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Shittu: Crippled by polio, rescued by sports


Having been crippled at an early age, Musibau Shittu has surmounted the odds to become one of Nigeria’s best wheelchair basketball players, writes IDRIS ADESINA

Poliomyelitis has long been ravaging millions of children in Nigeria, turning many of them to street beggars.

The infectious disease has rendered many hopeless, making them hardly unable to make any meaningful impact in the society.

However, not all the victims of this disease have given up hope in life; some have carved a niche for themselves in their chosen careers, rather than resort to begging to earn a living.

One of such is Nigeria’s wheelchair basketball national team player, Musibau Shittu. Though smallish in stature, Shittu has shown he has a big heart to surmount the challenges life has thrown at him with his disability.

Indeed, he has turned his disability to ability. Thus when the 30-year-old emerged the Most Valuable Player of the male event of the recently concluded 2014 Victor Ochei International Wheelchair Basketball tournament, it didn’t come as a surprise to those that had followed his progress over the years.

Growing up, Shittu found himself the only physically challenged person among his parents’ six children but he didn’t know the fate of the physically challenged in the society because his parents took good care of him and showed him love.

But tragedy struck: his father died and life’s reality dawned on him. First sign that things were going to be rough was when he could not further his education beyond the secondary school level, because his mother could hardly fend for the six of them.

“I was born with a silver spoon, but later my family encountered problems when my father died. It affected me a lot because I couldn’t study further after my Senior School Certificate Examination. Things were difficult for us; it was only my mum taking care of us,” Shittu said.

As such, he had to fend for himself early in life. After several unsuccessful attempts at other ventures, Shittu set his sights on sports in 2002, first with wheelchair table tennis, then wheelchair tennis, before opting for wheelchair basketball.

Initially, he thought he would meet a level-playing field but he was shocked to discover the discrimination between physically challenged sportsmen and their able-bodied counterparts. He was to discover that he had just embarked on a journey of no return, but he soldiered on.

 “Discrimination against physically challenged people is a normal thing in Nigeria. But it doesn’t bother me because I always tell them that I am better than some people with legs. Where some able-bodied men haven’t been, I’ve been there; what they have not been able to do, I have done. So, discrimination comes, but it doesn’t bother or discourage me. I rather see it as a way to forge ahead and do more so that I can prove myself to them,” he stated.

“I see myself as a man of challenges. Anything I do in life, I always try to be the best and even if I am not the overall best, I try to be among the best. When I started here (National Stadium, Lagos), I played table tennis; I also played tennis. But I chose wheelchair basketball because I want to diversify.”

Today, he is one of the best wheelchair basketball players in West Africa, having proved his worth at the Ochei competition, which had teams from Benin Republic and Ghana in attendance.

Shittu’s dazzling displays helped Team Oyo win the men’s event of the competition. His efforts were crowned with the tournament’s MVP award.

But he said he was focused on helping his team win the competition rather than on personal glory.

 “It (MVP award) came as a surprise. Being the MVP is not about personal achievement, it is about your contribution to the success of the team. So, the more you contribute to the team, the more people look at you as the best player in the team and the tournament.

“I feel great but it’s not about me, it’s about my team. So, I feel the MVP award is for the entire team.”

He first earned a call-up to the national wheelchair basketball team in 2007 and has justified his inclusion in the team by playing in seven international competitions.

“In 2012, we won the silver medal in a competition in South Africa, but since then, we have not been able to win anything. At the last African Championship, we were rated the best team of the tournament despite coming fourth,” he added.

But the father of two believes the sport will improve if a league was established for wheelchair basketball players, just like there are national basketball leagues for the able-bodied men and women.

He said, “A league is good for the game because it is the only way wheelchair basketball can grow in the country. We have the Victor Ochei Wheelchair Basketball Championship, which is good, but the league will bring out the other good players we have.

“We have only one tournament in a year and players prepare for it around December and January. After that, everyone goes to sleep again. It is only people in Lagos that have the opportunity of coming to the stadium to train and play among their friends. But when we have a league, it will be a different ball game because you will play home and away games, thereby developing facilities and players for the good of the game.”

Aside eyeing a professional move abroad, the dream of the ambitious basketball player is also to represent his country at the Paralympics.

“We have foreign-based players in the national team and they bring a lot of experience to the team. If  I get a contract to play abroad, I will go for it. I will go for trials soon.

 “In the next four years, I want to be a professional basketball player. I want to play wheelchair basketball at the highest level, which is the Paralympic Games. It is the dream of every player to play there,” he added.

 Interestingly, Shittu has instilled the winning attitude in his wife, Foluke, an undergraduate of the Lagos State Polytechnic, who won the MVP of the female event of the competition.

Sports brought the couple together and Shittu said it hasn’t affected their home ever since.

 “We have a schedule of how we run things with the kids. We started out as friends in 2007 and we got married in 2009.”

At the moment, Shittu is contented with “the little I make playing games and competitions because I can manage with my family.”

Even though polio made him stop his education abruptly, Shittu has not given up on continuing his education at tertiary level.

“I will still go back to school when I have made it, because I really want to be educated,” he said.

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