By Emma Njoku
DAniel Igali’s story is like the rejected biblical stone that became the cornerstone. As a student at the University of Jos in the early 1990s, Igali failed many exams while representing Nigeria in wrestling at international championships. Deprived of the chance to take exams on his return from these championships, he was frustrated by no less than 12 postponements in his third year and had to change nationality to Canada after representing Nigeria at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria , in Canada, in 1994.
Nicknamed “Dynamite”, the Canadian authorities gave him maximum support to maximize his potential, and it didn’t take long to win everything in freestyle wrestling, including the Canadian championship, the North American title, the world championship and the Olympic gold medal in 2000. at the Sydney Olympics.
For the love of his native country, Igali, retired from active wrestling, returned to Nigeria to support the sport that made him famous. His first move to improve the quality of Nigerian wrestling by bringing in experts from Canada to run a training clinic was scuttled by a greedy wrestling federation official who wanted to know “what was in it for him. “.
Undeterred, Igali returned to his home state of Bayelsa after convincing the Canadians that there were more Igalis in his village, and the Bayelsa state government supported him with funds. He started by building a modern primary school in his village, Eniwari, and continued with a modern wrestling hall in Yenagoa, the state capital, where national and international championships were held, which by the way led to the discovery of many wrestlers who currently represent Nigeria at international championships. Among these athletes, Blessing Oborududu won silver at the last Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, the best effort by a Nigerian athlete since the 2008 Beijing Olympics in China.
Impressed with how he empowered youth through sports, his people encouraged him to join politics and elected him to the state House of Assembly. His foray into politics did not affect his vision to develop Nigerian wrestling. While still serving in the Bayelsa State government, he contested and became the president of the Nigerian Wrestling Federation.
After serving as a member of the House of Assembly, he was appointed Sports Commissioner. Under his leadership, last year, for the first time in the history of the National Sports Festival, Bayelsa State won more medals than its sister state, Rivers, which it overtook on the medal table. placing third behind Delta and the host state, Edo. .
Also last year, after helping give Nigeria a silver medal in wrestling at the Olympics in Japan through Blessing Oborududu, football clubs Bayelsa United and Bayelsa Queens both won the 2021 FA Cup (now known as under the name Aiteo Cup) for men and women. .
For these achievements, Igali wins the prestigious The Sun award for Sports Personality of the Year 2021.