Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Chukwumerije… The Senator and his taekwondo clan


TAEKWONDO is Senator Uche Chukwumerije's life. Aside from his political commitment to his people, as their 'eye' in the National Assembly, he breathes and dreams the game.
  At 72, you will still see him do the omgigi (movement of the body), chagi (kick), chirugi (punch) and chigi (strike with the hand).
  For more than four decades, Chukwumerije has been actively involved in taekwondo and this has made it easy for the Abia State-born legislator to introduce his family to the sports.
  At tender ages, the Senator encouraged his children to practice and compete for honours and within a short time, his seven children had all become black belt holders. They blossomed under the tutelage of Masters Kofi Annan and Abraham Papafio. 
  Che, Kwame and Azuka went on to become the youngest national champions at the ages of 14, 13 and 12 respectively. Chika, at a young age, started bulldozing his way through in the game, beating all the kids in his division. He went on to win a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
  Chika and Uche (jnr.) were part of the national team to the 10th All Africa Games in Mozambique, 2011, picking silver and gold in their various weight categories.
  What could have motivated Chukwumerije decision to allow his children take up the sport?
    “The love for the game,” he says. “My children did not only take part in the game, they were involved in sports such as athletics, swimming and host of others in school.”
  The lawmaker continues, “I think we started taekwondo in the early 70s, though at that time, it was not a known sport in the country. We started at Lagos Country Club, Ikeja, with karate. I had got to red belt, which is next to black belt while my children were all in junior grades. When taekwondo came, we were all excited about it because it was a bit more agile as the name implies, it made use of both hands and legs, which means taekwondo. It was unlike karate, which is more acrobatic and involves flying in the air. And that was what led us to turn to taekwondo.”
  Apart from taekwondo, the Senator exposed his children to other sports such as swimming and tennis where they also emerged as champions. “I did swimming and tennis at NPA Tennis Club, Surulere, at recreational and club competition levels, but did not go beyond that. For my children, they chose the sports, for I did not make them pick interest in it as most people think. At a time in Lagos Country Club, the two sports that fascinated my children were swimming and taekwondo with each of them becoming club champion in the two. Unfortunately, I did not encourage them much in tennis, which I regretted; it would have fetched them more money because there is no money in taekwondo. I believe that it is the superman image that goes with taekwondo that made them love the game. They had good coaches, a Korean and a Ghanaian called Abraham,” he says.
  “My first son, Che, who is now based in Germany, did not go beyond being the national champion in the Welterweight while my second son, Kwame, was far more brilliant. He died in a car accident as an undergraduate and was easily the best in taekwondo. In fact, Chika took his place. As a second year undergraduate, Kwame was preparing for the Olympic Games and for two years, he was national champion,” he adds.
  On his only daughter, the lawmaker informs, “my daughter, Azuka, was West Africa Champion as an undergraduate at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), and also a national champion, while Dike was a very combative fighter, blessed with the spirit of never-say-no. He went further to become national champion and as a black belter, he became Second Dan. But somehow, when he got to University, he became more of a scholar than an athlete.”
  The fifth child, Chaka, was also a black belter, but he was not good in combative sports. He never became a national champion and Dike was always standing in for him whenever he was defeated.
  “Chaka was followed by Uche, the captain of the Maputo team. He was a kind of a latecomer in the sense that in the early days, he was not winning many fights, but he had a dogged and enduring spirit that others lack. I think with that kind of qualities, he will go further in taekwondo than any of them. But in the national team, he ended up being a champion with the recent gold medal he won at the 10th All Africa Games in Mozambique. Uche was followed by the twin, Kelechi and Chika.
    “Kelechi, who is now a medical doctor is just like Chaka that did not win many fights. He is also a black belter like his siblings. He also won club championship in swimming. Kelechi’s twin brother, Chika, who has always been aggressive was able to combine the dexterity of the late Kwame with the speed of my first son, Che. Chika won bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and silver in Maputo,” he states.
FOR Chukwumerije, combining sports and education was a deliberate attempt to mould the character of his children.
 “In fact, I encouraged them to take up sports as a way of helping their academics because I believe very much in discipline, I believe that an idle brain is the devil’s workshop. So, to keep them busy, I got them involved in sports. When they were growing up, I will take them personally to Lagos Country Club and from there to Library to do their homework. After this, I encouraged them to go and do sports for two hours and they would later return to their homework,” the senator enthuses.
  “I believe very much that at a certain age, sports is necessary for children because it will make them focused and as well teach them to be self-reliant, which are very important in life.  Sports also teach them that there are no shortcuts to hardwork. It is a very simple arithmetic that if you work hard, you will get result and that there is no crown without a cross. Most of them started taking part in competition at three; they had to practise very hard to win. In the same way, they transfer the analogy to their studies. As they are very proud getting certificates after winning championships, in the same way, they can come to the top of their class if they apply hardwork. This worked for them as they remained discipline in their schools and classes without any case of vices,” he enthuses.
  As a motivation, the Senator most times accompanies his children to competitions, within and outside the country. “I equally accompany them to competitions within the country, in fact, I attend all their fights. But when they were young they had a coach and I was just like a motivator. Of course, I was always staring at them to go in and win, as there is no alternative to victory in the ring. And whenever they are traveling outside the country for competitions if I am not too busy, I always follow them. I have most times followed them to the Olympics and to the All Africa Games. I will likely follow them to Cairo for the Olympics qualifiers next year. I think my presence helps them a lot and I always have lots of joy accompanying them to competitions,” he says.
 “When they are in the ring, I am as much tensed as they; I won’t deny it. I am almost predicting every kick and what they could have done in each fight. When I find them losing, the tension in me gets higher, but I have this habit of not getting excited in life by shouting. Of course, when they win, naturally I am happy about this. If they lose, I am temporarily depressed, but I surely know that it is sports. But the important thing, which they know is not that they must always win, but the courage to participate and fight to the last drop of their sweat is the most important thing.”
  On what his colleagues feel about his passion for sports, the Senator grins. “I am sure they also have their own hobbies and little area that obsess them in life. They just see me as somebody, who is very much interested in taekwondo. Some of them crack jokes that they would not sit near me in case I lose my temper. Many of them feel challenged that I take interest in this kind of sport, considering my age; I am still interested in this. I look healthy and this makes them feel challenged. Apart from that, they don’t see me doing something extra-ordinary.”
  On the rivalry among his children, he informs: “It is healthy, especially in taekwondo — because they use my house as a big fighting arena while I play the role of an umpire. I always enjoy such moments. But the only girl among them, Azuka is like a boy, as she also fights with them. She is just as aggressive as the boys.”
   To other parents, the Senator counsels, “I won’t call myself a modern parent as I won’t pretend to be what I am not because two of my children have become champions in taekwondo. But from my own little experience, I will advise parent to be close to their children, treat them almost as equal and from there you can get them to do whatever they like and set them example.”
DESPITE his children’s successes in the game, Senator Chukwumerije is not wholly satisfied, saying they should have done more. “I feel satisfied as a father with their even development, character and attitude to life. I also feel satisfied that as far as basic education in Nigeria is concerned, all of them have done very well.  But in sports, I don’t think it is a big deal with what they have achieved. If you have this number of boys (seven) and only two of them are continental champions, it is not an achievement because it is not a pass mark,” he says amidst laughter.
  He continues, “I thought with what I had put into them, four of them would have become champions, but only two have done this. In fact, most of them dropped out on the way.”
  Not finished with parents, he adds, “taking them for taekwondo at that time, I was a practitioner, I did exercise with them, and also watch them participate in tournaments. This further motivated them as they see their father participate in the game and also stand by them. This is why I urge parents to devote as much time they could get to interaction with their children, especially working mothers should do more of this. If you don’t have enough time for your children, you are failing in that aspect of your life.”
  He says, “you also need to realise that education is not what it is in Nigeria now, which is more of paper work and that is why people take more to cheating. To develop your child academically will require giving him something that trains his mind. Nothing trains a child’s mind as much as competitive sports. Not just taekwondo, but any sport. The most important thing that you teach them is the beauty of excellence. But whichever you take, the only road that leads to excellence is industry, hardwork and perseverance. This will lead you to the biggest laurel in sports and will eventually lead to the biggest laurel in academics because they both go together, as there is no shortcuts to success.”
  Chukwumerije philosophises, “once they get that arithmetic right, you will find out that they will train their mind independently and will have strength of character and perseverance in whatever they do. In the course of that, they develop some internal value because when you are In the ring fighting with somebody, it is not a question of bribing the referee, but on your performance as people are watching, especially in these days of electronic scoring in taekwondo, which is void of human subjective or any bias. You don’t start looking for shortcuts to do things. You have pride in yourself and in your ability and if you do the right thing, you can walk with Kings.”
  Says Senator Chukwumerije, “I will say with all humility that all my children have imbibed these qualities. In these days of collapse of national values, the only area I know this can be learnt is in the area of competitive sports, which can be translated under parental guidance to one’s mind-set that will also help the children in their academics and future careers.”
 He, however, discloses that there are plans to set up a foundation that would encourage athletes to combine sport with education as a way to mould their character.
  He says,  “Chika Chukwumerije Foundation will encourage people to combine academics and taekwondo. It aims at making people not only to become champion in taekwondo, but also to excel in their different fields as professionals. We want to use it as a platform for remoulding character not just sports.”

RECENTLY, the three-term Senator, who is an Economics graduate of University College, Ibadan, hosted the taekwondo team to Maputo team to a lavish reception in Abuja.  
  For their feat in Maputo, Mozambique, gold medalists were rewarded with N500, 000 each; silver medalists got N250, 000; while bronze medalists were given N150, 000. The two coaches also got N500, 000 each.
  The reception was attended by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal; Deputy Senator President, Ike Ekweremadu; Deputy Speaker, Emeka Ihedioha and principal officers in the legislative arm of government, captains of industry, members of the diplomats corps and top government functionaries.
   An excited Senator Chukwumerije said he was inspired to honour the team because of his passion for the game.
  According to him, “it is the love for the game that has made me to organise the reception, though I was a bit disappointed because I thought the team would come back with more medals; they could not and I would not blame anybody. I organised this reception because of my love for the game, to encourage more talented people to take part in it and to redeem the promise I made to participants that won medals.”
  Acknowledging the hiccups faced by the sport, the former chairman, Nigeria Taekwondo Black Belt College (NTBBC) says: “The only challenge facing taekwondo in Nigeria is to appeal to respective philanthropists and sponsors to devote little bit of their time and material resources for the development of the sports.”
  For the 2012 London Olympic Games, the Abia State lawmaker expresses optimism, of a better performance. “The chances at the Olympics will be brighter than what they used to be when we barely get one or two medals. At the Olympics level, you are talking of a higher standard and stiffer competition. I will not be daydreaming to tell you that we are going there for 10 medals. I don’t think so. If we get up to four or five, we have done very well. But all this depends on better training, which will produce better performance. So, better performance leads to better training while better training depends on more funding for the sport.”
CHUKWUMERIJE served as minister of information in the dying days of the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida. He also served as minister of information in the interim national government of Ernest Shonekan.
  In the Fourth Republic, Chukwumerije was elected to the Senate on the Peoples Democratic Party's platform, but he fell out of favour with the party's leadership when he opposed the Third Term agenda.
  Chukwumerije eventually decamped to the Progressive Peoples Alliance in 2006, and was reelected to the Senate on April 28, 2007. He was reelected on the PDP platform in the April 2011 elections.

1 comment:

  1. Enough respect! I love you forever. Thank you for everything