By Ori Martins
The unpardonable relegation of Heartland FC, Owerri, was gradual, steady and eventual. It came in phases. The signs and signals were there but they were all ignored.
To start with, it all started when Governor Hope Uzodimma anointed the Imo State deputy speaker, Rt Hon Amara Iwuanyanwu, as the supervisor of the team. Without any known record of being a sports personality in any way, the Imo deputy speaker started on a wrong note. He unprofessionally sacked the general manager of the team, Chukwudi Ifeanyi, and every other thing that knocked the team negatively had its root from this mindless move.
Having uprooted the general manager, Amara Iwuanyanwu took over the team and annexed it in a manner like a dictator. He recklessly shutdown Heartland’s office and commandeered that all official issues – meetings – concerning the club must be deliberated in his official lodge. The consequence is that no member of the team mustered the courage to challenge the deputy speaker each time he came up with any of those obnoxious policies or ideas that ultimately hammered the club to relegation. If proceedings were taking place at Heartland’s office, people would have been free to freely express their thoughts and feelings.
Amara Iwuanyanwu took the unthinkable line of action that obviously buried Heartland: he allegedly cornered the club’s funds and finances. This way, it was Amara Iwuanyanwu, rather than the general manager, through the accountant, that was accessing the team’s funds. Investigations and feelers from the team clearly indicated that Heartland FC have a valid bank account, a cashier and an accountant. Yet, it was the deputy speaker who if confirmed, approved, signed and collected, and at the same time disbursed funds. This really got the management team disgusted and disenchanted about the entire drama going on in the team.They were crest fallen. Yet, Amara Iwuanyanwu was said to have collected average of N5m weekly for the prosecution of home and away games. In all, informed sports journalists have conservatively pegged it that Governor Uzodimma allegedly handed the deputy speaker the mind boggling sum of over N1b. But how can a responsible government allow such sum to be squandered on Heartland and yet the team was relegated?
It has also been discovered that Amara Iwuanyanwu couldn’t expend the funds from Uzodimma on the team because, by then, he had commenced the offensive idea of taking members of the Imo State House of Assembly to Heartland’s away matches, particularly in South East and South – South zones. You see now. The finances that ought to have been utilized for the good of the team were monumentally lavished on assembly house members who had nothing to do with the team and contributed nothing apart from being a part of the jamboree cocktail.
This disturbing and rude tale compelled the deputy speaker to sacking some members of the team and slashing the salaries of those who were lucky to have escaped his sledgehammer.
Most of the times, the players complained and protested against their non payment of salaries and match allowances. Because of this, some vital points were lost on both home and away grounds.
Apart from Amara Iwuanyanwu, there were also the general manager, Promise Nwachukwu and the sports commissioner, Dan Ogu. Both men are misfits in sports circles. They lack capacity, carriage and knowledge on how to manage the affairs of a club like Heartland. And so, they never mustered the courage to speak truth to power – the deputy speaker – when he completely derailed.
It was at that point that Governor Uzodimma ought to have called the deputy speaker to order. But he never did. Thus, Heartland FC, five times Premier League champions, trice Federation Cup winners and twice CAF Champions Cup finalists, went down.
If it were to be a government that has the interest of growth and development of the state at heart, by now, an independent investigative panel (of inquiry) ought to have been set up by governor to look into details why Heartland took this laughable but criminal nosedive. That is, by now heads ought to be rolling. But what we hear is that the man who cooked this poisonous food – the deputy speaker – is still busy serving the menu even after it has proved his dish poised his guests to death
Just take an assessment of all the national football teams: male or female, Imo footballers are making waves, serving as the cornerstones of their respective sides. Yet, back home, the only football team in the state, is relegated even when Abia State has three teams – two in the Premier League and one in the lower division. Akwa Ibom has four across the divisions. As the male team, Heartland FC are relegated so also was the female team, Heartland Queens, demoted. What a shame?
This is how Uzodimma and his APC allies led Heartland to a miserable relegation that was absolutely avoidable. Uzodimma’s notoriety in failures in sports are not limited to Heartland FC and Heartland Queens alone.
Today, what is known as Grasshoppers International Handball team are no more. Grasshoppers were unbeatable in Nigeria for decades and twice African and West African champions. In almost three years of Uzodimma’s administration, Grasshoppers are extinct and extinguished.
The Imo State hockey team called The Imo Flickers were the number one side in Nigeria and were representing the country in continental competitions before the arrival of Uzodimma as governor. As you read this, The Flickers cannot even get sponsored for zonal qualifiers organized in South East.
Just now, news filtered through that mass exodus has hit Imo State camp as leading athletes have abandoned the state in droves to feature for Edo, Rivers and Delta States in the next National Sports Festival.
Yet, former governor, Rt Hon Emeka Ihedioha, had set up a standard for sports administration when, for the first time in the history of the state, he constituted, through an act of law, the Imo State Sports Commission. He appointed a seasoned sports administrator and internationally acclaimed sports journalist, Chief (Sir) Fan Ndubuoke, as the chairman.
Through the sports commission as supervised by Ndubuoke, Ihedioha started the renovation of both the Dan Anyiam Stadium as well as the Grasshoppers International Handball Pitch. He commenced the construction of a new Olympic sized indoor sports hall and the equipment were imported from overseas. A state sports festival was organized and a sports summit was put in place. Construction of stadiums was going simultaneously across the local government areas. After going through all Ihedioha had on ground and on paper, the minister of sports, Mr Sunday Dare, historically proclaimed that “Imo State is now the home of sports in Nigeria”. Dare is of APC. Ihedioha, PDP. Yet, the former never minded party differences because he was touched by the organized method Ihedioha executed his sports programmes and projects.
As it turned out to be, the Sports Commission model was jettisoned for a confused system that fussed it with the ministry bureaucracy. Two, the massive sports equipment imported have either been looted or allowed to rout away in government offices. Three, the Back-to-Root programme to reverse the exodus of athletes of Imo origin to other states was equally abandoned. Imo youths have now become slaves in other states in an attempt to pursue their careers when they would have had all at their beck and call here in the state.
Sadly, all the above trailblazing grounds were not well followed up by the Uzodimma administration. And that is what has brought about this comprehensive and unimaginable failures in sports under Governor Uzodimma’s watch. The gods are watching.