By Julius Oweh
Next week, to be precise on Wednesday August 1st, the whole of African continent will converge in Asaba, the capital of oil bearing state to compete for honour and glory.
The event is the African Senior Athletics Championship. It is the second to be hosted by Nigeria. The first being the one hosted in the commercial city of Nigeria, Lagos in 1989.it is a sporting event of its kind in Asaba and for many years to come shall continue to trigger the imagination and memory of Asaba residents and visitors alike.
This reporter was at Stephen Keshi stadium in the ever busy Nnebisi Road, Asaba. The construction activities and the finishing touches at the stadium were at feverish pitch. Workers both skilled and unskilled were at their best and the impression one gets is that the state government was not ready to give anything to chance. And this was demonstrated by the unscheduled visit of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to the stadium
last Tuesday. Just fresh from his annual vacation, the governor was there to see things for himself. Speaking to reporters, the governor said that he was satisfied with the pace of work, adding that the state government was ready to host the African continent nay the world.
As usual business men both small and big are ready to capitalise on the sports meet with the anticipation of smiling to the bank. There are various advert billboards inside the stadium and outside. Petty traders have already put up their stands for the sale of souvenirs and other materials that might catch the fancy of visitors from far and near.
The hosting of the athlete meet did not come from the blues or miraculously fell on the laps of the Delta State government. It took months of careful planning and strategic thinking in sourcing funds. A fund raising dinner was organised by the government in the prestigious Grand Hotel, Asaba and the outcome was not disappointing. The state government got on its war chest more than five hundred million naira. Zenith bank plc led the pack by donating a whopping sum of three million naira. Bube Dan, a construction firm gave twenty million naira, Levant construction, twenty million naira, Gomene ,eleven million naira, the Delta state house of assembly, seven million naira and the federal ministry of sports gave five million naira.
To put practical vent of the federal government commitment to sports development, the minister of sports, Solomon Dalung paid a visit to the stadium and was very happy with the state of preparation for the African sports meet. He said that the stadium was good enough for the 21st African senior athletics championship. Listen to his views; ’The facilities put in place at the Stephen keshi stadium are not just good enough for the African championships but they are also capable of even hosting the IAAF championships. The athletes know what accrues to them if they win medals in Asaba, hence they have been preparing and would definitely give their best shot as they compete with the rest of the continent . I want to commend your Excellency for your support to host the CAA athletics championship. It is a rare demonstration of selfless leadership. Delta state has sprung its normal surprise, what I see here is quite amazing‘. The sports minister further said that Governor Okowa was leaving a legacy of sports development in Asaba and that Nigerians were grateful to the governor for hosting the championship, adding that the gains of the sports meet were not only limited to Delta state but also the whole nation. No testimony could be better than that of the man saddled with the responsibility of sports development in the country.
The governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa said that Delta state decided to ghost the competition because of the benefits of sports and the place the state occupies as a leading sports entity. He said: ‘We are committed to the success of the 2018 CAA Athletes championship and we are going to offer all the support needed to ensure the successful hosting.
Sports is a unifying factor among our people, especially in the maintenance of peace and development of the economy. In less than three weeks, athletes from 47 African countries , as well as officials will begin to converge in Asaba for the historic event. It is historic in the sense that this is the second time Nigeria will be hosting this event. It is a glorious opportunity to further our agenda, to regain Delta frontline status in sports by hosting this event.
Apart from being a dominant force in the National Sports Festival in the years gone by, Delta State has produced foremost international athletes such as Tony Urhobo, Maria usifor, Vincent Odogwu Nwajei, Sunday Uti, Blessing Okagbare and many others. We believe this event has the strong potentials to reawaken the interest and consciousness of the upcoming generation and motivate them to strive for greatness in athletes. On our own, we have delivered on our promise. The Stephen Keshi stadium is ready for the event. It was tough but we got it done and the stadium is actually a beauty to behold‘.
The deputy governor of the state, Deacon Kingsley Otuaro represented the governor during the test-running of the stadium further gave vent to the sentiments of the governor during the test run of the stadium. Said he: “Today marks the test running of the facilities in preparation of the African Senior Athletes Championship and as you can see, we are set for the country. We are set for Africa. For everyone, both athletes and guests, as a state government, our message is simple – that Delta state is set to give them a beautiful hosting, we are an accommodating people , everything that is needed to make this championship a success is set and we are welcoming them all`.
And most athletes and visitors are ready to drink from the spring of legendary hospitality of Deltans. And Patience Okon George is not only to get that hospitality but ready to win medals. Listen to Her : ‘I am training hard to do my best and hopefully my best will be good enough to win two titles. It has not been easy preparing. But that notwithstanding, I have to close my eyes to all the drama in Nigerian athletics and get a good result. If the sentiments of Nigeria‘s foremost quarter miller athletes is anything to go by, then Asaba hosting Africa will be an entertaining sports event.