By Sam Ogbonna
Most often, the unity of Nigeria as a nation has been a burning issue, but a quintessential leader, pillar of sports (football), Senator Orji Uzor Kalu even before he was elected and sworn – in on May 29, 1999 as the 7th Chief Executive and Second Executive Governor of Abia State had proved himself a sports philanthropist extraordinaire in Nigeria and beyond.
OUK, a one-time member of National Sports Commission (NSC) in the 80s, chiseled his name in the stone of history as the youngest member ever to serve on the Board of the NSC since its inception in 1961. Senator Orji Uzor Kalu was in his early twenties. What an exceptional feat!
OUK as a detribalized Nigerian, instituted and bankrolled many football competitions garnishing them with mouthwatering redemption and organization fees and glittering giant gold cups and trophies.
The recipe for the success of the sports competitions which he sponsored were that, despite his tight schedule as an accomplished international business mogul, he was always in attendance in the opening and closing ceremonies.
Before OUK became the Governor of Abia State in 1999, his penchant and love for football had commenced in 1995 where at Abia Hotels, Umuahia, he earned himself a place in history by donating a giant trophy to be competed for by Civil Servants in Abia State popularly known as and called “Inter Ministerial Competition”.
No wonder the serious affection and unprecedented love the Abia workforce had for him, more so, when their monthly emoluments were paid and received as and when due. Check out the plight of both Civil and Public Servants in the State today, very pitiable. OUK equally donated another cup for competition among the Local Government Areas in the State, a yearly event that brought Youths in Abia State together and same has become a glamorous competition.
At various times and fora, OUK made handsome financial donations and kits to Enyimba Football Club and this lover of sports even extended his kind gesture to the ball boys. It is on good record that Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu ‘s first outing immediately after his swearing in on May 29,1999, was a sporting event (football match).
Barely one week after the swearing in of this Distinguished Senator, a maverick politician, a dogged fighter and an astute administrator as the then Chief Executive of Abia State, he stepped his feet on the soil of Umuahia Township Stadium where he was the Special Guest of Honour at the final match of the 8th edition of the Abia State FA Cup Competition between *Kam Kam United* of Aba and Aba North Local Government Team, though, the thrilling and scintillating encounter ended in a barren draw. Impressed by the outstanding performances of the two teams which equally convinced him that Abia State is a reservoir of football talents, OUK swiftly took the gauntlet to take football to higher heights in the State and beyond.
With OUK’s pedigree as Master Strategist, his innate administrative prowess, transformer of talents and with suave and sophisticated approach, he began by creating the desired and deserved professional environment. Enyimba Stadium Aba which used to be an enigma and eyesore in the past , had Enyimba FC to narrowly escaped banishment by the Nigerian football Association (NFA) because of the very bad football pitch and dilapidated infrastructure.
OUK, lover of Sports who sees same as a formidable unifying force, swung into action and architecturally transformed the stadium into a modern stadium that met international standard. He made Enyimba Stadium to be a jewel among stadia in Nigeria. Umuahia Township Stadium equally joined the list. As though he was not done, OUK also donated a giant trophy for competition among under-16 players in the State and bankrolled football camps for those players at the Nsulu Games village which OUK brought to public domain and today, it is called “Oriental Wonder Land” for sports in Nigeria.
Those cadet players were adequately tutored on the basics of beautiful game, courtesy of OUK. Secondary schools as well, enjoyed the sports philanthropic disposition of Senator Orji Uzor Kalu with the annual Governor’s Cup Football Competitions which the present administration has copied, but without adequate sponsorship. “If it is not panadol, it can’t taste like panadol”. OUK added to the long list by as well donating another gigantic trophy which all the market trade unions in the state competed because he was seized of the fact that, ‘all work and no play, makes one a dull person’.
It is an undisputable fact that it is Senator Orji Uzor Kalu that transformed Enyimba FC into one of the best clubsides in Nigeria majorly because, he knows the politics of football and possesses the unique, ebullient and silent techniques. Enyimba FC became the premier Nigerian club side to play an Italian Serial A Team in a friendly encounter against Internationale Milan to mark the return of Ronaldo to football after a long absence due to injury.
In the 2001 football season, after surviving a threat of relegation in the previous year, the Peoples Elephant under the financial muscle of OUK, won the league in a grand style at the National Stadium, Surulere-Lagos. With the continued financial and moral support of OUK and in a record- breaking style, Enyimba FC gallantly and successfully defended the trophy in 2003 which earned her, BACK TO BACK.
In the debut appearance of Obinna Nwaneri of Enyimba FC in the prestigious African Champions from Johannesburg, Djibouti to Ouagadougou, from Iceland to Antanarivo, all the then 205- member affiliates of FIFA applauded the penalty kick of the Enyimba FC lad which almost tore the net which led the Elephant Boys to a pulsating and nerve- cracking penalty kick that ended in 3-3 aggregate score. The wonderful and devastating penalty kick of Obinna made all the people to spontaneously take to the streets in jubilation of Enyimba’s victory during that international outing.
The man behind such resounding victory was Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu now a Distinguished Senator and Chief Whip of the Senate. A record was created when the SOLAD of Enyimba FC received the trophy from Obinna Nwaneri and handed same over to the dynamic, visionary Governor then, OUK. Record was made and created at the 60,000 capacity seated National Stadium, Abuja. Who has ever done that in Nigeria?
OUK revolutionized football not only in Nigeria but also across the then 52- member affiliates of CAF. In a well- attended ceremony at Government lodge, Asokoro, Abuja, OUK, in a voice laden with courage, confidence and radiance, promised to take Nigeria to greater heights.
OUK’s deep-rooted interest in sports, earned him appointment as the President of Nigeria Judo Federation and was re- elected to represent the South East zone in Judo.
Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, Chief Whip of the Senate, threw in his weight to the development of sports in Nigeria and if supported to ascend the number one political position in Nigeria come 2023 with the support of the generality of Nigerians, Nigeria would be a beehive of Sporting activities and our economy would witness astronomical change. This is a clarion call for all members of OUK Movement across the globe to work relentlessly and assiduously too.
Senator Orji Uzor Kalu’s foresight, dedication, intelligence, hardwork, charisma, aura and encyclopedic knowledge in the politics of football coupled with his track record of achievements, has placed him first among equals. OUK is a Jewel of inestimable value to football fraternity in Nigeria and should be given the opportunity to give Nigerians what they want and deserve.
*Barr. Sam Ogbonna, is Publicity Secretary, OUK Movement, Abia State.