Of recent, Bayelsa State seems to have witnessed an upsurge in cultism, especially among teenagers. Emmanuel Addeh writes on how one man is tackling the menace

From the expulsion, naming and shaming of six secondary school students two weeks ago for their alleged involvement in cult activities, by the Bayelsa State Ministry of Education to the renewed efforts by the security agencies to tackle the menace, the fight against cultism in the state seems to be receiving some attention.

However, these strategies, tried before now, had not done much to eradicate cultism, especially among teenagers in Bayelsa, who most times, out of boredom, join bad gangs, terrorising residents for fun.

Convinced of the need to look at a different way of minimising the activities of the misguided youngsters, in addition to being a viable tool for bringing people together, the Governor Dickson Unity Cup codenamed the Ogbia Challenge, kicked off last month, involving over 32 teams.

Promoted by Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson, Bayelsa State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, who has never hidden his belief that the Ogbia people occupy a special place in Governor Seriake Dickson’s heart, the event started with the unveiling of a mascot in Yenagoa, the state capital, in a well attended ceremony.

Iworiso-Markson said that unity remained a catalyst for communal growth and development, insisting that every Ogbia person must avoid divisive tendency and work together in the spirit of oneness as practiced by the forebears of the Ogbia nation.

The football fiesta, he said, would also hunt for talents to be promoted at the big stage in football while discussions are on with scouts to assist in picking the best of talents, who when groomed, could play in big leagues abroad and contest for national jersey.

He said the Ogbia Challenge also has the capacity of diverting the youths from vices and crimes, saying that young people must embrace sports as a career.

To underscore the importance of the event, the Obanobhan of Ogbia, His Royal Majesty Charles Owaba, urged Ogbia people to embrace one another as a members of one big family in order to promote individual’s well-being and communal development, noting that those who seek the good of the land will prosper.

That first ceremony was attended by the Commissioners for Chieftaincy and Community Development, Chief Saviour Ibegi, Special Projects, Fred Obua and Energy, Chief Partner Ogbolo as well as the Director General Bayelsa State Investment Agency, Patience Abah and Ogbia Local Government Chairman, Mrs. Naomi Ogoli , who all spoke in support of the initiative.

In the end, the fixtures for the tournament, 32 teams from across various communities in Ogbia were selected to participate in four centres namely Opume, Kolo, Otuokpoti and Imiringi.

When the games started, 16 teams were eliminated, while a fresh battle for the second phase of the Unity Cup began.

Among the qualifiers from Zone A, Otuabagi Centre were Idema, Akipelai, Otuogidi and Oloibiri‎ while those who qualified from Zone B, Kolo Centre were Ogbia town, Ewoi, Onuebum and Kolo 2.

The others from Zone C, Otuoke Centre were Otuoke, Otuaba, Okiki and Okodi while those in Zone D, Imiringi Centre were Otuabula, Obeduma, Ayakoro and Abobiri.

After about a month of crossfire, the D-day for the finals of the event which drew the who-is-who from the state cabinet as well as traditional rulers arrived.

At the event, the Bayelsa State deputy governor, Rear Admiral John Jonah (rtd), directed the state Ministry of Sports Development to include the Governor Dickson Ogbia Unity Cup in the state’s sports calendar.

According to him, similar events should be replicated in every local government area of the state.

During the grand-finale which was between the Otuasega and Otuokpoti communities at the Opume playing ground in Ogbia LGA, the deputy governor said the football competition fell in line with the government policy of youth engagement with a view to steering them away from the notorious vices of crime, drug and cultism.

He said that the Governor Dickson-led administration is committed to promoting programmes that would project the well-being of the youths since the future of the state lies in their proper upbringing.

He explained that the state government’s investment in the construction of stadia and other sporting centres across the state is part of government’s deliberate efforts at ensuring that the latent talents of the Bayelsa youths are groomed to blossom in a way that will create stars out of them.

Beyond all these, the retired naval chief who was also a footballer in his youth days said sporting activities also have the potential to promote public peace and communal harmony in view of its unifying factor.

He commended the Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Iworiso-Markson and the Ogbia Restoration Crusaders, the organisers of the football competition, describing them as true lovers of peace and unity who should be emulated by all.

In her welcome address, the chairperson, Ogbia Local Government Caretaker Committee, Mrs. Naomi Ogoli said the positive engagement of youths may ultimately be a potent tool at crime fighting.

Ogoli said crime rate in Ogbia dropped drastically during the over three-week event and called for more sporting activities to curb the tendency for crime in the area.

She also expressed her willingness to partner good spirited individuals and corporate organisations in sponsoring sporting and skills acquisition programmes with a view to making the youths productive and self-reliant.

The Royal father of the day, the Obanobhan of Ogbia, HRM Owaba called on all Ogbia sons and daughters to embrace the values of brotherliness, unity and peace in order to put Ogbia Kingdom on the fast lane of development.

In his comments, Iworiso Markson who proposed the vote of thanks, commended the deputy governor, Rear Admiral John Jonah for gracing the finals of the Governor Dickson Unity Cup.

Iworiso-Markson also commended the Secretary to State Government, Kamela Okara and other top government functionaries for finding time to be in Opume.

He said with the tournament, a new vista of peace and unity has arrived Ogbia, noting that the Kingdom is set to witness a rebirth, renewal and development.

Earlier, there was a tension-filled encounter between the hard-fighting Otuasega and Otuokpti football team, with Otuasega running away with victory with a lone goal, thereby lifting the coveted trophy.

Highlight of the events were the presentation of various cash prizes to the participating teams, cultural display amidst singing and dancing.

Following the success of the event which took place last weekend, the promoter of the tournament and Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Iworiso-Markson expressed gratitude to all those who supported it.

‎He thanked Governor Dickson for providing a stable leadership in the state which allowed for such communal event to take place without rancour and also praised him for fulfilling his promise of reconstructing the Iminringi and Opume Bridge, internal roads, among others which today has made Ogbia ‘a huge construction site’.

Iworiso-Markson also expressed immense appreciation to the deputy governor, Jonah,‎ for gracing the finals as Special Guest of Honour as well as the Secretary to the State Government, Okara.

The commissioner equally commended all political appointees from Ogbia, the Council Chairman, Ogoli for her role in the competition, the Obanoban 111 of Ogbia, chairman and members of the Opume Council of Chiefs and members of the Ogbia Restoration Caucus.

‎He also appreciated the efforts of the Senior Special Assistant on Youths in Ogbia, Ossanya B. Ossanya who led all youths including the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) in Ogbia to show solidarity and support for the competition in all the communities leading up to the finals.

While also appreciating women and other groups for turning out in their numbers to make the event colourful, Iworiso-Markson appealed that while the football competition is over, the peace and bonds of unity that it had generated should be sustained so that it can further foster development and continued peace in Ogbia Kingdom.

He used the opportunity to once again congratulate all the teams that participated, urging them to see themselves as winners because the competition has discovered in them new talents that will be groomed and exposed to play professionally in bigger clubs and leagues both locally and globally.

The governor’s aide reiterated his call for peace and unity among all Ogbia sons and daughters and urged them to continue to support the government led by Governor Dickson in order to attract more development to the area.