In this chat, Special Assistant to Delta State Governor on Sports HON. LUCKY SUNDAY NKEKI got drilled by Journalists on the HOT SEAT of the NIGERIA SPORTS CENTRE platform anchored by AKEEM BUSARI. The Ex-International Cum board member of the Delta State Football Association who has a knack for quality Sports development talks on the challenges, achievements and plans for grassroots Sports development in the state that would boost Nigeria’s image at the global sports world. JOSEPH ODOEKWU of Sports Intelligence Magazine shares the excerpts.
Post Covid-19 Sports programme
First we have a template in Delta State; we are going to continue from where we stopped before the pandemic started. We were supposed to host the Nigeria vs Sierre Leone match in Asaba. After that, we face the National Sports Festival as defending champions. We also have the Principal’s Cup in Delta State and the Head Masters Cup game is in motion. Our template will guide us once the pandemic is over.
Achievement so far as SA to governor
First, I will not really say I have achieved much. I am a grassroots man and was born and brought up in Ajegunle, where we try to hustle and make ends meet. Since coming to Delta State, we have been able to revive a lot of competitions, and not just reviving them we have gotten sponsors for them. The Principal Cup is now been sponsored by Zenith Bank. We revived the Primary School competitions which we named the Head Masters Cup. We also revived the school sports festival which had been in existence before but for the past eight years it was not played. The Schools inter-house sports have not been functional and we were also able to bring it back. I personally go round to ensure talents are discovered and it has not been easy. But the government has been trying, ensuring that we move around to the various local governments in the state. In addition, I am the initiator of the Senator Kowa annual youth football tournament. We are going to have the 11th edition this year and it is basically for youth and it’s also under my table. So far we have been able to discover a lot of players for Warri Wolves.
Still on your Achievement as SA what next
This year we are going to have the female version of the Senator Kowa football tournament. It has been helping keeping the state busy and we need to carry the females along. we start the competition in October and it ends in December. We have had coaching seminars, tennis clinic and several others. I really do not want to sing my praises but as SA we have done so much. Again, we are planning for the higher institution festival and higher institution league, this will involve the private and state universities, college of education, Polytechnics and so much is on ground. We still have so much programmes in the years ahead and they are all youth oriented programmes.
On Zenith Bank Principal Cup
I will like to go back through memory lane. We have had three editions of the Delta State Principal’s Cup, and I can tell you that most of these kids are in junior secondary schools. There is a guideline for the competition, it is for JSS 1-3 and SSS 1-2. This is because SS3 will concentrate on their WAEC. Most of the players we discovered in previous Zenith Bank Principal’s Cup are in the University now. They are playing for the Delta State University Abraka. Some are in other Universities and we have one Ndukwe in Canada, and others in Ogwashi Ukwu Poly. What we are doing is not just football alone, we try to make them combine football with education and that is what we are basically doing. Don’t forget that the owner of Zenith Bank Mr. Jim Ovia has a school in Agbor, who has also given scholarships to eight of the talents discovered and with intention to further on their education. They are in James Hope College in Agbor and they are doing very well. We are monitoring them through the office of the SA to the governor on Sports which happens to be my office. So the talents we are discovering are been properly harnessed. We don’t just want them to play and forget their education, we want them to combine their education with sports because we have discovered that 90% of Nigerian footballers are not educated. Again, on the U-17 issue, most of these players have been invited before the pandemic broke out, but I will not release their names for now for certain reasons. But you can be rest assured that most of them will make the age-grade teams, I can assure you that.
Comparing the China 1985 U-17 Squad that had 10 out of the Starting 11 from the old Bendel State With today’s current squad selection
Till date, we are not relenting. The present Super Eagles team still has a lot of Delta in it. Ndidi Wilfred is from Umunede and a good number of them. I might not be able to recap their names, but Delta State Sports is growing. Delta have won the past four editions of the National Sports Festival in a row and If not for this pandemic that disrupted the Edo 2020 National Sports Festival, we would have won it again. We have always been winning the Youth Sports Festival in Ilorin Kwara State, we have won it four times also. The Youth Games in Ilorin have become our birth right because we have a programme in Delta that turn out all these talents. The programme named School Sports Festival is for secondary and primary schools in Delta State. We just finished the secondary schools edition before the Covid-19 pandemic started and it was very successful, as a lot of athletes were discovered. The school sports festival is exclusively for athletics, football is not part of it. This is because the Zenith Bank Principal Cup and Headmasters Cup is taking care of football. The future is bright and Delta State will still maintain its pride as a state for grassroots Sports development.
On Scrapping off of Delta Force By Delta State Government
The NFF stated that each state should not have more than one professional club playing in the league. Delta has Warri Wolves, in the Nigeria Professional League before Delta Force. We sat down and looked at the merits and demerits of having two teams and we finally agreed to have just one team. In doing this we had to look at a team that has a broad base appeal, well rooted and larger fans. On this note we settled for Warri Wolves. They are currently doing well and have played several continental competitions, they have also produced a lot of players for the national team and they have become a brand for Delta State. So in essence, what we have been able to do is to adopt a policy that would be okay for the government. It was a government policy decision. In fact, it was a good financial policy for the state also.
Any Plans for replacement of Blessing Okagbare and others With Younger Athletes
In the next three to four years, a lot of big names will emerge. During the Sports festivals that just ended in February before the pandemic broke out, we were able to discover more than 25 athletes. But you know, we try not to expose these children too quickly because most of them are in secondary schools. We want them to still remain in school and that is why the government is giving them scholarships. Those in University are also been taken care of by the government. We don’t want them to joke with their education and we don’t want to produce athletes who are not educated. Most of the problems we are facing with athletes in Nigeria today is lack of education. We are trying to make sure that Delta State gives them the best when it comes to education. We want to remain in the forefront of Sports for the next 30-50 years. The structures, policies, facilities are there. Remember, Delta State has the highest number of Sporting facilities in Nigeria, we have close to 14 stadiums in Delta and they are all in the various senatorial zones in the country. These facilities are all been used by our athletes.
On sensitizing Ex-Internationals To Be Educated
Like I said earlier, most of our ex-internationals are not educated. So we try to encourage them to do part time courses to level up. Aside from that, during the state tournament in secondary schools, aside sending coaches from the Sports Commission to train the students, we also send most of our ex-internationals from the second round of the principals’ cup to handle schools and we pay them some stipend to ensure they are encouraged. Their presence has also helped to improve the standard of the game during the Principal’s Cup. We have a pool of ex-players which we send to schools to handle them. A lot of our ex-internationals have been employed by the Delta State Sports Commission.
On Age Cheat In Nigeria Sports
I must tell you that it’s disheartening. It is a bad omen for Nigeria and it does not make us face our direction. For us in Delta State, we have what we call the TVC. The TVC is the Technical and Verification Committee and they are assigned to ensure verification of age of athletes. Before the commencement of the Principal Cup, the TVC goes round the schools to ensure that they investigate and confirm that most of the students the schools are presenting are bonafide students of that school. They also ensure they are within the age range because we try to make it strictly U-16. Even when you are a student and you are above the age and talented, the TVC will still screen you out. The committee has been doing that job and in fact, I am also part of it. In Delta State we make it a policy that schools don’t use over-aged players for the competitions. So far, above 85% of schools adhere strictly to these directives. However, it’s a shame that some schools still try to cut corners, even after screening the over-age, they still re-introduce them but TVC have been doing a great job. We are trying to use the right age because most of these students are on scholarship from Zenith Bank, and Zenith Bank will not want to be part of fraud.
On Asaba Stadium hosting the Super Eagles
First, remember Asaba Stadium would have hosted the Nigeria vs Sierre Leone match before the covid-19 pandemic broke out. We have three international stadiums in Delta State.We have the Asaba international stadium, Warri Wolves stadium and Sapele Stadium. Interestingly, all these stadiums are in the three senatorial zones. There are several other stadiums in the state so these are stadiums that have hosted the female version of the nations cup and if those stadiums can host those events then, they can do more now. As for the maintenance, the Delta State Sports commission has a maintenance unit that sees to their well-being. Most of the clubs and academies are also using these facilities and they been maintained. Like I said earlier, Delta State has the highest number of stadiums in the country. We have 14, and the government takes pride in its maintenance. Also there are plans to upgrade most of these stadiums and we are not lacking behind in this.
On Edo Planning To Dethrone Delta At The Sports Festival
First, we are not in competition with Edo and we are not thinking of that. History also has it that Delta has won more Sports Festivals than Edo so why the worry. We have more programmes than them particularly at the secondary school level. In fact, more than 80% of these talents we are discovering are Delta State indigenes. So, Edo trying to dethrone us is not an issue to us. We are not bragging because they will always come behind us. As host, we respect them, but we are not scared of them because have done our home work very well. Our talents are waiting to spring into the national teams. Once this Covid-19 issue comes to rest, we will storm Edo and win the trophy. If not for the Covid-19 we would have been celebrating the trophy by now. The executive governor of Delta has given a standing order that the trophy should be brought back home and we are working towards that. Again, we have the best welfare package for athletes in the country and our athletes are capable of defending the title. We are not scared of Edo,they cannot dethrone us rather we will teach them how to groom athletes. Our athletes have been in camp long ago before the outbreak of the covid-19. The margin which we will win this particular festival will be amazing to everyone in the country.