ABUJA, Nigeria — Nigeria’s Paralympic athletes are gearing up for a strong performance at this year’s Paralympic games in Brazil.
In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Nigeria’s Olympic team did worse than they had in the past 20 years, failing to bring home a medal and prompting President Goodluck Jonathan to declare that the country needed to completely rehaul its sports administration.
Days later, at the Paralympics games, however, Nigeria’s Paralympic athletes were able to regain some national pride by winning 13 medals in weightlifting, breaking several world records.
The success of Nigeria’s Paralympic team brought hope to millions of disabled Nigerians who have suffered as a result of polio, which is widespread throughout the country.
Nigeria, along with Afghanistan and Pakistan, is one of only three countries where polio has yet to be eradicated. The persistence of this preventable disease is in large part due to conspiracy theories that polio vaccinations are part of a Western white plot to eradicate Muslim populations.
With most polio cases in Nigeria contained in the mostly Muslim north, encompassing regions such as Borno, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara, the existence of the disease has served to disable a vast swath of the Nigerian population.
In a country where people who have contracted polio and become disabled are normally associated with begging, the success of the Paralympic champions at the 2012 Olympic Games served to lift spirits nationwide.
In part, Nigeria’s Paralympic athletes success can be attributed to their focus on particular sports that can be practiced in slums or low-income neighborhoods and don’t require high-tech sports facilities.
According to Edem Solomon, a gym instructor, Paralympians are so excellent at weightlifting not only because it doesn’t require the use or mobility of the legs, but also because it can be practiced almost anywhere.
“Nigerians love weightlifting, but we have to improvise,” Mr. Solomon said. “A lot of people where I am from would normally go to a mechanic for a lump of metal and attach it to some concrete.”
Following the 2012 games, Silver Ezikpe, a Nigerian Paralympian, appealed to the Para-Athletics Federation of Nigeria to ensure adequate preparations are put in place.
“Para-games provide a major means of livelihood for most physically-challenged in the country,” Mr. Ezikpe said.
Outside of the games, the success of Nigeria’s Paralympic team served to inspire Nigerians to focus more energy on helping disabled and polio-ridden Nigerians excel in everyday life.
“[Nigeria’s Paralympic athletes] have made us realize we have to give physically challenged people more opportunities in this country,” said Odemuyiwa Tomori, a Lagos local. “They have made Nigerians proud in a way we haven’t been for a long time.”