Celebrating Heroes, Stars Of Sports In Rivers State

Oliver Toby showing off his skills in a training session during his hay days
Oliver Toby showing off his skills in a training session during his hay days
Oliver Toby showing off his skills in a training session during his hay days

Since the creation of Riv
ers State, about 49 years ago, men and women from the State, both the old and present day Rivers, have carved niches for themselves and earned spaces in the sporting maps, not only in the State but Nigeria and beyond.
Over the years, athletes discovered in the streets, creeks and coastal lines of the State have worked hard to make marks and rub shoulders with other national and international athletes of repute. In the course of their efforts, they succeeded in bringing glory to the State in particular and the country in general.
Therefore, at times like this, when stocks are taken, visions assessed and the future visualized, it is always apt to put the maxim which states that, “it is from the ashes of the past and the substance of the present that the future is determined,” to test, in order to inspire the younger generation and those that would want to take to a particular way of life, like sports, business to contribute to the development and promotion of the image of the State.
That is why it is pertinent to always recall and recognize the stars and heroes of yesteryears without forgetting the current crop of pacesetters in an industry, particularly sports.
In the years of yore, especially, in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, Rivers State used to be one of the major nursery beds that supplied athletes to national teams and contingents in different and several sporting events.
In fact, veteran athletics coach, Tobias Igwe, aka Toblow, once in an interview referred to Rivers State as a major benefactor to Nigerian sports, especially in track and field events as regards the production of athletes in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
Thus, as Rivers State celebrates her 49 years of existence, efforts to be a major player in the entity called Nigeria and several achievements of her successive administrations, sons and daughters, it is worthy to once again recognise, some of Rivers, Stars and heroes, who not only took their chosen sports careers beyond the shores of the State but returned with accolades, laurels and honour.
Dr. George Ogan (Late)
This Okrika-born athlete and sports administrator per excellence was a pioneer Long and Triple jumper that was discovered in the 1960s. He later became a role model for young men who were attracted to long and triple jumps and became an idol and mentor to later day triple jumpers like Joshua Kio and others. Late Ogan took his events to the Olympics and Commonwealth Games where he won medals. A technocrat of repute, Ogan later became an administrator in the sports industry and a member of the committee that studied the sports policies and models that made East Germany so successful back in the days. His committee’s recommendations gave birth to the National Sports Festival in Nigeria which had its first edition in Lagos in 1973.
Warisenibo Kalada Aminiokuma:
A Bonny-born high jumper of repute. He dominated and popularized the event and won several meets, especially in the then Eastern Nigeria.
He was also a member of the Port Harcourt Red Devils that were a strong force in Nigerian football those days.
Ombo G. Peters (Late):
One of the best sprinters to have come out of Akuku-Toru Local Government Area and Rivers State. Late Peters was a specialist in the sprints and long jump between 1960s and 1970s and was a member of the Nigerian Team to the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games of 1986.
Ethel Jacks:
Jacks hails from Asari-Toru Local Government Area of the State and became a Table Tennis Queen of great repute in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Her dexterity saw her being described as a national and African Queen of the sport before the emergence of players from the South West as leading forces of the game.
Joshua J. Kio:
Popularly known as J. J. Kio, this Okrika-born athlete took the baton from the likes of Late George Ogan and Nemi Adoki. He was synonymous with Triple Jump in Rivers and Nigeria. He won several national and international laurels in the sport as champion. Kio, who has been Director, Sports Institute, Isaka and Director, Sports Development in the Sports Ministry is to date, one of Rivers State’s only two-time Olympians, after featuring in Moscow; 1980 and Los Angeles, 1984.
Chief Nemi Adoki:
Another Triple Jump Star from Okrika, Chief Adoki was a revelation and toast of the event at the National Sports Festival in Ibadan tagged Oluyole ’70. He was one of the triple jumpers that ruled the scene between the 1970s and early 80s before veering into sports administration. Adoki was among the pioneer members of the National Association of Athletics Refereeing, officials, NAATO.
Chief Adokiye Amiesimaka, MON, JP:
Also from Okrika, Amiesimaka was one of the few youngsters that were able to combine sports with University education in the late 1970s and ‘80s. As an undergraduate at the University of Lagos, the gifted footballer was able to play for the national team, the then Green Eagles that went on to win the African Cup of Nations for the country for the first time in 1980.
He also played for the famous Rangers International of Enugu and Sharks FC of Port Harcourt. An accomplished Lawyer, Amiesimaka was a sometime the Attorney-General of the State, ace broadcaster and football administrator with a passion for the development of grassroots football.
He is currently among other things a football columnist in a national daily.
Tamunoemi Gibson:
Another athlete from Asari-Toru area of the State, Gibson was a guru and hero n Badminton in Nigeria. He represented the country in a couple of All Africa and Commonwealth Games where he made name for himself and Nigeria.
Ojadi Aduche:
An Okrika-born athlete, a Weightlifter that blazed the trail in the State in the 1990s. He was a dominant force at the National Sports Festivals. A real champion that flew the country’s flag at both the All Africa and Commonwealth Games where he won medals.
Ojadi won gold medals at the All Africa Games in Kenya and Cairo ’91, Silver at Commonwealth Games in 1990 and was a member of Team Nigeria to the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992.
He has since become a coach, helping to wean Weightlifting talents in Rivers State.
Oliver Toby (Opobo)
One of the successful 64kg category Weightlifters from Rivers State, Toby dominated the scene in the 1990’s. He emerged junior champion during several World Weightlifting Championships in 1990 in Florida, Miami and in 1992 in Turkey.
He also won three gold medals at World Junior Weightlifting Championships in 1994 in Canada. At the All Africa Games, Cairo ’91 and in Kenya, he casted away two gold and silver medals, respectively. He is also an Olympian, having participated at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
Benjamin Minimah:
Another Weightlifting talent from the State. Minimah, from Opobo virtually took over the mantle from Ojadi Aduche and was a class apart at successive National Sports Festivals in the 1990s until Bauchi 2000, when a combination of events saw him lose out in medals and he bowed out of competitive weightlifting.
Godwin Banuna:
Banuna from Khana Local Government Area was among the very few long distance runners produced by the State. In fact, the athlete nicknamed Mr. Endurance was arguably the best greatest long distance runner/steeple chase champion ever in the State. He reigned supreme in the 1970s and won laurels at national and continental levels.
Silas Ogwuama (Late)
Another Okrika-born athlete that distinguished himself in athletics (Field events). He specialized in the Throwing events: Javelin, Discus and Shot-put. He won a bronze medal for Nigeria during the ECOWAS Games of 1977.
Mpakabuari Fynface:
Fyneface is from Asari-Toru LGA but now based in the USA. He was a dominant champion in the 400 metres and 400 metres low hurdles races in the 1970s and ‘80s.
Graywood Oruwari:
Another Asari-Toru born athlete now in USA, he was a specialist in the 110 metres high hurdles race in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Tari Tikili: (Old Rivers)
Tikili was a Squash athlete and champion. He made waves in the 1970s and ‘80s at national and state level.
Obia Inyingiyikabo (Okrika)
Obia is the leading face of new generation athletes that thrust the State in the glare of national and continental limelight. Nicknamed ‘the Fish,’ she is the queen of the pool and bestrode the national swimming landscape as a colossus for years. A national record holder in Breaststrokes and Backstrokes, Obia dominated National Sports Festivals, regional and national swimming tournaments.
She at different times emerged multiple gold medal winner at different Collegiate Games, at both the Nigerian University Games, NUGA and West African University Games, WAUG. University of Port Harcourt owes some of her past domineering performances at NUGA and WAUG, to Inyingiyikabo’s medal hauls. In fact, she is regarded as the greatest female swimmer of all time in Nigeria.
Eric Willams: (Okrika)
Another recent generation swimmer who showed great potentials. After winning medals for the State, especially at National Sports Festivals, Williams captained Nigeria in several national and international competitions where he equally won laurels.
Imama Amapakabo (Okrika)
This ex-youth international turned coach is currently making waves as the Head Coach of Rangers International FC of Enugu. He made his name playing as the safest hands for Sharks Football Club of Port Harcourt in the 1980s and ‘90s.
‘Imamarima’ as he is fondly called, perhaps has not received as much celebration as he truly deserved. This unassuming but agile goalkeeper in his time was an integral part of the pioneer national Under-17 team that conquered the world in China and won the World Cup (FIFA/Kodak U-17 World Championship) for Africa and Nigeria for the first time in 1985.
After retiring from active football, Amapakabo trained as a coach and has been part of the coaching crew at Sharks FC and Enyimba International before joining the camp of the Flying Antelopes in Enugu.
Joseph Yobo: (Khana)
Yobo has been one of the most consistent performers in Nigeria football. After cutting his teeth at local side, NAFCON FC, Port Harcourt, he became a youth international and part of the Flying Eagles team when Nigeria hosted the world during the World Youth Championship, WYC, Nigeria’99. He also took his game to Europe, England and Turkey and became an integral part of the Super Eagles. He went on to captain the Super Eagles and emerged the first player to hit the century mark (100 caps) for the national team.
Yobo, today could be considered to be one of the icons of the national team and football in Rivers State.
Taribo West (Asari-Toru)
West was an indefatigable defender that emerged from the streets to Julius Berger FC of Lagos from where he took his game to Europe and the national teams. He was a Trojan in defence for the Super Eagles and perhaps had his highest point in the game when he made history as part of the Olympic team to win gold in the football event for the very first time for Nigeria and Africa at Atlanta ’96, beating world football powers, Brazil and Argentina enroute the gold medal. West played for top European sides like Club Bougge in the Belgian Jupilar league and Inter Milan in Serie A.
Tammy Atorudibo (Okrika)
This sprinter busted into the scene in the 1990s and took the short sprints by storm. He was compared to the famous ‘Bullet Ben Johnson’ of Canada as he showed tremendous potentials on the tracks and went on to represent the State and country, respectively at national and international competitions in 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m Relay.
Otonye Iworima: (Okrika)
This Long and Triple jump athlete emerged from the production line of other jumpers of Okrika extraction. He remains one of the leading lights in the jump events in Rivers and Nigeria and has flown the State and national flags at several competitions. It is on record that Iworima earned Nigeria a bronze medal at the last Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Hon. Tex Jamabo (Late):
This Okrika born versatile sports person has been described as a creative genius in sports and arts, and a pioneer in gymnastics. Before his death, he was a keen stakeholder in the development and promotion of volleyball and volleyball talents in the State.
Pastor Amabere Jamabo (Okrika)
An all rounder, who excelled in many events including Athletics, boxing, Handball and Cricket.
This list is by no means exhaustive as there are still many Rivers men and women who have made positive marks and others still making impacts in various sports in the State and Nigeria.
Also, to the credit of the State, it is pertinent to once again put it on record that Rivers is one of the few States in Nigeria to have hosted the ‘National Olympics Games;, National Sports Festival twice in its history. It hosted first in 1988 and again in 2011, when it put on show not only the best show piece festival but emerged as winner for the very first time.
The Sports Festival must be one of the sporting folklores that must be cherished and preserved in the archives of the State.