria.
“The point is that Nigeria must learn to appreciate physically challenged persons. The way they are treated in Europe, Asia, America, and even in South Africa is different from what we experience here in Nigeria. Over there, a lot of attractive packages are in place for them.”
‘Agbarapo’ took time to share his happiest and saddest moments.
“The saddest day in my life was when I lost my first male child while preparing for the Gateway Games in 2009. My boy has been sick prior to that Games and no help was forthcoming from any quarters to treat him of the high fever he was having. He suffered measles. I went around looking for money to take him to the hospital for proper medical attention, but no one came to my assistance.
“I told my wife that I had to report at the state camp for the preparation for the games, but I refused to disclose to her that the camp would last for three days. If my wife is not the understanding type, that could have set my home ablaze because it was as if I abandoned them to represent Oyo State at the National Sports Festival. By the time I came back, the boy was too weak and he later died.
“The second time I was really sad was before the Commonwealth Games in India, when I suddenly had a crack in my shoulder. It was a mystery and the injury was not as a result of anything. In fact, no one could diagnose the cause, yet it could have caused me my first international exposure. For the first time, my wife advised me to stay away from sport and quit powerlifting because of the intensity of the pain I was experiencing.
“I was sad. I had no money to treat myself and I had to represent my country. I resorted to prayers. I went to the tournament with the injury and set a new world record against all odds. The mystery about the injury was that after the tournament, it healed by itself.
“My happiest day would always be the day I had my first child. It was a day of joy for me to realise that despite my condition, I could still procreate, and my joy knew no bound carrying the baby.
“Gateway 2006 Sports Festival, where I actually won gold medal, setting a new world record at Commonwealth Games in India and of course, my most recent feat at the London 2012 Paralympics, would all remain very happy moments for me.”
Reflecting on his performance at the London 2012 Paralympics, ‘Agbarapo’ said he had confidence that he would do well before the game.
“Before the London 2012, we had a training tour of South Korea and had a three-day stopover in Qatar. There was this particular day I suddenly lifted 195kg and I was shocked. I said to myself: “If the world record stands at 170kg and I lifted 195kg, then something great is about to happen.’ I knew that no one would be able to stand against me in my category.
“I prayed to God to grant me favour and not to allow the referees to disqualify any of my lifts. I thank God for answering my prayers. To be honest, I was jittery when I first came out to face the crowd. I had never seen such a crowd in any competition I had attended in the past, they were all white and I was a bit jittery. Olympics or Paralympics is a different ballgame entirely for any athlete and I had to psyche myself up that those people were humans after all and they must see the stuff I’m made of.
“The London Games turned out to be a child play compare to most competition I had been to, because I was well trained for the tournament and each day at the camp, I lifted 180kg at least five times in a row. I did not even know that I had done anything special until people started congratulating me that I had broken and set both the world and Paralympics records, despite the fact that I hadn’t used up all the power left in me. To be candid, I can do better than that. The world should just wait till 2014 God willing.”
Yakubu advised upcoming athlete to be patient, as God’s time is the best. He further extended invitation to other disabled persons, who are on the street begging to emulate his action and join sports, as no amount of begging would help them to realise their dreams.
“Since 2006, have been approached by many states to be part of their team, their packages could truly be better than what Oyo state is offering, but I am here to say that I am proud of Oyo State and I am ready to uplift its image by winning more laurels for the state.
“Though it is worrisome that Oyo State is yet to do anything for me concerning my exploit at the London 2012 Paralympics, I believe that the state governor and the honourable commissioner for Youth and Sports are working hard towards ensuring that honour is given to whom it is due. I lost my first male child while preparing with the state for the 2006 Gateway Games in Abeokuta, had a mysterious shoulder injury after Kaduna 2009 Sports Festival and yet God saw my patriotism and compensated me.
“Look at the Imo State government, I learnt on good authority that ‘Loveline’ (a fellow gold medallist at the London Paralympics) was given N2milion, a car, and a landed property by Governor Rochas Okorocha, but I know my Governor, His Excellency, Sen. Abiola Ajimobi would still organise something more befitting for me after the festival.
“It is true that the federal government gave us N5million each for our efforts and I thank President Goodluck Jonathan for the kind gesture, but a lot of problems is very much associated with it. Formerly, I thought that a million is that big until I began to suffer the problems that are peculiar to millionaires. Everyone believes that he or she must take a cut from the largess. What can I say, is it about the pressure from my immediate and extended family, which believe that I am now very rich? Or well wishers, who would want one favour or the other? The ‘area boys’ who believed that ‘Owo aye l’owo sport,’ meaning money from sport is meant for all?
“Many have forgotten that we don’t really have grants for our training programmes, yet I have to maintain my fitness from this money as well as take care of my wife and children, knowing full well that we don’t always have competitions.
“Someone from South Africa told me that if I were to be one of their athlete, I would have received a thousand per cent greater than what Nigerian government gave to us as gold medallist and wondered how I was able to make it to the final, yet I cannot treat my country the way other athlete did by dumping the state or the nation that discovered them and gave them the platform to showcase their God-given talents.
“There has always been pressure from other countries for me to naturalise since 2010 when I went for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India. They came like bees after I broke the world record and set another, but I declined all because I love Nigeria.”