Okey Sampson, Umuahia
It is not for nothing that he is called the Pillar of Sports, and it was indeed one of the reasons a former President of Nigeria called him action Governor. Before he became governor of Abia State in 1999, no football club in Nigeria had won the CAF Champions League, but that was soon to change.
A man of many firsts in the sporting world, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of Abia State and now Senate Chief Whip did not only motivate Enyimba players to win the then elusive CAF Champions League in the 2003/04 football session, but made them to win it back to back. What feat? Factually, no other club in the country has come near achieving the Enyimba’s feat.
Enyimba, under Kalu as governor, are the first and only football club in Nigeria to have lifted the CAF’s annual football diadem.This is just a fraction of the firsts scored by Kalu in the field of sports, particularly football. The former governor, it is on record, was the first to have made first millionaire footballers in Nigeria. By that time, players’ sign-on fees in the country were not more than N300, 00 but Kalu raised the bar to N1m and above. Today, one of the beneficiaries of Kalu’s largesse positively attested to the former governor’s benevolence in sports.
Chibuzor Ozurumba, a former Enyimba Football Club player who was in the 2003/2004 Enyimba team that won CAF Champions League back to back, extolled the contributions of the former governor of Abia State in the development of sports, particularly football in Nigeria.
Ozurumba opined that prior to the administration of Kalu as governor; Nigerian players were not given adequate motivation in terms of welfare.
According to Ozurumba, who is the first Nigerian premier league highest goal scorer, Kalu, whom he said he still holds in high esteem, raised the bar for the improvement of welfare packages of sportsmen and women in the country which others followed.
“Before I came to Enyimba, I was told how Orji Uzor Kalu ordered Felix Anyansi Agwu, the chairman of Enyimba to make sure be brings me to Enyimba that he needs me.
“When Anyansi told me the story, I could not believe it till Gov Kalu himself told me in person that he was the one that asked Anyansi to bring you. I was very happy because every player wanted to play for Enyimba because Orji Uzor Kalu was involved.
“I can remember that signing fee at that time was N200, 000 or N300, 000 in many Nigerian clubs. When Orji Uzor Kalu came, he made Emeka Nwanna aka Ayaya the first football millionaire by raising signing fee to N1m and later N1.5 and it continued that way. Ayaya was the first millionaire in Nigeria premier league.”
Ozurumba said Enyimba, through Kalu succeeded in signing Emeka Nwanna and other great players, which made the club to conquer Africa for two consecutive sessions, a feat yet achieved happened in Nigeria, before and has not happened after.
Ozurumba, while stating that Kalu made playing for Enyimba then a thing of pride, recalled that the Senate Chief Whip had a track record of football management even before he became governor.
“I just know that he has this charisma of turning some-thing dull to be active. Maybe that was why he was called action governor. Only his presence motivated us. If we had planned to score one goal in a match and Kalu enters the stadium then, we’ll end up scoring five because of his presence”, Ozurumba stated.
Ozurumba, a native of Imo state equally extolled Kalu’s humility and simplicity, saying under his watch, Enyimba had supports from other ethnic groups including Hausa/ Fulani.