Top African footballers including Finidi George, Kanu Nwankwo, Victor Ikpeba, El Hadji Diouf, Diomansy Kamara, and Didier Zokora on Friday paid a courtesy visit to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode ahead of a testimonial match in honour of the governor on Saturday.
Others who also made the trip were Khalilou Fadiga, Austin Eguavoen, Mutiu Adepoju, Waidi Akanni, Uche Okechukwu, and Seydou Keita.
While receiving the ex-football stars, Mr Ambode urged African countries to look inward and explore the possibility of using sports to grow their economies. He said sports remains a veritable tool to foster growth and development.
The outgoing governor said the sense of brotherhood in sports must be played up for the benefits of the continent in terms of scaling up the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of African countries.
“We have always used sports to build bridges and there is this sense of brotherhood anytime that you switch on your television and there is an African playing on any line-up be it, Liverpool, be it Tottenham, that feeling is always there and that brotherhood is something that we can use to grow the economies of Africa nations,” he said.
“I had this dream when I came in as governor that I could use sports, tourism, entertainment and arts with some sense of hospitality to promote excellence. So, I had something called Project T.H.E.S.E and my dream was to catalyse everything around sports and use it to build tourism and also grow the GDP of Lagos.
“So, that was the dream and why we promoted as many sporting activities as possible so that we could create a platform for tourism which made many people to travel here and just like you have come now, you will lodge in our hotels and the hotels at the end of the day would pay taxes and then we use it to do the infrastructure that we are doing.”
He said although four years may not be enough to do a lot, he remained grateful to God for the opportunity to serve the people, just as he expressed optimism that the next administration would take it up, improve on it and ensure that the dream and vision for sports development never dies.
“I am very honoured that you are all here in Lagos to celebrate with me as I finish my tenure in Lagos State,” Mr Ambode said.
“This match is not only for me but for the good of humanity. We are not promoting it because we want to make money out of it but we are actually showcasing the fact that there is still something to be done about sports development in Africa and then particularly in Nigeria.
“We have lost a lot of resources and economic growth because people can’t match sports with the economy and that is the mismatch that we are having here. I mean, the question is why do I have to travel to Madrid to go and watch La Liga meanwhile I will pay airline, pay for a hotel and grow the economy of Spain?
Mr Ambode said he might consider venturing into sports development, after leaving office, so he could use his intellect to find a way to match sports with the economy.
“We must understand that the future of Nigeria is actually in the service industry – in sports, in creative arts, in things that are innovative whereby people can use their talents to earn income and I pray that one day we would have sporting companies that would be on the Stock Exchange.”
Speaking on behalf of the footballers, Diouf thanked Governor Ambode for inviting them to Lagos and promised an exciting display during the match on Saturday.