When in 2017 the state government was approached to host the 21st edition of Senior African Athletics Championship, the Stephen Keshi Stadium came to mind.
Paul Osuyi, Asaba
Asaba is regarded as the fastest growing state capital in Nigeria. Named as capital in 1991 when the Delta State was carved out of the old Bendel State, the once sleepy community has become an assortment of communities.
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Although, education is regarded as the biggest industry of Asaba from time immemorial, the people’s traditional dance also boosted the socio-economic life of the ancient Asaba town.
However, with its status as seat of government, assorted activities have berthed to scale up the economy of the town located on the west of the majestic River Niger. Just recently, the Asaba Township Stadium, renamed Stephen Keshi Stadium, was formally commissioned.
Former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who laid the foundation stone in 2002 when the contract was first awarded, also performed the commissioning of the 25,000 capacity main bowl.
After its award and subsequent foundation laying ceremony, construction works at the stadium suffered series of setback as the contract was repudiated at various points due to nonperformance on the part of the contracting firm.
In 2013, for instance, the administration of former governor Emmanuel Uduaghan repudiated the contract, renamed the stadium after Stephen Keshi who led the Super Eagles, as coach, to win the African Cup of Nations in Tunisia, and vowed to ensure completion of the facility.
The contract was re-awarded in 2014 but was again repudiated for non-performance. This was besides criticisms from a section of the public that its location along the busy Nnebisi Road was wrong, and that its utilisation when completed will create traffic challenges.
But when in 2017 the present state government was approached to host the 21st edition of Senior African Athletics Championship, the Stephen Keshi Stadium, which was said to be about 20 percent completed, came to mind.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa said he accepted to host the athletics fiesta but noted that he was challenged on how to transform the stadium since the competition was just about one year away when he accepted the hosting right.
“I looked at the state of the stadium, it was far from completion, the job done was less than 20 percent. We accepted it, and that was in 2017, and in few months we could turn it to what it is today. We actually started afresh because we needed to meet the standards,” an excited Okowa said during the commissioning.
He stated that the stadium was fully completed, explaining the economic impact the facility has made when it hosted the athletic championship in August and the Aiteo cup final between Enugu Rangers and Kano Pillars in last month.
“The main bowl is completed, and luckily a very successful CAA adjudged the best that has been held was hosted, and 52 countries came in for the competition. And just last month, we successfully hosted the Aiteo cup finals between Rangers and Pillars.
“And we have hosted the Eagles of Nigeria and Cranes of Uganda in an international friendly match. I say all these because some people have had to query our investment in this stadium.
“I don’t blame them because they do not understand, it is only when you understand that you know the importance of this. People have said that at this critical time when there is no money, why spend money to complete the stadium?
“But I know that in the week of the CAA, all hotels in Asaba up to Okpanam and Ogwashi-Uku were all filled, people could not find space. So a lot of commerce, a lot of activities, buying and selling everywhere, it improved the economy of the locals.
“And that is very important. Beyond the entertainment of sports tourism, it is important that as a government, beyond the building of roads, beyond ensuring that our youths acquire skills, we must try to grow the local economy particularly that aspect that affect the very lowly in our society.
“I also know that when we hosted the Aiteo final, the economy of Asaba grew. And only with Eagles training here for some days, I am sure the activities have been heightened in Asaba,” he explained.
Commissioning the facility, the former president, Chief Obasanjo explained the importance of sports to the body, and urged the state government to provide hostel accommodation for budding talents in sports.
“When I came 16 years ago, I laid the foundation, today I have come to commission and dedicate it. I will come back and see the hostel and how you are catching them young and training them to produce the best. I cannot thank you enough for the opportunity.
“The thinking normally is that what are you doing with a stadium? When there are roads that are not tarred? To an ordinary man, the importance of stadium cannot be appreciated. But from time immemorial even the Romans talk of a sound mind in a sound body.
“If your body is not sound there is limit to how sound your mind will be. And what makes for a sound body is exercise, sports and games. I can jump up.
“There is nowhere I have lived in the recent past that I do not have a squash court and up till today, I still play squash. It is very important, whoever you are, whatever age you are, whatever position you are, you must exercise.
“In today’s world, there is nothing from which you cannot make money. Sports tourism, and that means that from everywhere people will come here and use the stadium, then the economy will thrive locally and be strong.
“But let me add very importantly that we must not only just have the stadium for exercising, sports tourism, we must also have it for bringing up our own people to be the best. And how do we go about that? Catch them young! We have facilities. We have to recruit those who we will train from young age. And Mr. Governor, the main bowl, the indoor hall, swimming pool you will need to build a hostel where you will put your own people.
“They will be training day and night and they will be going to school. That is the way to bring them up. Identify them when they are young, bring them under a very sound training schedule in whatever sports. Delta State will produce the best,” Obasanjo said.
Speaking on behalf of the Asagba of Asaba, Obi (Prof.) Chike Edozien, the Iyase, Chief Patrick Onyeobi said the entire community is happy with the development of the town.
Onyeobi who assured Chief Obasanjo of unrivaled warmth and cordiality of Asaba community, described Okowa as governor who knows the aspirations of the people and works toward their realisation for the happiness of his people.