By Onochie Anibeze
It was a short but moving speech, one that made many flash back to the days when local sports commanded so much passion and made Nigerians proud of what they had.
Not many in the hall were below 40 years so Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan’s remarks touched them. He led the way, Austin Jay Jay, Victor Ikpeba and Davidson Owumi followed. How?
While inaugurating the Patrick Muoboghare committee to revive football in secondary schools in Delta State, Governor Uduaghan recalled, with nostalgia, the rivalry between schools decades ago and how stars emerged. He mentioned names that sprung from the Academicals competitions and how Principal’s Cup ignited excitement in not only schools but also many cities. When schools played, people moved to venues to watch them. Sometimes tension rose among rivals. Uduaghan was part of this and was emotional when he spoke. He spoke about Gria Cup and those who knew what he was talking about nodded. The MC, Pastor Powell thought he knew better and while recalling the rivalry between Hussey College, Urhobo College and Government College Ugheli, he left out Federal Government College, Warri.
The governor interrupted to correct him and everybody burst into laughter, appreciating the fact that the governor had a point but also noting his seeming protest that Powell forgot his school. He went to Government College, Warri, and interestingly engaged in sports too. He played soccer to some extent but he was more into tennis, a game he played so well that he was once in the state camp.
He still plays the game till date. Uduaghan wants a return to those days that sports thrilled in schools and local communities. Track and Field was also hot and Nigeria produced many top athletes, one of them being Seigha Porbeni who ran the 400m and the Hurdles like a Gazelle and also excelled in Javelin. Porbeni, an Ijaw man now 63, is in the committee to revive football in Delta State. Porbeni hopes that after football the next will be track and field and possibly two or three mores sports. I agree.
In that committee are names like Austin Jay Jay Okocha, Victor Ikpeba, John Omoghele and Davidson Owumi, all great names in Nigerian football. Amaju Pinnick, the state FA Chairman and Executive Chairman of the State Sports Commission, Richard Mofe Damijo, Ijeoma, the commissioner of youth, Harrison Ochulor, Gowon Akpadonor are all in this committee with onerous task to build back what had been destroyed by an ailing economy, change in values, corruption and unbelievable drop in standards of almost everything in the polity. And Uduaghan pointed out the irony when he noted that now football is a huge business globally Nigeria is lagging behind. With all humility I want to say that I’m a product of the late era governor Uduagha wished could be renewed. In my Government College Umuahia, we had four soccer pitches, tennis courts, basketball and volleyball courts. There was a cricket oval, hockey pitches and one standard track and field ground. And this was just one college. How times have changed. How standards have fallen. How moral, cultural and academic values have dropped. Pity.
While discussing the challenge of Uduaghan to the committee, Okocha, Ikpeba and Owumi recalled interesting stories of the past and wondered why sports died in secondary schools.
“We are all products of the school system. Our schools gave us the platform to play football and from there we grew,” Ikpeba said of the past and recalled when he enjoyed stories on Hussey College and Urhobo. He witnessed part of it and played good football in school.
“With so many sports activities in schools all we thought about was sports and not crime,” he said. Owumi concurred. Okocha even went to the extent of recalling how he earned money playing soccer in secondary school and how football helped him to pay school fees.
“N27 was my school fees and I remember I made between N200 to N300 from football. I was able to pay for my school fees from football. Now we don’t have football in secondary schools. We have a big job to start everything again and we shall be on it,” Okocha said. The governor has challenged the committee and the members have appreciated one point. The governor is doing his second term in office and he is driving what is dear to him, a legacy he wants to leave behind. It has no political inclination.
It is a job to lift the people of Delta and Nigerians and he is passionate about him. This has not, in any way, surprised me. Uduaghan has always had passion for sports and he believes sports can engage thousands of youths. “Sports makes one healthy, prevents some diseases and has turned into such a big industry that cannot be ignored,” he says.
On good authority, the first interview this man granted to indicate interest in the governorship race in Delta was while discussing sports and how to use it to improve the lots of the people. So, one can argue that he started with sports, branched into other areas and now he is returning to sports in his own special way. Uduaghan is on course and he has my vote, sorry, support for he is not going for a third term.