Gov. Theodore Orji of Abia has said the state government’s huge investment in sports was a deliberate policy of his administration to empower youths and reduce crime.
Orji said this in Umuahia during the investiture of new patrons for the Abia Warriors Football Club and launching of the club’s official website and colours.
He said he had no regrets investing in sports, saying Abia state was already reaping the immense benefits of the investment.
``Have you ever seen a footballer being a kidnapper or an armed robber?’’ Orji asked.
He said footballers were known to be people with discipline, saying ``this is why we have continued to encourage them, because they will never engage in criminal activities’’.
The governor noted that even though the state was not financially buoyant, it was richly endowed with men and women talented in different sports.
``Abia is not rich, but endowed with great men and women who manage our lean resources to get results for every money we invest in sports,’’ he said.
Orji expressed satisfaction with the management of the three football clubs in the state and ensuring effective application of the available human and material resources to achieve results.
He specifically commended the management of Enyimba International FC of Aba and Abia Warriors for doing the state proud in the last league season.
The governor recalled that while Enyimba FC clinched the Federation Cup trophy, Abia Warriors FC got promoted to the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).
``It is a thing of joy and a thing of glory that Abia now has two clubs in the nation’s premier football league,’’ he added.
Orji, who acknowledged that the feat was not easy to achieve, described the ownership and sponsorship of Enyimba, Abia Warriors and Comet FC as being capital intensive.
He however enjoined Abia Warriors players to fully utilise the opportunity of featuring for the club by excelling, assuring them of government’s readiness to continue supporting the club.
``If you (the players) watch the way we have supported football, you will know that this is your chance to excel. It is your time to make it,’’ the governor said.
Earlier in his speech, the Chairman, Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Aminu Maigari, had said that Nigeria and Abia were experiencing a revolution in football.
Maigari, represented by the First Vice-Chairman of the association, Chief Mike Umeh, expressed joy over Nigeria’s qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil without any Presidential Task Force.
He also commended Orji for his commitment to the growth of football.
``The administration’s investment in Enyimba and Abia Warriors lifted the clubs to an enviable position,’’ he said.
The state’s Commissioner for Sports, David Chigbu, expressed happiness that Umuahia residents would soon begin to watch premier league matches in the city.
``This will be made possible more with the ongoing rehabilitation of the Umuahia Township Stadium,’’ he said.
Chigbu said the playing of premier league matches in Umuahia would stimulate socio-economic activities in the area, with a boom in the hospitality industry.
In his address, the Chairman of Abia Warriors, Chief Emeka Inyama, said the club’s management was committed to transforming the club with the introduction of international best practices in its operations.
Inyama explained that the club would also phase out the payment of sign-on fees to players and replace it with enhanced salary.
``Delays in the payment of players’ sign-on fees, running into hundreds of millions of Naira annually, had always been a source of friction between club owners and the players,’’ he said.
The chairman listed the construction of a club house and camping ground with modern facilities, as well as the establishment of a football academy, as his top priority.
``These are to help in preparing the players in our feeder teams to fill openings in the club’s team,’’ Inyama said.
He however thanked the governor for his unrelenting financial support to the club, saying the gesture ``helped to bring the club to where it is today’’.
The event also witnessed the investiture of the governor as the club’s Grand Patron.
Orji, who donated N10 million to Abia Warriors FC, said his gesture was to appreciate the club for gaining promotion to the NPFL.