Empowering The Youths Through Sports: The Bayelsa Example

Bayelsa State Governor’s Football Tournament tagged the “Prosperity Cup” has in the last five years continued to be an accord of unity among grassroots players, coaches and communities in the State. The initiative which was conceived by the former Governor of Bayelsa State Senator Henry Seriake Dickson has helped the Prosperity administration to stimulate youth empowerment and enhance overall grassroots development, promoting inter-communal interaction, peace and unity in the state.

Prosperity Cup formerly known as Restoration Cup started in 2015 with 110 teams as Ewoama FC of Brass LGA emerged champions.

It was an edition that produced Okardi Inikurogha as the most valuable player who is currently plying his trade in France with Grenoble FC after helping Bayelsa United to win the AITEO Cup in 2021.

Nigeria’s biggest grassroots football tournament in the just concluded edition had 214 teams, 133 communities and 89 institutions across the State with 24 centers within Bayelsa.The most exciting aspect of the tournament was that matches were played in the entire state across the eight Local Government Areas till the money spinning stage that saw teams travel to Yenagoa to execute their matches.

A fulfilled Director-General of Bayelsa State Governor’s Football Tournament christened the “Prosperity Cup”, Mr. Ono Akpe in a special interview with Hananeel Jackson recounts the successes recorded in the tournament.

What are the successes recorded by the program?”I want to thank the Almighty God first and foremost for making it possible for us to host this edition successfully without any incidents, no challenges, no major health concerns or accidents, players travelled to and fro, officials travelled, referees and coaches travelled through the length and breadth of the state and we didn’t record anything that gave us cause for concern. We must thank God for that””We travelled on land, we travelled on water but luckily because of the huge construction work going in the Southern Ijaw, Ekeremor and Sagbama axis, we covered less distance on water than by road to some of the communities, so it made the job and task easier”Mr. Akpe equally thanked the Governor, Senator Douye Diri and his Deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrujadkpo for the massive support and thoroughness in seeing to the positive outcome of the tournament, expressing gratitude to the Commissioner for Youth and Sports Development, Hon Daniel Igali for the support and sponsorship.

The youths of Bayelsa are quite happy with this tournament. Every year they look up to the tournament because it actively engages them for almost 4 to 6 months in a year. The players, coaches , administrators eagerly yearn for the commencement of the tournament every year. This is quite pleasing.

On Publicity, he noted that he was happy with the publicity of Nigeria’s biggest grassroots football tournament from both local and international media, describing this year’s edition as massive. “We have always had a partnership with the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria.”This tournament was indeed celebrated by local, national and international media as the largest grassroots football tournament in Nigeria not just only in Nigeria but Africa with that you know that it takes a lot to put it together. We had initially 22 centers, we added two extra centers due to issues, meaning we had 24 officials coordinating, imagine the enormity of the task and these centers were not in one location but they were in 24 different locations across the length and breadth of the State.It was very challenging to coordinate in every center. We had four referees assigned to each match to ensure that officiating was in order; it was really a challenging task. I thank God we were able to scale through because of the team working together; coaches, we had physiotherapists and medical teams that made sure whenever there was a problem it was handled expeditiously.””Therefore I must say the entire organogram was structured and efficient because we have a team that has done this for years as well as those who have national league experience over the years.”We had 214 teams spread across the length and breadth of the State. We had more in Yenagoa, we had church teams, community teams, non-indigene teams, organization teams and all. One of the things that excited me a lot is that we had amongst the Non native teams like the Northern Strikers FC, Ohaneze FC, Oduduwa FC and Shegbelegbe FC that represented the tribes in Nigeria more or less.””The non-native clubs were made up of Nigerians resident and doing business in Bayelsa and so gathered to form these teams and it was exciting. The first day I watched the Northern Strikers, they really impressed me but unfortunately they did not qualify from their group but they played good football.””Interestingly, the non-native teams were well received, well treated so that is another joy, the fact that the program engendered unity, love, harmony and was seamless.

Any Possibility of Having More Teams ? Going by this year’s positive turnout, the Director-General asserted that the tournament will witness more teams in the next edition, stating that he was satisfied with the level of transparency displayed in the tournament coupled with less appeals and complaints from teams.”It is not just the aspect of the organizers, it is a fact that people are more excited about the tournament, that it is real, the prizes are real, there is transparency in the organization, transparency in the officiating, no predetermined winner or loser. There was a level playing ground for all teams, this year we had fewer number of appeals than we’ve had in the tournament prior. That’s another great achievement because a lot of teams adhered to the rules of the game that once you have played professional football you will not be allowed to play, however amateur league players not playing in the current season were allowed to play, so we had less protest for fielding ineligible players.””We had some challenges with officiating in a couple of games but we were very swift in our decisions and we came down hard on officials. We ensured that affected officials did not officiate again but some appealed that their act was just an error in judgment which could happen to anyone but in spite of that we were firm in our decision and it was good because we saw improved officiating in the tournament and we must thank God that everything worked out well. So, given all of this we envisage that we may be having 250 teams in the next edition because it is quite an interesting tournament.””As I told the Governor, we had one situation where a team was coming from Abraka, Delta State to play but luckily they were spotted and stopped. For the fact that tournament is for Bayelsans and those who live in Bayelsa, if you are a non-native living in Bayelsa you are qualified but you cannot form a team from Delta State, Akwa Ibom, Imo, Rivers State to participate in the tournament. May be later we can have an invitational part where we can invite teams outside to play.

What about organizing training programs for Referees and Coaches before the next edition ?Mr. Akpe said before the commencement of the 2024 edition, the LOC is going to organize a program to train referees and coaches in order for them to be abreast with contemporary trends, saying that officiating remains the focal point for good tournaments.”We had initially planned to have a training program for referees even before the last edition but unfortunately we were scared of the weather because the state had earlier held the Access Bank Prosperity Unity Games, so we had to wait for the Games to end before we commenced. But this time around, before we start we have decided to have a refresher course program for the coaches, not just coaches but also referees. we are supporting them always, so next year they are going for refresher courses before the tournament starts, and with this program the rules of the game would be clearly explained even to the coaches because you hear coaches agitating and complaining because they don’t understand the rules, the game changes everyday. We need our coaches and referees to understand that so they pass it to their players too. I believe before the tournament starts we are going to start refresher courses for the coaches, players and referees to be in line with modern techniques, rules and regulations.

Your take on the Final between Crusaders Feeders FC and De Grace FC ? The DG was glad that the President of the Nigeria Football Federation NFF, Ibrahim Gusau was excited with the quality of football on display in the Final, likening it to a league game, and applauded Crusaders Feeders FC and De Grace FC for giving their best.According to him, the quality of football displayed in the final was indicative of the level of growth witnessed in the tournament describing it as the best final so far.”On the grand final few weeks ago, we witnessed unbelievable football that even the NFF President Ibrahim Gusau was so excited he thought he was watching a professional match. These young talents from Crusaders Feeders FC and De Grace FC of Yenagoa, gave a good account of themselves with their display of exciting football. We actually had very good teams in the tournament but of course they did not make it to the final. One of the beautiful things is that the level of football has developed considerably, four years ago the level of football was not like this, last year when we had those foreign coaches they did not see the quality of players we are seeing today,” he explained.”So the teams are improving every day, what our tournament is doing is that it is equally improving the coaches, they are now going back to the drawing board and using modern techniques as well. I saw a coach with a board chart during the tournament and I was impressed, coaches are now doing serious research, the FA, the technical committee, the LOC are reviewing the rules regularly as well. This year we are going to have a technical committee to review the rules, the quality of football administration is improving in Bayelsa every year, the quality of football as well is improving and young lads are preparing round the clock across the state for the tournament.”

On the Introduction of Women’s and Para soccer versions ?”This year we introduced two aspects of the tournament, we introduced the women’s edition ; interestingly this kicked off at the peak of Women’s World Cup but due to time constraints, we registered only four teams. Next year, we are going to throw it open for more teams to register, we equally made it easy for them without any form of registration fees, I was marveled by the dexterity of the girls.””We equally had a Para soccer edition with two teams because we don’t have much Para athletes in the State but we will make it an invitational tournament next year for Para soccer teams in the region to participate.”The Governor was so impressed with the women’s competition and wondered how we were able to carry it out. He remarked that the women players as seen in the world cup and in the tournament are as skillful as male footballers.

Any Consideration of Having Two Segments of the Tournament ?”There is a consideration to have an age grade tournament for players within the age bracket of 12 and 15 years with the help of sponsors, but some of the objectives of the tournament which brings inter communal relations and unity among communities would be defeated if it is restricted.”There is a strong consideration to have the age grade tournament. The age grade can start first within the age 12 years to 15 years if we can get the support from the corporate organization and the multinational oil companies in the state, but you see when it is age grade it defeats some of the objectives of the tournament which brings inter communal relationships and unity among communities, if we restrict it to age grade it reduces a lot of participation.”

“Finally, let me once again thank His Excellency Senator Douye Diri, I need to thank him as well for graciously approving the construction of playing pitches in the State. At the final closing ceremony, he announced that ten mini stadia would be built for teams to have good surfaces to play in the next edition.”Everton Academy: Revelation of Tournament. He praised Everton Academy of Ikolo for their doggedness and commitment that saw them get to the round of sixteen, describing the Ikolo side as a tournament discovery team following their performance against much bigger opponents.”The governor was excited on the final day when he presented pairs of boots to the young lads, he gave them a cash reward of Three Hundred Thousand Naira and other Nigerians who witnessed the ceremony and saw the age of the boys gave cash gifts to them, this was one of our greatest achievements in this tournament.””I must tell you seeing these boys as young as thirteen to fifteen years engaging much older counterparts and beating them gave me joy. These are some of the progresses made in this tournament that was a plus for us.””214 teams participated, about 600 goals were scored excluding those from penalty shootouts. It was quite impressive, the highest goal scorer, Junior Christopher scored twelve goals, we have an MVP who has already been looked out for by scouts. This is the beauty of the tournament where you can see stars excel within and beyond.”

On sponsorship, he appealed to multinational oil companies and other well spirited Bayelsans to join hands with the government to promote sports development in the state, stressing that the government cannot do it alone.

On Sports Development in the State, he said the cardinal objective of the prosperity government was the pursuit of youth development through initiatives that empower and create jobs as a launch pad for national development to empower and unify the citizens of the state. “This is indeed highly commendable.Thus due to the commitment and passion of the State Governor, Senator Douye Diri, his deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo and of course the Commissioner for Youth Sports and Development, Daniel Igali, they have been able to transform the landscape of sports and youth development in the state. The youths of the state have been positively engaged in various sporting activities from athletics, scrabble, table tennis, wrestling, basketball and of course football all year round. From Bayelsa United and Bayelsa Queens who made history by winning the AITEO Cup in the same year, the 7 time Milo National Basketball Champions, St Judes’ Girls Secondary School Amarata, placing 3rd and 2nd consecutively at the National Sports festival, the state has excelled greatly under the Prosperity Government. Other programmes the governor has propelled include the Governor Douye Diri National Wrestling Classic, National Scrabble Championship, The Unity Games for all Local Government Councils and of course the Bayelsa Governors Football Tournament popularly referred to as “Prosperity Cup”.