By Larry Nwaiwu
PEOPLE of Anambra State, both young and old are today in the mood of celebration for an illustrious son, an achiever, an astute sports promoter, a former ace footballer and governor of the state, Chief Willie Obiano on his 63rd birthday.
In all parts of Anambra State, cups are clicking and champagne bottles are being popped in honour of someone who has within four and half years in office, changed the economy, security situation, political landscape, youth and sports development and all facets of life of the people. To say that ndi Anambra are in celebration mood is an understatement. As he has left his footprints in all aspects of the people’s life, so he has done in the area of sports and youth development.
Before the coming to office of Governor Willie Obiano, sports in Anambra State was almost in a state of comatose; which led to the exit of notable sports men and women of the state origin to other states of the federation for the proverbial greener pasture. During those years of mass exodus of sports personalities from the state, Anambra became a veritable poaching ground for other states of the federation.
There was no state in the federation where you will not find an Anambra person competing and winning laurels for them.
The ugly situation led to a total erosion of all the gains made by the state in the field of sports over the years through the likes of Innocent Egbunike, Mary Onyali – Omagbemi, Emmanuel Okala, Uchenna Emedolu to mention but a few.
Today, the story has changed. On assumption of office, Governor Obiano made a clarion call to all sportsmen and women of Anambra State origin to come home and contribute their quota for the development of sports and youth of the state. He put up some mouth watering welfare packages which lured almost all of them back home. That singular act of Akpokuodike changed the face of sports in Anambra and performances of the states athletics in national and international sporting events.
Governor Obiano, who was a notable footballer during his secondary school days at the popular CKS, Onitsha, also brought back home some ex-athletes who had made their marks at the global level to join in the task of discovering and training younger athletes for the state. The likes of Uchenna Emedolu, Mary Onyali – Omagbemi Arthur Ebunam, etc joined the fray and the result is the better performances of Anambra athletes at National and International competitions in recent time.
One could remember the African Wrestling Contest in Gaborone, Boswana where Anambra wrestlers cleared almost all the medals at stake. It was the same thing at the National Championship in Warri.
It is on record that Obiano’s administration is the first, in the whole of the South East to sponsor the International Athletics Federations (IAAF) Golden League Athletics Competition which attracted over 400 local and international athletes to the state.
The championship however served as dress rehearsal for the country’s athletes for the Rio Olympics and other international competitions. The zone III of the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports Development has not stopped thanking Anambra State Government, under Chief Obiano for coming to their rescue when they wanted a sponsor and host for the Zonal Volleyball Championship, hosted at Rojenny Sports Complex, Oba. Anambra is also the first state in the South East to do so.
. Private sports facilities owners had also benefited from Governor Obiano’s sports development drives. For instance, the governor doled out millions of naira to renovate the Rojenny Sports Complex, Oba and also laid modern tartan tracks at the complex. The sports centre owned by Chief Rommy Ezeonwuka, an indigene of the state and a private sports developer hosted many international sporting competition with the assistance from the state government.
Apart from the physical aspect of youth and sports development, Anambra State Government, under Governor Obiano, has put in place policies and programmes aimed at giving sports and youth development a front seat in his developmental programmes and policies. For instance, the emergence of Ministry of Youth Empowerment and Creative Economy has been considered a panacea for genuine youth development by experts and knowledgeable individuals in the field.
Also, the creation of Anambra State Sports Commission has also received accolades from many individuals across the country. According to Chief Sunday Okoye, a sports enthusiast and businessman, the emergence of the sports commission would have a direct effect on sports development in the state.
Chief Okoye told our correspondent during a recent interview thus: “I think creating a separate commission for sports is a step in the right direction. It will foster faster decision making process in the managing of sports in the state. Sports is very dynamic and need faster decision making. Subjecting it to the civil service bureaucracy hinders the progress of our athletes. Now that a commission is in place, decisions will be quick and accurate” .
He also commended the governor for the caliber of people that made up the commission, stressing that with such proven personalities at the helm of affairs, sports in Anambra will fare better. The Enugu-Ukwu born sports lover singled out the appointment of an illustrious son of the state, Chief Donatus Agu-Ejidike as the chairman of the state karate federation for mention and said that it was like placing a round peg in a round hole. According to him, the karate federation boss who is the current Nigeria’s Pillar of Sports and having worked at both federal and state levels in the development of sports, he would use his wealth of experience to develop sports in the state.
He called for the inauguration of the sports commission board without further delay, pointing out that the board needs to go into action immediately since the severally postponed National Sports Commission is now around the corner. “I know Anambra has the wherewithal to come up tops during the festival if we start preparations early”, he reasoned. It is a general belief that like in the other sectors, Governor Obiano had performed well in sports development and the citizenry has every reason to celebrate him during his birthday.
The youth and football lovers in the state are pleading with the governor for formation of a state owned football club and completion of the Awka stadium.
It is also in their request sheet is the construction of mini- stadia in the three Senatorial Districts of the state to facilitate sports development.
Chief Okoye is not alone in these commendations galore for Governor Obiano over his contributions aimed at returning Anambra state to her former place of glory in the sporting map of the country. Former footballer, Jude Iloh, who spoke to our correspondent in a separate interview praised the governor for his contributions to sports and youth development, particularly the entrepreneurship aspect of youth development which enables the youth in the state to acquire skills that would help them to be on their own after retiring from active participation in sports or in the case of injuries that may force them to premature retirement.
According to him, the policy is a new innovation in sports and youth development which both the federal and other state governments must copy to ensure the future of Nigerian youth.
Mr. Iloh however, urged the governor to do more by tackling the dearth of sporting facilities in the state by building a befitting stadium at Awka and mini’s stadia in the three senatorial districts of the state.
“I am aware of the economic difficulties in the country and the lean resources of the state emanating from poor returns from the federation account, but I know Akpokuodike can always do more in that regard as he had done in the past. If he does that, he would set Anambra on the past of sporting excellence” he stated.
He supported the idea of setting up a sports commission to replace the state ministry of sports, pointing out that sports strived in the country when there was the National Sports Commission than the present time when there is the Federal Ministry of Sports and Youth Development. The former Nasarawa United Player believed that the same scenario will play out in the state when the sport commission comes fully into operation.
One thing is clear from all the facts above, Obiano deserves all the accolades being bestowed on him by ndi Anambra and lovers of good governance all over the country and beyond.
It is good that ndi Anambra are celebrating one of their own today, a man with an enviable track record of achievements in all facets of the state’s economy. So, let the cups keep clicking for Akpokuodike at 63.
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