Help! – The Nation

  • After Christian Chukwu, another Nigerian footballing great, Peter “the cat” Fregene, needs urgent support

The picture was sheer delight: “Chairman” Christian Chukwu, former Green Eagles’ African Cup of Nations-winning captain in 1980 and former coach of the Super Eagles, in company with Femi Otedola (who donated the US$ 50, 000 for the treatment), Amaju Pinnick, Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president and Chukwu’s wife, at a London hospital. It shows our “Chairman”, though looking gaunt and rather frail, is being taken care of. Even more assuring was Mr. Otedola’s pledge, to the London hospital staff, that cash won’t be an impediment to Chukwu’s treatment, even if the US$ 50, 000 on the table were to be exhausted.

But the Peter Fregene story is much more dismal. Peter “the flying cat” Fregene, is perhaps the most durable goalkeeper in Nigerian football history. At his peak and as goalkeeper for the flamboyant Lagos club side, Stationery Stores aka “Adebajo Babes”, “Super Stores”, “Flaming Flamingoes”, among other gushing monikers, the no-less-flamboyant and quick-reflex Fregene manned the goal for the Nigerian national team in the 1968 Olympics.

In 1982 — fourteen years later – Fregene was back in goal for Nigeria, for the Eagles’ defence of the Nations Cup win of 1980, in Bengahzi, Libya. Fregene “the cat” could be past his prime, with age not on his side. But his reflexes were still sharp enough to represent his country, as defending African Nations Cup champions.

Fregene, therefore, is an authentic cultural champion and community hero, when football is the question. He was there when Stores were playing that provocative and audacious tiki-taka of the mid-to late 1960s. That sheer magic turned that club into the darling of Lagos fans. On the national scene, he was also there, though he had to share space with contemporary and great rival, Inuwa Rigogo. When against all odds, he made it as first choice Eagles goalkeeper in 1982, his place in Nigerian football history was settled – the most durable goaltender of them all!

It is, therefore, a gash in the soul to see such a national treasure suffer in silence, for lack of funding for an ailment in his evening years. Fregene is said to be down with complications relating to stroke. Both cases, of Chukwu and Fregene, are perhaps not helped by the fact that they are proud gentlemen that cherish their privacy, but nevertheless had dutifully, in their youth, pressed their talents in the service of their country. You won’t therefore blame them, if they cringe at crying out for help – help they sorely need.

Chukwu, however, has been lucky, despite his reticence. From a rather impressive reaction from Governor Ifeanyi Ugwanyi, of Chukwu’s Enugu State; to Otedola’s noble intervention, the “Chairman” is in good hands.

But so too, should be Fregene, with Nigeria’s surplus compassionate hearts. To start with, Ifeanyi Okowa, governor of Delta State, Fregene’s home state, should show leadership in mobilising funds for the former goalkeeper. Then others, in and outside of sports, should join; for in his heyday, Fregene made all of us happy and proud. It is time therefore to pay back with our love.

Beyond compassion, however, the Nigerian state ought to set up a vibrant, comprehensive and affordable health care system. The starting point is turning our hospitals round, to fulfill their mandate of citizens’ wellness. Rather than scurrying abroad, Nigerians should basically be treated at home, except those rare cases needing extra specialist help. The current trend is a national disgrace that must stop.

But no less important is laying a viable and vibrant healthcare infrastructure. The scaffolding of such is already on: the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). What remains is effective implementation, and professional integrity of the whole gamut of health delivery workers, from the doctors to the most lowly support staff.  Also, with the insurance companies shorn of the notorious “Nigerian factor”, every premium holder should be able to access healthcare at affordable cost.

If the NHIS were running and well, not only national heroes like Chukwu and Fregene, but also the nameless and the helpless would access healthcare without much hassles. Then health-wise, the nameless would not be helpless. That is the way to go.

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