By Paul Bassey
At the last Delta State Challenge Cup, I had the privilege of being honoured by the Delta State FA as a contributor to the development of football in Nigeria.
It was while I was there , that I heard about plans to immortalize Patrick Okpomo through the naming of the planned Delta State Football Secretariat after him. Like every thing Nigerian, I decided not to get excited, preferring to “siddon look.”
On Thursday September 11, I counted myself privileged to be part of a project that is a rarity in our climes. When I came back from Zambia three weeks ago as a member of the CAF Inspection team to the five countries bidding to host the CAF Nations Cup in 2019 and 2021, I wrote about the need to get our state football associations functioning. I decried a situation where State FA’S were subservient to football clubs and the LMC paid State FAs N5000 to “organize” matches and chairmen and State FA members only surfaced on match days to watch matches and disappeared.
In my column published in the Vanguard of July 26 2014, I wrote in part: “…….Perhaps more fundamental to this whole drama is the development of the game in Nigeria. In an earlier charge against the Maigari administration, funding of grassroot football was said to be neglected. State football chairmen should bow their heads in shame. I can count on the fingers of one hand, chairmen who even understand what football management is all about, who are conversant with the rules and regulations governing the sport.
“In Congo DR, I came across one of our chairmen who was made the leader of delegation of a Nigerian team. He cut a sorry sight as he knew nothing of the rules and regulations of the CAF Confederation Cup. For him, the primary thing was the travelling, the hotel suite, the car and the state box seat reserved for the leader of delegation.
“Perhaps I am expecting too much. Back home, how many of them know about the rules and regulations of the various leagues, the Federation Cup……..how many of them have attracted sponsorship to their state football programs outside the Governor’s Cup that they expect funding to come from Government house? Football must strive from the states……”
When I arrived Asaba, someone drew my attention to that piece and challenged me to apologise. When I was given the opportunity to make a remark, I said my article said “…..I could count on the fingers of one hand….”
On Thursday, Mr Pinnick Melvin Amaju and his colleagues in Delta FA stood up to be counted among the very few that have justified the mandate of their people. The Okpomo Football House, as they will not be tired to tell you, is a hundred percent private sector driven initiative even in a state where Governor Uduaghan has given sports personal and maximum attention to the advantage of youths and Nigeria.
I can therefore imagine the joy of the Nigerian football community, when Amaju signified interest at the Presidency of the Nigeria Football Federation. Given the quality of invitees that graced the occasion, led by the Director General of the National Sports Commission, Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye and the President of the Nigeria Football Association Alhaji Aminu Maigari, his First Vice President Mike Umeh, five NFF Executive Committee members and over 13 State FA Chairmen, you may be tempted to dismiss the timing of the opening of the Okpomo House by Amaju Melvin Pinnick as a political ploy aimed at boosting his presidential ambition.
That assumption may however not be very fair to a young man who over the years, before he even dreamt of taking his savvy to the national level, has been a shining example of an amiable and goal getting football administrator, one who will forever be grateful to those who put him through the mill, men like Patrick Okpomo, Eddington Kuejubola, Solomon Ogba and Dere Otubu, to mention a few.
Delta State FA under Amaju has an enviable and unmatchable record when it comes to capacity-building for its staff and officials, youth football development and above all a private sponsorship initiative that is exemplary. Presently, Delta FA has over 23 companies sponsoring its various youth and development programmes including such top-notch companies like Zenith, Ecobank, Skye, FCMB and Main Street banks. Others are Staco, Arco, Tomba Resources, Ulo Consultants, Senforce Insurance, Dav Notch Nigeria Limited, Brownhill Investments, Veltrop Limited…….
Before I sound like a Public Relations Consultant for Delta FA, how can one ignore the fact that the over N200m used to erect the magnificent state of the art edifice in honour of Nigeria’s foremost football administrator Patrick Okpomo was sourced hundred percent from the private sector, with Zenith Bank throwing in the Lion share of N80m.
I said in Asaba that FIFA nad CAF will be glad to hear about this and other projects that are a prototype of their football for hope programmes, corporate social responsibility, Football as a means of social development, one that leaves a positive impression long after we have gone, financially sustainable.
I will not forget that Thursday belonged to Patrick Okpomo. I travelled with his loving wife Mary from Lagos and it brought back memories of our glorious days at CAF…..Nations Cup 2000, when CAF openly wondered why Nigeria was not fielding him for Executive Committee position, to that day ten years ago when on his sick bed he declined a FIFA appointment and his wife exclaimed “ …For him to turn down an opportunity to go and serve football then he is truly ill…..” . He died.
On Thursday, he loomed larger than life, resurrected by a befitting monument that will outlive us, one that will continue to tell the story of his greatness, even as his wife in tears recalled the N m debt owed him by “ the country he served meritoriously till death…..” and thanked Pinnick Amaju and Delta FA for this “very rare honour”.
I should be forgiven for refusing to say anything on the death of coach Ntiero Effiom, one of the greatest Women football coaches in Nigeria. In Asaba, chairman of the Cross River State FA Oswald Otuake said “ he died”. And I said “ just like that” he said “ just like that”
Still waiting to hear on the death of a man who in July, told me he still had a lot to offer women football in the country and wanted my cooperation to realize that dream.
Since this is the first time I am writing since the burial of my junior brother George, I seize this opportunity to reach all those I have not been able to, thanking them sincerely for their support and prayers to me and my grieving family. God has been our comforter.
See you next week.