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 was conceived during the tenure of the former Governor of Bayelsa State Senator Henry Seriake Dickson and adopted by the incumbent Governor Senator Douye Diri is now known as the Prosperity Cup.
Prior to the introduction of the tournament, the state was always in the news for militancy and other vices. , as a result of the massive support of sports particularly the Prosperity Cup.
The youths of Bayelsa have been positively engaged most of the year and the narratives have changed as the state has now been adjudged one of the most peaceful in the country. In this interview with the Director-General of the Bayelsa State Governor’s Football Tournament christened the Prosperity Cup Mr. Ono Akpe recounts the successes of 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 incidents or accidents, players travelled to and fro, officials travelled, referees travelled and coaches through the length and breadth of the state and we didn’t record anything that gave us cause for concern.
We must thank God that we travelled on land, we travelled on water but luckily because of the huge construction ongoing work by the present government in Southern Ijaw, Ekeremor and Sagbama axis, we covered less distance on the water than by road to some of the communities so it made the job and task easier. We are really grateful to the Governor, Senator Douye Diri and his Deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrujadkpo and the Commissioner for Youth and Sports Development, Hon Daniel Igali for the support and sponsorship in seeing to the positive outcome of the tournament.
The youths of Bayelsa are indeed 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, and administrators eagerly yearn for the commencement of the tournament every year. This is quite pleasing. What has been the yearly progression? Prosperity Cup formerly known as Restoration Cup started in 2015 with 110 teams with Ewoama FC of Brass LGA emerging champions. 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 win the AITEO Cup in 2021.
It is now regarded as Nigeria and arguably Africa’s largest grassroots football tournament and in the just concluded edition recorded 214 teams, 129 communities and 89 institutions across the State with 24 centers in 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.
The publicity of Nigeria’s biggest grassroots football tournament from both local and international media is massive. We have always had a partnership with the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria and they have been awesome. Their support has been unparalleled and they are also members of our Local Organising Committee.
Impact of LOC
Our Local Organising Committee has been tremendous. It is a very dedicated, hard-working team made up of over 40 professionals who are committed to driving the fortunes of football in the state. We also have the Grassroots Coaches Association, the referees’ council and others who have worked with us throughout. With the deputy director general Mr Emmanuel Appah, the Director of Finance Mr Martins Deigbegha, Mike Ede-Alakere, the head technical Desieye Nwankwe, and head coach Lawrence Alabrah, it has been a very formidable team working around the clock hand in hand to see to the success of this tournament yearly.”This tournament was indeed celebrated by local, national and international media as the largest grassroots football tournament in Nigeria not just in Nigeria but in Africa. It takes a lot to put it together.
We had initially 22 centers, but 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. 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 teamwork; coaches, we had physios-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-indigenous teams, organisation teams and all. One of the things that excited me a lot is that we had amongst the non-indigenous teams like the Northern Strikers FC, Ohaneze FC, Oduduwa FC and Shegbelegbe FC that represented the tribes in Nigeria more or less. The non-indigenous clubs were made up of Nigerians residents and doing business in Bayelsa and who came together to form these teams. The first day I watched the Northern Strikers, they really impressed me but unfortunately, they did not qualify for their group but they played good football.
Interestingly the non-indigene teams were well received, and well treated so that is another joy, the fact that the program engendered unity, love and harmony.
The Possibility of Having More Teams
Going by this year’s positive turnout, we expect the tournament will witness more teams in the next edition, and we are satisfied with the level of transparency displayed in the tournament coupled with fewer 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, and no predetermined winner or loser.
There was a level playing ground for all teams, this year we had fewer number of appeals than we’d 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 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.
The fact is the tournament is for Bayelsans and those who live in Bayelsa, if you are a non-indigene 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. Maybe later we can have an invitational part where we can invite teams outside to play. Organising Training Programs for Referees and Coaches Before the Next Edition ?
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 the weather would affect the tournament 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 programme, 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 every day.
We need our coaches and referees to understand that so they pass it on 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.”On the Final between Crusaders Feeders FC and De Grace FC?
I was glad that the President of the Nigeria Football Federation NFF, Ibrahim Gusau was excited with the quality of football 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 a 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. The closing ceremony also had the Chairman of the NNL, George Aluo, the CEO Mr Emmanuel Attah and the COO Emmanuel Adesanya in attendance, We also had Coach Austin Eguaveon, the head of the technical committee in the NFF and Coach Moday Odigie of Bendel Insurance were all present. 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.”Introduction of Female and Para soccer versions ?”This year we introduced two aspects of the tournament that were novel. We introduced the female edition and interestingly this kicked off at the peak of the 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 and we were marveled by the dexterity of the girls.”We equally had a Para soccer edition with two teams because we don’t have many 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 female segment and wondered how we were able to carry it out. He remarked that the female players as seen in the World Cup and in the tournament are as skillful as male footballers and urged us to continue with this segment”. Consideration of Having Two Segments of the Tournament? 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 bring inter-communal relationships and unity among communities if we restrict it to age grade it reduces a lot of participation.
Once again we wish to 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. The youths of Bayelsa look forward to that”Revelation of Tournament; Everton Academy?“I would like to commend the grassroots coaches who have toiled consistently to raise football academies in the state. I want to particularly praise Everton Academy of Ikoli for their doggedness and commitment that saw them get to the round of sixteen. The Ikoli side where the tournament’s discovery team following their performance against much bigger opponents.
The governor was so excited on the final day when he presented pairs of boots to the young lads of that team, he also gave them a cash reward of three hundred thousand naira (300,000) and other Nigerians who witnessed the ceremony and saw the size 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 signs of progress made in this tournament that was a plus for us. 214 teams participated, and about 600 goals were scored excluding those from penalty shootouts. It was quite impressive, the highest goal scorer, Junior Christopher scored twelve goals, and 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?I would like to passionately appeal to multinational oil companies and other well-spirited Bayelsans to join hands with the government to promote sports development in the state because the government cannot do it alone. It is quite sad that the oil companies who do business in Bayelsa and the Niger Delta as a whole, don’t support sports development in the state. We were encouraged by the support of Linkage Assurance, Sterling Bank, Bayelsa State of Internal Revenue, Swiss Royal Company, Ayalla Waters and a few others. We also got support from well-meaning individuals in the state like Dame Didi Walson Jack, a permanent secretary in the federal ministry of water resources, Etonye Richie and a few others. We need more support from the corporate world and well-meaning individuals because without them we won’t go far.
A number of State Police Commissioners have emphasized severally that the crime rate in the state drops significantly during the Governors’ Cup so we really need to support of the corporate world to continue with this programme.” The way forward?“This year as has been our practice, we identified over 100 talented young players who were screened from the various centres across the state. Using our indigenous scouts, coaches and coordinators we identified these players and invited them for screening. This screening was coordinated by a team of experienced coaches including Emma Amakpakabo , Kennedy Boboye and Depreye Teibowei who screened these players from about 120 to 50 players. These players are presently undergoing training under a team of coaches who have pruned them to 2 teams of 18 players each in preparation for some scouting programmes within and outside the country.
Firstly, we shall play a number of local friendly matches and then proceed to Remo Stadium for an invitational with about 20 more teams and 10 foreign scouts, agents and coaches. This is one of the largest football scouting programmes in the country and we hope a number of our talented boys are identified and given playing contracts locally and abroad.”Equally, we are very grateful to the sports-loving Governor, Senator Douye Diri for granting our request for an under-17 team to compete later this year at the Africa Youth Cup in Cape Verde.
This tournament which would host teams, coaches, scouts and agents from Portugal, Brazil, South Africa, Senegal, Cote De Voire among other countries would be a great opportunity to give our youngsters a future in football. This is the best empowerment platform you can give a young footballer at this time. We hope that this competition will not only expose our players to the international football world but will provide a great opportunity for foreign scouts to select our youngsters for football carrier in the continent and beyond. This is our expectation.
On Sports Development in the State? It is obvious that the cardinal objective of the prosperity government is 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 I must say. So you can see that 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. It is on record that Bayelsa United and Bayelsa Queens made history by winning the AITEO Cup in the same year, the 7 times Milo National Basketball Champions, St Judes Girls Secondary School Amarata, placing 3rd and 2nd in two consecutive years at the National Sports Festival, the state has excelled greatly under the Prosperity Government. Other programmes the governor has sponsored 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 aka Prosperity Cup. Indeed the youths of Bayelsa have been empowered through sports and we must salute the passion, commitment and love Governor Douye Diri has shown towards the youths of the state.
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