Not many Nigerians, particularly the younger generation may easily come to term with the name Julius Chigbolu. For the record, Julius Chigbolu who hails from Illah in Oshimilli local government area of Delta state, can arguably be described as one of the greatest high jumpers to ever come out of the Nigeria soil.
He brought honours and laurels to Nigeria in the 50s and 60s, representing Nigeria at several national, continental and world championships.
Chigbolu excelled at even the then Commonwealth and Olympics Games where he was celebrated by the international community to the level that the New York Times featured him in the front page of their bulletin in 1955 with a story titled, ‘Chigbolu breaks British record’, a feat that was not easily attained then by black race athletes.
The great Nigeria’s High Jumper was awarded the HELMS AWARD by the Helms Athletic Foundation based in LA, California. It was one of the most important awards at that time for the recognition and sponsorship of important athletes. After every important competition then, they choose an athlete from every continent and honor them for their outstanding performance.
Such was the height he Delta born athlete attained, but while the High jumper stole all the headlines at the international front during his reign, nothing much was documented about him in Nigerian history books. Little wonder why his name does not ring a bell among the new generations of Nigeria sporting followers. A situation the family seems not happy about.
Expressing the family’s disgust, one of the children, Ambassador Augustine Chigbolu, bemoaned that for all that their father achieved for Nigeria and his athletics prowess very little was documented about him in the country’s sporting history.
He therefore maintained that come this Friday, February 19, 2021, the Family is using the opportunity of his 92-year posthumous birthday to celebrate the life of the man that contributed in no small measure to Nigerian sporting history.
“My Father was one of the greatest high jumpers that came out of Nigeria. Apart from his record of 1966 he was also a spectacular high jumper.
“He represented Nigeria in the Commonwealth and Olympics Games where he reached the final, won the Commonwealth Games. The records of the 1966 Olympics and the expectations in Africa politics played its role but he did very well. His jumping was spectacular. In the Igbo language he was nicknamed ‘ofe nenu’ meaning the man that flies in the air. It was a great period.
“He achieved all what a jumper could achieve, won in Nigeria, won in Africa, won in the Commonwealth and got to the Olympics Games. Even the British America Games he won for the British.
“After the Olympics because of the performance of some of the Africa Athletes, some of them were selected to represent the British Empire and after the 1956 Olympics Game there was American and British Empire Competition, which he excelled at the competition.
“He did very well during his time, but history did not treat him as he was supposed to have been treated. I mean the government of Nigeria, but in terms of record he remains one of the most spectacular high jumpers Nigeria has ever produced.
“During his burial while I was looking at his documents I came across one of his writes up
where he detailed his frustration about the treatment meted to him by the government at that time.
“You know children don’t go dip into what their parents go through but at their demise you might run into documents and run into things that make you know what they went through.
“He was a prison officer and one of the coaches when he left the Eastern sports councils. They were one of the first officers employed by the prisons. Even then he had his challenges for one reasons or the other, political reasons and so on. So, I think he was not fairly treated,” Chigbolu junior lamented.
The young Chigbolu, whose daughter, Maria Benedicta Chigbolu has taken after the footstep of her grandfather, expressed joy that the achievement of her daughter who is competing for Italy has brought international recognition to his late father. “The world had to dig into her history and realized the achievements of the grandfather, Julius Chigbolu. So, that is life.
“Because of that when I met with my daughter in one of the competitions in Russia I told her that she should never think of coming to compete for Nigeria. I told her to continue to do what she was doing, though she never thought about it because I think she is comfortable enough with the Italian Federation.”
As the family celebrates Julius Chigbolu posthumous 92 year birthday, the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development can join in the celebration by initiating projects to immortalize his name. By this, the family can heave a sigh of relief knowing that their father’s contribution in Nigeria’s sports development did not go in vain.
Who knows, this one action may go a long way to encouraging other Nigerians families abroad to release their children to come compete for Nigeria.