Nigeria marks its 63rd independence today. Though many would have reservations concerning how far the country had gone since its independence, there are no doubt it has witnessed positive moments.
In sports, Nigerian athletes have made their mark on the international scene, breaking new grounds both on the continent and on the world stage.
The “I can do it” attitude of Nigerian sportsmen and teams has given Africa the belief to go and make their marks in world competitions.
Here, Daily Trust highlights 10 major sporting moments in Nigeria’s post-independence life:
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1. ‘Dick Tiger’ won a world title in 1962
Richard ‘Dick Tiger’ Ihetu was Nigeria’s first world boxing champion when he won the world middleweight title in 1962 by beating Gene Fullmer and then in 1966, he won the world light heavyweight title by decisioning Jose Torres of Puerto Rico.
Tiger died of liver cancer in 1971, at 42, and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.
His career record was 61 victories, 17 losses and three draws, with 26 knockouts. Twice he was honoured by the Boxing Writers Association as Fighter of the Year, in 1963 and 1966.
As a boxer, Tiger was admired because of his warrior’s determination and quiet dignity.
2. Maiyegun won Nigeria’s first Olympic medal in 1964
Nojeem Maiyegun represented Nigeria at the 1964 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, where he won the bronze medal in the men’s Light Middleweight (71 kg) category and enter the history books as Nigeria’s first Olympic medalist.
3. African Nations Cup win in 1980
Nigeria hosted the tournament with the clear goal of proving they were Africa’s best team.
The Green Eagles routed Algeria 3-0 to claim their first-ever African title, with players like Segun Odegbami, Adokiye Amiesimaka, Christian Chukwu, Emmanuel Okala, Musa Lawal, Aloysius Atuegbu, and more becoming household names.
That title win catapulted Nigeria to one of the elites on the continent and set the stage for future teams to earn respect. They won the title again in 1994 and 2013.
4. Super Eagles qualified for 1994 World Cup
After six unsuccessful attempts to join the elite of world football, a team led by the late Stephen Keshi and coached by Clemens Westerhof earned a 1-1 draw away to Algeria on October 8, 1993, at the Stade du 5 Juillet 1962, Algiers.
Finidi George scored Nigeria’s goal in the 19th minute, and the Algerians equalised through Sidi Ahmed Zerrouki with 19 minutes left on the clock.
The Eagles held on to book their place in the 1994 World Cup that was held in the United States of America.
5. Eagles attain top 5 FIFA ranking in 1994
Coach Clemence Westerhof and his group of players made Africa proud and took the world by storm with their style of play.
The team was ranked 5th in the April 1994 FIFA rankings, the highest FIFA ranking ever achieved by an African team.
To date, Nigeria is the only African country to have risen as high as 5th in FIFA’s monthly rankings.
6. Ajunwa, Nigeria’s first individual Olympic gold medalist
Chioma Ajunwa won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, USA. Ajunwa became the first athlete in Nigeria to win an Olympic gold medal and is also the first black African woman to win an Olympic gold medal in a field event.
She remains Nigeria’s only individual Olympic gold medalist to date.
A member of the Nigerian Police Force, Ajunwa remains only woman to compete at both the FIFA Women’s World Cup as a footballer and the Olympics as a track and field athlete.
7. First African football Olympic gold in 1996
Nigeria became the first African country to win the Olympic gold in the football event at the 1996 Olympics.
The team, captained by Nwankwo Kanu, came from 3-1 down to Brazil in the semi-final to win 4-3 with a sudden-death goal from Kanu.
The final was even more magical. Argentina, full of stars, including Hernan Crespo, Ariel Ortega, Diego Simeone, and Claudio Lopez, raced to a 2-1 lead. But Daniel Amokachi tied things up with about a quarter of an hour left to play, and Emmanuel Amunike snatched the winner in stoppage time.
8. Oshoala named best player at 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup
Asisat Oshoala was named best player and was the highest goal scorer at the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, where she scored seven goals – the highlight being a four-goal haul in the 6-2 semi-final win over North Korea.
Nigeria lost 1-0 to Germany in the final, but the Barcelona star had already made her mark.
9. Tobi Amusan’s triple crown in 2022
Amusan became the first and only Nigerian to be crowned African, Commonwealth, and World champion in the same year.
In June, she successfully defended her African Championships title, storming to a wind-aided 12.57 seconds, the fastest time in all conditions in the event’s history at the championships.
The Nigerian followed up with a historic feat as she won the 100m hurdles title at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon, USA to become the first Nigerian to be crowned a world champion at World Athletics’ flagship event, the World Athletics Championships.
Amusan did that in record-breaking fashion, running a new 12.12 seconds world record to become the first Nigerian track and field star to set a world record.
Amusan had also clocked a time of 12.30s in the final in Birmingham to successfully defend her Commonwealth Games title.
10. D’Tigress win historic fourth consecutive African title in 2023
The Nigerian national women’s basketball team, professionally known as D’Tigress, defeated their Senegalese counterpart 84-74 in the final of the 2023 FIBA Women’s Afrobasket tournament to emerge champions of Africa.
The victory marked the fourth consecutive title for the D’Tigress.
By the victory, the Nigerian ladies have become only the second team ever after Senegal to historically win four consecutive titles.
They were crowned champions in 2017 after waiting for 12 years without a title to show for their efforts.
D’Tigress, then, recorded the same feats in 2019, 2021 and then 2023 in a thrilling style.