By Patrick Omorodion
Nigerian-born Canadian, Dr. Daniel Baraladei Igali left Nigeria unsung in 1994 to represent his country of birth at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada. He was spotted as a potential gold medallist in his sport, wrestling and was convinced to take up Canadian citizenship by the countryâ€™s sports administrators.
With the right grooming and preparation, he was nurtured into a world beater and went ahead to win everything there is in wrestling, from Olympics to World Championships and the Commonwealth Games.
Dr. Igali did not only stop there, he ent ahead to equip himself educationally and today he is a Ph.D holder in Criminology. This prompted him to establish a school in his native Eniware with the assistance of his friends and NGOs in Canada as well as the Bayelsa State Government.
All these may have endeared him to the Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Timipre Sylva who appointed him Special Envoy on Sports and Education.
On why his designation is Special Envoy, Igali said â€œI was appointed as the Special Envoy to the Governor of Bayelsa State (Chief Timipre Sylva) on Sports and Education in April of 2009. Why Special Envoy? To underpin the seriousness the governor attaches to those two critical sectors. Envoy means -Â messenger entrusted with important/critical assignments.â€
The governor, Dr. Igali said, wants to concentrate on these areas which he believes holds the answer to youths empowerment in the state.
Bayelsa produces the bulk of the countryâ€™s wrestlers to major championships around Africa and the world at large and as a result, Governor Sylva, Dr. Igali said, wants to begin with the hosting of a national wrestling tournament christened after him, Governor Sylva Wrestling Classic, holding in Yenagoa next week, precisely from December 14 to 19, as â€œa further attestation to his penchant for sports.â€
After the Wrestling Classic, Dr. Igali said, the governor intends to reward Bayelsa athletes who won medals at the National Sports Festival held in Kaduna early in the year.
The reward, he said, was lateÂ in coming as the governor was pre-occupied with other pressing state issues that bordered on security.
Igali, who is currently a volunteer coach with the National Sports Commission, NSC, handling the national team wrestlers but yet to tie up a contract even though he led them to a recent world championship in Denmark where one of them, Chioma Ihaenacho won a bronze medal in the 67kg class, the first time in the countryâ€™s history, hereunder tells the story of how Governor Sylva plans to make Bayelsa State, Nigeriaâ€™s Mecca of sports to the envy of the leading states, Delta and Edo.
â€œIn the area of sports, Bayelsa is undergoing a revolution of sorts. This year, our athletes to the National Sports Festival (Kada 2009) were 4th in the nation with about 38 gold medals.
For a state with our population and the current sporting infrastructure on ground, that is a phenomenal result! We have two professional teams in the Nigeria Premier league, which is unprecedented for a state of 13 years.
To add to that, the Bayelsa United football team won the Glo Premier League whish is another phenomenal result. We also have the Bayelsa Queens that are always winning the female league or competing for top honors consistently.
Not to forget the Ocean Boys who also won the league a couple of years back. In all, we are really doing very well in the field of sports and I would credit the governorâ€™s sponsorship of the sector with the sports revolution in the state.
Infrastructure: For our 13Â years of existence, we had never had a proper soccer pitch.
That has been corrected by the provision of synthetic turf, adjudged to be the best in the country in terms of the materials used in its construction.
Very shortly, tartan tracks will also be installed at the Samson Siasia Stadium and Bayelsa state will start competing for top honors in the sprints and track events, which should conceivably increase our medal haul at the Garden city 2010 National Sports Festival.
Plans are also underway to build a befitting wrestling stadium for the 15 time Bayelsa state national wrestling champions. Bayelsa wins a majority of its festival medals consistently from wrestling and the governor has made a commitment to providing the best wrestling gymnasium in Africa, so other African countries and indeed world teams can come to the state to train.
We are also looking at the construction of a multi purpose gymnasium to solve the current congestion in training spaces for the combat and individual sports. To that end, before long, weightlifting, karate, judo, boxing, kung-fu, taekwondo and lots of other sports will have adequate spaces for training and competition.
The governor has also intimated that athletes with disabilities would also be adequately catered for, so the current focus in Bayelsa state is on providing an environment where the seeming unproductive energies that engulfs young people is properly channeled in the areas of sports and recreation.
In the area of remuneration, many have complained that the governor has taken too long to do a proper reception ceremony for the Bayelsa contingent to Kada 2009 Sports Festival and also for the Bayelsa United football team that won the Glo Premier League, but I can assure you that it is a deliberate ploy by the governor to do it at his own time.
He did not want to belong to the bandwagon of governors who were hosting athletes week in week out. I can tell you authoritatively that His Excellency, Chief Timipre Sylva will give a befitting reception to all the athletes who have made Bayelsa proud.
It will be a fitting end to a year that has achieved tremendous results. The governor confided in me that now that we have gone past the era of militancy, which had to be solved before any meaningful project had to be accomplished, he will now receive our athletes in style, the Bayelsa way.
When? I will not give a definitive date, but I think it will be a befitting Xmas present to the patriotic Bayelsans who have been proudly flying our flag.
Igali went on to reveal that to make the revolution real, the governor has invited a Canadian chiropractic sports doctor, Wilbour Kelsic who has worked at series of Olympics with different Canadian teams to work on the stateâ€™s athletes.
â€œThe Governor has brought him into the country to work with our sports medicine department and sports administrators on new innovations in the area of sports medicine in sports. You can see a ripe corn by its look.
I can tell you that with the resolve of Chief Timipre Sylva, in the next 6-8 years, Bayelsa will not only be 4th in the nation at the national sports festival, but will compete effectively with the likes of Edo and Delta state for top honors. Ocean Boys and Bayelsa United will not only win the Globacom Premier League, but win continental titles.
Like the governor always says, we are looking forward to the years where we do not compare ourselves with the rest of Nigeria, but with the best in the world. Personally, as a world and Olympic champion, that is also my goal. Excellence at the highest level, but before we get to that level, we will strive to conveniently rule the Nigerian scene before spreading our tentacles on the world stage.
In education, we have identified that teacher retraining is key to the development of our educational system and institutions. To that end, we have enlisted the services of Professor Egbo from the University of Windsor in Canada to take inventory of what need to be done in terms of teacher re-training.
In the coming year, we are starting a three year teacher re-training initiative with leading experts in the field from the University of Windsor, the Ministry of Education Bayelsa State, Niger Delta University and other notable academics.
The Governor has also taken interest in the upgrade of school buildings and other facilities in the area of education which will be given priority next year.
We are also focused on ensuring that Bayelsa children are able to read and write before being admitted to Primary school, an initiative in that regard is also in the works with a test case of about ten schools for next year.
The governor is also very interested in ensuring that Bayelsa students compete at par or better than the best pupils and students in other parts of the country, so efforts are being intensified to ensure that we are competitive in a range of fronts in the field of education.
New schools are being built, Niger delta University is being groomed to be the best university we have in the country etc. Indeed Governor Timipre Sylva is the Read Deal,â€ Igali concluded confidently.