By Emmanuel Okara
Sir Winston Churchill, a former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, once coined this phrase: “Cometh the hour, cometh the man,” many years ago which, to me, fits squarely with the advent of the Senator Douye Diri administration in Bayelsa State on Feb. 14, 2020.
From the get-go, Gov. Diri, who is fondly described as the ‘Miracle Governor’ because of the fortuitous manner he emerged as governor of the state, left no one in doubt about the urgency with which he would handle the task of revamping the fortunes of the coastal state.
In the last three years and counting, his ‘Prosperity Administration’ has systematically impacted the socio-economic landscape of the state through numerous populist programmes that have touched the lives of ordinary Bayelsans like never before.
In the area of Infrastructure, the governor has opened up and connected hitherto inaccessible areas of the state through roads and bridges built by reputable construction companies alongside an urban renewal programme to uplift Yenagoa, the state capital.
In particular, the administration’s commitment to sports development has repositioned the state as a force to contend with during national competitions.
Even though previous administrations had done their bit in the development of sports infrastructure in the state, the Diri administration can be rightly said to be the elixir that has taken the state to enviable heights above its peers.
At this juncture, it is meet to note that Diri was a former Commissioner for Youth and Sports Development between 2006 and 2007 under the administration of the then Gov. Goodluck Jonathan (who later became Nigeria’s President). Despite the brief stint, he showed glimpses of what he could do.
In the buildup to the November 2019 governorship election, Daniel Alabrah, a former professional footballer, journalist and now Chief Press Secretary to Governor Diri, described him as one that would boost sports development in the state compared to the other candidates during a parley with stakeholders.
“It was during his time as Sports Commissioner that Bayelsa set the initial record of finishing fourth at the National Sports Festival in Abeokuta, Ogun State, in 2006. This was the state’s best performance at the sports festival till he became governor and he has surpassed it twice in the three years.
“Back then, he introduced a policy of automatic employment for sportsmen and women who excelled in national and international competitions. Many beneficiaries of this policy became coaches in the state’s sports council and they are still grooming young talents for the state,” Alabrah said.
Today, everything Alabrah said about the then gubernatorial candidate is panning out nicely with remarkable results.
Fortunately, Diri has very capable individuals to actualise his grand vision of sports development in Bayelsa in the Deputy Governor, Sen. Lawrence Ewhurujakpo and Hon. Daniel Igali, the Commissioner for Youth and Sports Development.
Igali, who won a gold medal for Canada at the Sydney Olympic Games in the 69kg wrestling category, extolled Diri’s virtues “In three years we have had several watershed moments in sports history not only in Bayelsa State but in Nigeria.
“Bayelsa won gold medals across 23 different sports at the last National Sports Festival (at Asaba, Delta State), which goes to tell you that we are very versatile. In fact, we are proficient in several sports.
“Bayelsa is the only state in Nigeria with a functional sports academy at Asoama in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area where we have 12 different sports disciplines and 358 athletes that are catered to by the state government. Every one of their needs is met by the state government.
”Under his administration, Bayelsa Queens and Bayelsa United on the same day won the FA/Aiteo Cup (Challenge Cup).
“His Excellency attaches so much importance to youth development that every ministry has been tasked with developing youths. We have gone on to train thousands of youths within this period because Gov. Douye Diri believes in enhancing the capacity of our youths as well as their empowerment.
“His Excellency has made the job of the Commissioner for Youths and Sports so easy that I don’t even consider it a job but now a hobby.
“I want to tell Bayelsans that we are in safe hands sports development-wise,” added Igali, who doubles as the President of the Nigerian Wrestling Federation.
During the reception for Team Bayelsa after the state finished second on the medals tables at the 2022 National Sports Festival in Asaba, an elated Diri said: “You have broken your record and now Bayelsa is the number two sporting state in Nigeria.”
Team Bayelsa won an unprecedented 109 Gold, 104 Silver and 87 Bronze medals.
The governor duly announced a reward package for the team that surpassed the third position attained in the 2020 festival in Edo State.
A cash prize of one million naira each was doled out to individual gold medalists and N750,000 each for team events, silver N500,000 each for individuals and N300,000 for team medallists and bronze medals got N300,000 each for individual winners and N150,000 for the teams.
Coaches and Secretaries were not left out as the officials of gold medal teams got N500,000 each while their assistants got N300,000. For silver, the officials got N300,000 and N200,000 respectively. Even non-medalists each got N50,000.
With such an instant reward system in place, you can have an insight into the inner workings of the sports development programmes and policies of the administration.
In all my years of covering sports during my active days with the News Agency of Nigeria i came to realise that exposure to requisite sports competitions on a regular basis was key to sharpening the competitive edge of athletes, importantly when backed with a cash reward system that comes as of when due. Which serves as a morale booster.
The enterprising athletes and their equally committed technical officials should rest assured that things can only get better for them with Sen. Douye Diri at the helm as Governor of Bayelsa State, the current Mecca of Sports in Nigeria willy-nilly.