It was a celebration of achievement, commitment, reward for excellence and sacrifice, all for the development of football last Thursday, August 27th, when the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) big wigs converged in Ilorin, Kwara state, to witness the commissioning of the very first Football House in Nigeria, by Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, at the Kwara State Stadium Complex.
The Football House, named after the pioneer Chairman of Kwara State Football Association, the Wali of Ilorin, Alhaji Usman Mustapha was the first to be commissioned, among the six grassroots football development projects, which is in connection with the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) Connect Programme, and burned out of the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the NFF and Aiteo.
Aiteo Group is an integrated, global-focused Nigerian energy conglomerate founded in February 2008. The company focuses in oil and gas exploration and production; bulk petroleum storage; refining of petroleum products; trading, marketing and supply as well as power generation and distribution. It has, since 2017, formed a strong pillar behind the development of football in Nigeria.
That the Kwara Football House was the first to be commissioned dictates the commitment of the state to football development. It also indicates that the state was always in the forefront in sports, especially football, since its inception.
Kwara was one of the first 12 states to be created, in 1967. And the state made tremendous impact in sports, and was christened the Mecca and Jerusalem of Sports. The state made its initial marks through its participation in various national programmes like the Academicals football tournament, especially in the 70s.
After its creation, and despite being confronted with the priority of administering developmental initiatives of infrastructure and amenities associated with government, the then Military Administrator of the state, Col. David Lasisi Bamigboye, (now late), to a large extent, accommodated sports promotion and development within its programme.
It was a solid foundation upon which developments were built by successive administrations in the state. That was also witnessed last Thursday, when Governor AbdulRazaq commissioned the Football House.
The project was completed with the financial support of the AbdulRazaq’s administration and Barrister AbdulAkeem Usman Mustapha SAN, an Ilorin-born football enthusiast who is a member of the NFF and the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
The Governor, while commissioning the project, commended the NFF President, Amaju Pinnick for his great works at the NFF and his long-standing contributions to the round leather game, adding: ‘We have seen transformation in football since you came in. We are glad that we are benefitting in Kwara and continue with the legacy being laid down especially with the football house.’
He also commended the Aiteo for its contributions to football, especially in Kwara State.
‘For me, our gathering here is about two major things. The first is to commission a facility for public use. The commissioning comes after months of hard work by the leadership and members of the Kwara State Football Association and some investments by the government. This investment aligns with the decision of our administration to restore the glory of our state across various sectors, including sports. This has led to massive rehabilitation works on roads, hospitals, schools, and sporting facilities that capture the essence and history of our state. One of them is the Baseball Park. I want to reassure sport lovers that the same gesture will be extended to the long-abandoned Indoor Sports Hall at this stadium while new facilities would also be put in place.
‘The second is about rewarding good legacies. I have been briefed that this facility is to be renamed after the Wali of Ilorin, Alhaji Usman Mustapha. I believe this is befitting.’
He commended A.U Mustapha SAN for his support for the furnishing of the facility, hailing him for being a pride of the state.
Pinnick, who identified Kwara as ‘home of football’, said his team at the NFF is determined to develop football in Nigeria, particularly at the grassroots level.
‘Our mission was to have a football house in all the 36 states of the federation. We started with six and today by the special grace of God we’re commissioning the first one in Kwara State,’ he said.
‘This is quite symbolic because we have the Governor that cares. It is quite epochal because we have a Governor that believes in the development of football. This is made possible because the Governor understands that the football is part of the large ecosystem in which a player can make a career and channel it into a productive youth not just for entertainment but also feeding their family.’
‘I am excited when achieving a dream, especially a dream towards grassroots football development’, he averred.
To underscore the importance of the project to the NFF, Pinnick led a strong delegation of NFF who include the 1st Vice President, Barrister Seyi Akinwumi, the Secretary-General of the NFF, Dr. Ahmed Sanusi, Chairman of Chairmen, Alhaji Shehu Gusau, Alhaji Sharif Rabiu Ahlan, Alhaji Yusuf Ahmed Fresh, who is also the Coordinator of North Central, President of Nigeria Referees Association (NRA) Tade Azeez, Chairman Borno FA, Alhaji Babagana Kalli, Chairman Jigawa FA, Alhaji Sabo Jigana, Chairman Oyo FA, Kabiesi James Odeniran, Chairman Taraba FA, Mr. Timothy Heman and that of Ekiti state, Hon, Olanleye Adebayo.
The President CAF Appeal Committee, Barrister A. U Mustapha expressed optimism that with the renewed support of Governor AbdulRazaq’s administration in the sports sector, Kwara would soon regain its lost glory in the sector.
Alhaji Yusuf Ahmed Fresh is the Coordinator of North Central in the NFF, and Chairman, Niger State Football Association.
He said that Kwara really deserved the great opportunity.
‘For me, Kwara deserved it. Kwara is key member of the NFF, and one of the seven states we have in North Central Zone. Kwara is one of the most influential as far as the game of football is concerned’.
‘When the NFF got into partnership with Aiteo, the Executive members of NFF deemed it fit that at least, six states, one each from the six geo-political zones should have an office of this nature. I, as the Zonal Coordinator, because of what Kwara have been doing, and what the state stands for in football, for the good of the game, and the influence of key members and football followers from this state, we deemed it fit that we should start from Kwara and I am happy to be here, to be part of this celebration’.
‘There is what we call FIFA Connect Programme. With this edifice, Kwara will have direct connect with FIFA in terms of administration, the situation of players, coaches and others. They will be handling TMS and Domestic transfer systems from here. This is an achievement for entire football of Kwara. And of course, this package will come with the construction of pitches, which is coming very soon’, he added.
The pioneer Chairman of the FA, Alhaji Usman Mustapha was happy, to have witnessed the commissioning of the Football House named after him.
In a speech read on his behalf by the scion, Mallam AbdulGaniyu Mustapha, he expressed joy and satisfaction in witnessing the ceremony.
‘Having been actively involved in the genesis of this association as its first Chairman from 1973 to 1975, and a living witness and participant of its several years of metamorphoses, I can only express joy and satisfaction, witnessing this ceremony’
‘We began the journey in the early 70s, amidst abysmal funding and uncertainties. Meetings were held in my living room. Sacrifices were made by members of the board for the attainment of a larger goal. So many personal ambitions were subsumed to enable our corporate dreams to be actualized. We, as members, had to personally fund most of the programmes and projects of the association’.
‘We also witnessed remarkable triumphs. I remembered with thrills and excitement that I was privileged to be part of the delegation that traveled to Western Germany to watch FIFA World Cup competition in 1974’.
‘I must not forget the many sacrifices of the likes of Alhaji Shehu Gafar, who was a member in the early days, and Alhaji AbdulGaniyu Jaiyeola, who was the Secretary’.
He called on government, corporate organizations and all stakeholders to support football as a game and as business, in view of the inherent benefits associated with the game.
Kwara Football Association Chairman Alhaji Idris Abdullahi Musa appreciated the NFF for facilitating the building from Aiteo, and also thanked the state government for continuous support to the sports sector.
Idris specifically commended the Governor for approving the construction of the facility even before he ever met with the Kwara Football Association team, adding that ‘this shows that all the Governor cares about is fixing things for the good of our people.’
Alhaji Idris Abdullahi Musa, a former Councillor in Kaduna state rose into the consciousness of Kwarans as a merchant for one of the first major mobile communication network, Thuraya, a name which he is popularly known for today.
He later became a food seller, especially Hausa delicacies…tuwo, masa, as well as kunun aya. This might not be unconnected with the respect he seems to have lost then in sports, especially football circle, as all his breakthroughs and contributions to sports development were then been overlooked.
He later became the General Coordinator of one of the notable private clubs in Nigeria, Abubakar Bukola Saraki Football Club, a position he adequately maximized to reach out to stakeholders.
When he surprisingly aspired to become the Kwara FA Chairman, it was so easy looking down on him as a ‘no match’ for many reasons.
First, and most importantly, since 1973 when Kwara FA was inaugurated, 19 Chairmen had been in charge, with nobody from Kwara North. But that insinuation later worked in his favour, as he garnered more sympathy and support towards the election. Another aspect was his trade, as they claimed that as a food seller, he knows next to nothing about the round leather game.
Those who bought the idea that the seat must go to Kwara North after 26 years of Kwara FA’s inauguration in the state galvanized their skills and resources, and to many peoples’ surprise, he pulled through, and became the 20th Chairman of the association. He became the first democratically elected Chairman of Kwara FA, and also the first from Kwara North.
Today, the impression about him not knowing football, or coming from the North has changed as his style of administration has endeared him to virtually all stakeholders in Kwara and Nigeria football.
Before the commissioning of the Football House, NFF President had earlier inaugurated 12 Kwara State Football Association Committees, comprising of over 130 stakeholders, drawn from all the football development blocs and components, to drive football development in the state.
This goes to show that football development in the state is in the hands of all the stakeholders.
This is the first time that this revolution is coming up, and the Chairman pledged that all the Committees will be made to be functional.
All the over 130 Committee members were kitted with complete Owu track-suits and shirts. The FA signed sponsorship deal with Owu Sports Wear and unveiled a new logo for the association immediately after its inauguration last year.
The revolution by Thuraya in Kwara football began immediately after his inauguration on June 13, 2019. The impact of his dogged determination has been felt apparently in every community.
He led his board to all the 16 Local Government Areas of the state, to seek support for football development, especially from traditional rulers, and to ascertain the level of facilities available in each Local Government Area. He followed up with the donation of football nets, corner flags and football cases to the Local Governments, to kick-stars grassroots football revolution.
The association on its own acquired a giant trophy and medals to organise an U-15 football championship tagged ‘Governor’s Cup’, as part of sporting activities to mark Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq 100 days in Office. Again, Owu kitted all the teams from the 16 Local Government Areas of the state.
Potential players selected from the competition were give scholarship at the Kwara Football Academy by Kwara United Football Club. The players were part of the team that won the Ramat Cup competition in Kano early this year.
For ‘Thuraya’ many grounds would still be broken in Kwara and Nigeria football.