When Peacemaker Azuegbulam suffered life-changing injuries while serving Nigeria in combat, little did he know that three years later he would be wearing a gold medal around his neck.
He was part of Nigeria’s delegation at the 2023 Invictus Games in Dusseldorf – the first time an African nation had participated.
The event for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women was set up in 2014 by Prince Harry and this year hosted more than 500 competitors from 21 nations.
Invictus is a Latin word that translates as “undefeated” or “unconquerable” and is the name of a poem often recited by Nelson Mandela. Azuegbulam can now also see the power in its meaning.
“I feel so good. I feel great. I feel powerful because I’m the first one [African Invictus medalist]”, the single-leg amputee told the BBC’s Focus On Africa podcast.
For the 27-year-old, winning powerlifting gold in the 69kg category was a massive moment.
“I made my country proud. I made Africa proud. I made the armed forces of Nigeria proud.
“Everybody keeps on congratulating me for making them proud and for putting a smile on their face.
“And for me to let the world know that there is an ability in disability. With my injury, I still made it.”
After all that has happened, Azuegbulam maintains he has no regrets about choosing to serve his country.
“I got my injury in a place called Maiduguri, fighting Boko Haram. That was my service to the country and I do what my country wants me to do as a soldier. It is my duty.”
Africa’s Invictus Games debut
Nigeria’s participation at Invictus 2023 was the brainchild of Derrick Cobbinah, a veteran of the British Army who acts as a voice for former British soldiers living in Ghana.
His efforts earned him recognition from Prince Harry, with a 10-strong team attending this year’s event.
“Two years ago, we started working on bringing in Nigeria as the first African country,” Cobbinah says.
“It hadn’t been easy because sports recovery is a new thing in Africa. Using the power of sports to help wounded and injured servicemen and women to recover has never been done.
“Nigeria was actually the first country that accepted to be part of the Invictus Games.”
Meghan’s Nigerian roots
Among those supporting the Nigerian team in Dusseldorf was the Duchess of Sussex, who recently explained how genealogy tests had revealed she is 43% Nigerian.
The pair were regularly seen with Nigeria fans at the event which finished on Sunday, with Cobbinah also pictured with Meghan.
Having seen up close the impact of such star power, he says the next aim is to improve facilities for ex-service personnel across the continent.
“There have been a lot of challenges as the infrastructure we have in Africa is not very disability friendly.
“Also, Africa as a continent – and our military – do not have the infrastructure for these wounded servicemen and women.
“It has been about going around making sure that we have the right facilities in place to help them train to get here – that’s been one of the main challenges.
“The Nigerian chief of defence staff has been amazing, making sure we now have something in place to help these guys achieve their dream.”
The power of Invictus
Azuegbulam says the Invictus Games proved to be about much more than winning gold.
“It facilitated my recovery. It’s made me feel so nice that I stopped minding the injury I had.
“I conquered. It means a lot to me because I do things that I thought I can’t do again.
“It’s put a smile on my face. It’ll make me physically fit, mentally and spiritually fit.”
And he believes other African nations should now follow Nigeria’s lead and make their own bid for Invictus glory.
“Of course, because I’m able to represent my country, not only in powerlifting but many other games. So I would like to meet some other persons from around the country and from Africa.”