*Innocent Egbunike was my mentor – Onyali
By Oluwole Francis
WE FM the leading radio station in Nigeria, operating on 106.3FM had pledged to use her resources to support the sports initiative to make one million new girls to take to sports led by Chief Mary Onyali, the ‘Let’s go, Girls’ campaign a massive success.
Head of the Abuja station of the award winning radio station, WE FM, Naanie Gukas in a courtesy visit after the appearance of the five-time Olympian medallist, Chief Mary Onyali, praised the efforts of former international athletes who came together to form and drive the Let’s go, Girls! project as very thoughtful to develop our country despite your present comfort.
Each of you could have stayed in your cosier foreign homes and be contented with what you have achieved but you chose to return home to raise funds and to develop one million girls in another four years. For me, it is feasible and very possible.
Kings Broadcasting, owners of the exotic and audience-oriented WE FM station, are always very ken to support whatever project will lift our nation higher. This way, you programme may receive very high support with the management of the station. We look forward to adding value to what you are doing.
Earlier chief Onyali was guest on the WE WOMEN anchored by mercurial Cleo Tawo. With 11 audience calls made on the programme it was a highly followed programme.
Answering one of the questions, Chief Onyali was praised by a viewer who wanted to know how she has remained so humble and dedicated to doing all she is known for. She smiled and said, “in the 80s when as a budding athlete in the national teams, I grew under the shadows of my mentor, Innocent Egbunike. I learnt to behave, conduct myself and do everything I know in his image. He was my greatest influence in the sport. That is what I know and think kept me so well and so long in the sport. Till tomorrow, he has remained my father-figure image in the sport.”
According to Chief Onyali, “the downward trend of Nigeria in sports is as good as having ended with our programme. We already started a pilot in Offa in Kwara State whose results has given us more confidence to take the module to other cities in the country.”
“All we ask is that if 10% of the nation’s population will rise and support us, we shall return so quickly to greatness. Ours is a community driven process. We want to bring one million girls into sports within the next four years. Let every woman in Nigeria support our dream and see if it will not be so.
“Women are born as leaders. History has a well reserved place for the woman not just in Nigeria but everywhere. Let me quickly do a local record recall. We have the stories of Efunsetan Aniwura the Iyalode of Ibadan, the Aba women riots of 1929, Queen Amina of Zaria, Prof Dora Akunyuli in NAFDAC, Mrs Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Prof Grace Alele-Williams, Prof Zulu Sofola amongst others.
“If we have such a rich history of the feats of these women, I do not think anything can stop every woman in this generation to be special, great, better, bolder and stronger. We have the natural endowments but are we exploiting same to make our nation the very best in the world?”
Innocent Egbunike (born November 30, 1961) is a former Nigerian athlete. At the 1985 Summer Universiade he won the 400 metres. At the regional level he won the 1987 All Africa Games as well as three gold medals at the African Championships.
He won an Olympic bronze medal in the 4x400m relay in Los Angeles in 1984. He finished sixth in the final of the individual 400metres contest. Four years later in Seoul he placed fifth. In addition he won a silver medal in the 400 metres at the 1987 World championships.
He also won the gold medal in the 200 metres at the 1983 Summer Universiade with a personal best of 20.42 seconds; he followed this by finishing 6th in a world class field in the 200 metre final at the 1983 World championships in Athletics in Helsinki.
He also won the Soviet 100 metres in 1983.
After retiring from competition he became a coach. He was coach of the Nigerian track and field team at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, and head coach at the 2008 Olympics. He was coach of Angelo Taylor, the gold medalist in the 400m hurdles at the 2008 Olympics, coach of Chris Brown, the fourth-place finisher in the 400m at the 2008 Olympic Games. He coached the Nigerian 4x400m gold medal team at the Sydney Olympic Games.
He is currently the head coach of Pasadena City College’s track and field team.