Bayelsa State is deploying significant resources and policies to change its status in the sports arena. The state’s Commissioner for Sports, Perekiye Buruboyefe, tells Stanley Nkwazema that critical inputs by Governor Seriake Dickson have transformed sports’ narrative in the state
On a scale of 1 to 100 how will you describe sports development in Bayelsa State
I think I will say 70 per cent because we still have some challenges to overcome; things I would have liked to do but we cannot do for reasons beyond our control. So that’s why I’m saying 70 per cent.
More specifically, are they natural or man-made reasons?
I think most of them are man-made in the sense that things like finance and structures we would have liked to build. So I think most of them, if not all, are man-made not natural.
The dearth of facilities in the young state is actually affecting the development of sports
That is why I still say it is man-made because when I came into office, even the stadium here was in a bad shape and we had no other place we could call a stadium apart from this place. So we decided to put some structures in place. If you go to the Samson Siasia Stadium, you will now see that a lot of things are being done already. The turf and the tracks are in place. They are working on the floodlight and electronic scoreboard and so forth. The seats are also in place. Then outside here, we have the Nembe Stadium. But we are also working on another one in Brass. There is one in Biogbulu. Our intention is to have one in each of the local government areas before the senatorial stadia. Take for example the Nembe one; Nembe, Brass and Ogbia are in one senatorial district but we have one in Nembe and another one ongoing in Brass. In order words, we are supposed to have 11 on the whole, 8 LGA plus three for the senatorial districts. That was our intention but because of money, we are not able to accomplish our goals. These ones are ongoing but I believe that whoever takes over from us will see why it was necessary for us to put these things in place. The essence is to ensure grassroots participation. If we do not have these structures in place, they won’t have a place to train and things like that. That was the intention but God willing, I believe those things will be done even after our government.
In the last six years, there has been the Bayelsa Wrestling Classic, a national competition where over 500-1000 athletes and officials converge in the state to compete for honors. Why has the state decided to take only wrestling as a prime sport?
Well we are human beings and every human being has his or her own area of interest. We also considered our area of comparative advantage and we believe that wrestling is indeed our own area and there is need for us to keep encouraging it. Apart from that, it is also on record that it is only a Bayelsan that has won wrestling medals in the Olympics and Commonwealth Games for Nigeria. So we feel it’s an area we should continue to encourage and that is why we keep encouraging it.
To be frank, the federal Government has also supported us. In a way, they also see we are doing well and that there is need for that partnership. So we are happy that we are working together as one. But the main reason is that wrestling is part of our culture and it’s our area of comparative advantage. But it not correct to say we are neglecting other sports because if you remember we have what you call the Restoration Cup and this year is the 3rd edition.
The first final was played in Nembe; the last one was played in Samson Siasia Stadium and this third one will also be played here. So we encourage sports in general but we encourage more of our areas of comparative advantage.
From the success recorded at the last classic which ended last Monday, how will you rate the performance of Bayelsa as a state and the athletes from Bayelsa?
Well, the results are there for everyone to see. Mainly we have three styles. We have the freestyle men; we have the freestyle women then we have what we call the Greco-Roman. Bayelsa came tops in the freestyle men; came tops in the freestyle women and third in Greco-Roman. Overall, Bayelsa still came out tops.
When the national sports festival is about to begin, most states poach athletes and pay them. How will you make sports a viable venture in the state and what are the incentives to bring out athletes from the grassroots, nurture and make them world class athletes?
There are two types of sports competitions – one is what we call the closed competition. When they say it is closed, it is limited to some persons or grades as the case may be. But if it is an open championship, anybody from anywhere, provided they are Nigerians, can come. In the open championships, Nigerians that are even in America come and participate. States that have money, for example, like the last National Sports festivals, states like Delta paid a lot of athletes from different places. Even some of our athletes went and competed for Delta State. That is a rule we cannot control because it is an open one and whether we like it or not, the athletes are going to areas they think they will gain more money.
But apart from that, we do our best to encourage grassroots sports participation. In fact that is our vision and we ensure that we create opportunities for our people all over the state to express their God-given talents in different forms. That is one of the reasons we are building these infrastructure in different places. Apart from that, we have the local organizing secretary that goes round the nooks and crannies of the state to look for talents.
Take for example the Restoration Cup. Last year, we had about 130 communities competing. This year, we have even more. People from all over the state are participating, including churches and higher institutions and so on. For me, I believe every human created by God has one talent or the other. The only thing we need to do is to give them the necessary opportunity to express themselves.
I don’t see anyone as useless. If you are not good in boxing, you might excel in wrestling; if you can’t wrestle perhaps swimming is your strong fort and so on. When we came in, we introduced baseball and when we went for a national competition we came up tops. Our own children went there to compete. Before now, we were not doing it and that was the goal we had as much as it’s possible for us to give opportunities to people to express themselves. So we are not limiting anything. We open our doors. The only reason we are not achieving the goals we really wanted is because you must have money and infrastructure to do some of these things. Apart from that, we allow everybody to express their talents in their own way.
At the wrestling classic, the governor, Seriake Dickson, made some pronouncements. He gave you some tasks to accomplish within a short period of time. How far have you gone with these?
Yes, he made some pronouncements. He gave us marching orders to bring Bayelsan wrestlers that are wrestling for others back if they are willing. And because of that, he also gave us a directive to draw up a list of people we think we need to employ. For this first year he said between 50 and 100. For other years, about 50 athletes annually. So, we are already compiling the list of people that we think we need.
Some of them are not even wrestling for others but we know that they are good while some are wrestling for other states. So we will do the best we can. He gave us two weeks and by God’s grace we will meet up with the dead line.
What other incentives do you have? You spoke earlier about scholarships. How do you intend going about it?
Incentives come in different forms. For people that have been following what we are doing here. For example, when the Nigerian Wrestlers came back from the Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow, our governor received them and gave them a total of N20 million. Also, St Jude’s Girls Amarata that have consistently won the Milo championship for five years and might still win this year again. The Governor gave out incentives and cash rewards. When our athletes went for the National Sports Festival and came back fifth, our governor again announced cash rewards. Gold medalists were given N1 million and so on. These are some of the incentives. I don’t think its only money that is an incentive. ‘Well-done’ is an incentive. Sometimes even providing the necessary equipment, training facilities is also an incentive. We do our best to make sure our athletes are reasonably taken care of.
We don’t owe our sports men and women. Our players in Bayelsa Queens and Bayelsa United are paid as civil servants. Once civil servants are paid, they are also paid, unlike some other states, where they are owed five months or more. We encourage them in different forms and as far as I’m concerned even though no human endeavor is perfect, we are doing the best we can in the circumstances we find ourselves.
You talked about Scholarship. How are you going about that?
Yes, he said for those of them that are interested in going to school, he will set up a special scholarship scheme to help them go to school. We also have the In-service training. Some of our athletes are already in school and are receiving salaries from government. These are things we do to encourage our athletes and if you have had cause to interview them you will see they speak well that will tell you that they are not just ordinary athletes like in the days of old and they have not just gone to school but excel at the sports they do.
Despite moving from a below average state to an elite sports power house in Nigeria, what do you consider subsisting challenges?
I think we need to put up more sports facilities in the various LGA. I also think there is need to train and retrain our coaches and athletes because if you don’t train and retrain, diminishing returns will begin to set in. I also think there are athletes and coaches that have a negative attitude. Some of the athletes are unwilling to perform and some even feigned illness just to get out of performing. They have to learn to take ownership of their state. Even if there is no pay, there is honor in representing my state. Let us look at Ondo State – the wrestlers have a common purse.
Any winning is ploughed into that common purse and a percentage is given to the winner. We don’t have that in Bayelsa. There is need for re-orientation. If we are able to tackle selfishness, we will have maximum results. Bayelsa state is very good in combat sports.