Veteran Footballer, Igba Jija, whose trade mark in the lethal game spanned over two decades has joined the legion of Ex-internationals who are clamouring for the revival of grassroots sports . We are working towards the discovery of hidden talents that abound in Benue State with a view to bringing them to limelight.
The gangling striker whose pace and thunder shots at goal were similar to late Super Eagles attacker Rashidi Yekini, Jija is one of those discovered at the grassroots. The former Nigeria International had won several Benue State Governor soccer cups and other silverwares with the National U-17,U-23 and the Super Eagles during his active days to his credit.
Jija aired his views to The Voicesports, Reporter Akpera Nase on the need to revitalise grassroots sports and other sundry issues. Excerpts.
Sir, in your opinion how do you assess the level of sports development in Benue State in recent times?
Well, in my assessment, sports is a vital tool for socio political development, Sports also serves as a means of employment in all facets of human endeavor. In fact, sports has played a huge role in shaping the society. However, in my assessment sports in Benue State is moving on slow speed than expected. The insfratructure need to be improved upon and professionals should be given the opportunity to run the sector for uptimum performances.
Do you see Sports impacting on the Benue youths in the contemporary time?
I have observed that Benue as a State has its ups and downs. The discipline that sports inculcate in some of us at the time we were coming up and the desire for some of us to take a career in our chosen sports is no longer there. Before now, Benue was a top ranking sports state in Nigeria. Stars like Nastyn Terry (Volleyball),Clara Tsetim (alias Baby Judo), Hembadoon Atser of blessed memory (Judokas) Lucy Adamgbe (Basketball), John Apir, Mike Taangahar Terfa Anshingu, Judith Adikpo, (Handball) and host of others were discovered and later became National team athletes that represented both Benue State and Nigeria at international championship. In recent times, sports does not have any meaning ful impact on Benue youths to be honest with you .
You were one of those discovered during Benue State Governor’s soccer cup competition, what other sports Benue athletes were very popular in Nigeria in time past?
Benue athletes were very popular in other sports such as Handball (men and women,) Basketball, Volleyball when the Wombo brothers Jonathan and Solomon notable figures in Nigeria, and Terseer Mnzuulga were rated the best setter of all times, and Professor Jonathan Uever , Athletics and Boxing. Let me remind you that the late Lucy Adamgbe captained Team Nigeria Basketball to the 1976 Olympic games in Montreal, Canada. While man mountain Solomon Ataga also represented Nigeria in Boxing at the 1976 and 1980 Olympic games in Canada and Moscow, Russia. Hembadoon Atser won African Judo Queen for Nigeria in 1986,in Casablanca, Morocco and Baby Judo emerged third best at the World Judo championship in the 80,s to mention just a few .
As a former footballer who has seen it all, by your assessment, what made the game of soccer very competitive in your time?
Local Clubs were everywhere in all the Local government areas in Benue State at that time, some clubs were owned by individuals, while every Local government at that time was eager to float and sponsor a football club to engage the youths in their areas.
I grew up watching top teams around Benue State like Kwande United FC, Sir Akpoo System FC all from Adikpo, Juladaco Bees FC, Chalk Powers FC, Black Tigers FC all from Gboko. These clubs were in existence before the emergence of BCC Lions and Benro Packaging Fc,.
“Then we had Hawks FC owned and financed by the Benue State government,P&T Rovers, Lower Benue Green Seads ,Samco Stars Obeya Babes fc Otukpo, Tigers fc Jato Aka among others.” These clubs made Benue State Soccer league very competitives and attractive too. The array of Stars on parade at the match venues was very outstanding and scintillating that pulled the spectators at every match.
What measures do you think were responsible for the development of football that time?
The private sector played a major role in this regard, Benue State was very vibrant in sporting activities because individuals and corporate bodies invested into sports and they wanted results. There was supervision and checks and balances, because the corporate bodies were involved.This created gainful employment for many Benue Youths. However, the system has for long gone into extinction. The private sector used to invest money in sports as an arm of advertisement. Look at Benue Cement Company. The company did not only float BCC Lions Soccer outfit, but also a Tennis Club to advertise their products BCC Portland cement. Look at Julius Berger, NPA, even now military and para mily agencies such as EFCC, Road safety, NAF Rockets FC, and Civil Defence that have joined the crusade for sports promotion in their respective agencies are doing well.
Benue State is blessed with gifted male and female footballers,. What do you think is responsible for our players not been invited to the National teams? Ogenyi Onazi and Francisca ordega are seen to be the only recent Benue indigenous players that played for the Super Eagles and Super Falcons. Imenger Jnr and Okpotu featured for CHAN Eagles, what is the problem?
I really feel very sad at the recent happenings to players. The cankerworm has eaten deep in the system, there is no merit now and you have to do with what you have? Let’s go back to the drawing board. At the moment, we hardly witness competitions like Governor’s cup and Benue State Football league. These are competitions where a lot of players can be discovered, but are no longer in place. Look at the State challenge cup finals, each year BCC Lions versus Hawks now Lobi Stars fireworks all the way. Again 90 percent of Lobi Stars players now are none indigenes, if any opportunity comes it will not favour our brothers.
Readers would like to know who Igba Jija is ? Can we hear from you sir?
I am Igba Jija I hail from Konshisha Local Government Area of Benue State, I have played and won several Benue State Governor’s cup with different coaches, Gboko Local Government with Coach Ambrose Jor, Konshisha Local with Coach Gabriel Akuusu, Tarka Local Government with Coach Agena Igyor and others I can’t recall immediately. This marked my journey in Soccer career.
I started my football career at the defunct Benro Packaging FCI n 1990, I crossed over to Junior Lions between 1991-1992, I graduated from Junior Lions to Bcc Lions between 1993-1994. Then I moved to VIP FC Lagos, I played two seasons with Niger Tornadoes FC Minna, and back to Lagos with First Bank FC between 1998_2000. I carried my shooting boots to Europe where I plied my Soccer trade with Olympic Paralimni in Cyprus top flight between 2005-2006 and finally, played for Africa Sports, Abidjan where eventually hanged my boots in 2007,
The versatile striker, Jija also played for the National U_17 , the Golden Eaglets in 1996, he played for the National U-23 in 1999 under Coach Willey Bazuaye , the gentle giant crowned his football career by playing for the Super Eagles under Coach Shuaibu Amodu in 2000 respectively.