By Hugo Odiogor
That Asaba Township Stadium, now named after a national hero, Stephen Keshi, was s venue of this year’s AITEO Cup final, the old Challenge cup, comes with lots of historical antecedents and a critical milestone to the administration of Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa.
The stadium added another historical feat when it hosted a spectacular FA-Aiteo Cup final on October 26 as Enugu Rangers came from 3 goals down to defeat Kano Pillars through penalties 4 – 3. This was the first competitive match at the Stephen Keshi Stadium; it was a thrilling encounter.
Enugu Rangers International returned to winning the cup after a 35-year drought. It achieved a feat it could not in 1978, when it went 3-0 down against Bendel of Benin at the National Stadium, Lagos. Three strikes from Chris Ogu, Henry Ogboi and Insurance Alkali Mondafe from the Felix Agbonifo, skippered Bendel Insurance FC, Benin city, to shock Enugu Rangers beyond belief.
Dr. Okowa’s most ardent critics would not deny him the credits nor pretend that nothing has happened to deserve all the plaudits that he is getting today.
We have heard complaints of uneven playing surface, arising from the poor cutting of the grass in the once decertified football field.
This stadium is still under construction yet it recently hosted the CAA, a major continental sporting event in August this year. Despite some glitches and organizational logistics, the event ended as the first of its kind in Asaba.
Back in 1973, Midwest state under the leadership of Col. Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia had won the first National Sports Festival in Lagos, when the country had a twelve 12 state structure.
Everything about the state was spectacular. From the dressing of the athletes to their training, welfare and even media reporting, the state was light years ahead its peers. The result that it received from financial, physical and emotional investment in sports are still visible as the geo-political entity, called Midwest state, became known as Bendel and later as Edo and Delta States as we know them today. He set up a games village in Afuze, established stadia in Benin City, Warri, Kwale and Asaba almost at the same time.
There were healthy competitions among the local divisions that make up the state theb.
There were football clubs like the state-funded Vipers FC and Scorpions FC (an all-military football team, from the S & T Division in Benin City). The Police Machine FC , Benin City, AT & P from Sapele, Mac Demort F. C , NPA FC and Eselemo Diamonds from Warri, Asaba Textile Mill AsabaTex F. C. There was Ika Rangers from Agbor.In fact Asabatex represented the state in 1975 and were brushed away by Enugu Rangers International. Dr. Okowa was among the young men who trekked to St Colombas Grammar School, Agbor, to watch Ika Rangers FC in action.
Suffice to say that Col. Ogbemudia recognised the exponential ppwer and values of sports to unite and mobilise the people and he invested strategically in it. This paid off handsomely as Edo and Delta States became the dominant power in sports development. Delta state has won all but three editions of the National sports festivals. It has produced so many sports men and women. Anioma area of the state has been part of this success story regardless of the lack of access to a sporting infrastructure. When Chief James O. Ibori came to power in 1999, he continued with the tradition of sports development.
While towns like Warri and Oghara and Ughelli could boast of fully developed stadia, some with covered roof and with tartan tracks, Asaba township stadium exist in name its gate. It had an indoor sports hall and fully walled fences. It hosted inter-house sports for some secondary schools, community football competitions, march-past on national independence celebrations and religious events.
Suffice to say that the absence of such a facility killed the interest of going people in this area in sports. The sense of alienation and marginalisation was total. The likes of Vivian Chukwuma moved to UK.
Sports & Youth Development
Sports is one area where Delta State is blessed with abundant talents that can be developed for individual and team sports. It requires the existence of such infrastructure to actualise this cardinal aspect of human capital development. There are prospects for the emergence of more sports men and women by harnessing the economic potentials of the STARS University and International Golf Course in Idumuje Ugboko and the existence of Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba.
Sports University Project and SKS
There is no doubt that setting up of the STARS University at Idumuje Ugboko and International Golf Course, just 55 km away from Asaba International Airport will a far.sighted move by Dr. Okowa and Prince Ned Nwoko to tackle the challenges of youth development in Delta North senatorial district
What is required is to conceptualise a youth development programme in Aniomaland which produced the likes of Ms. Martha Jugah, Victor Oduah, Nduka Ugbade, Austin Okocha, Sunday Oliseh, Peter Konyegwachie, Emma Okocha, Ndubisi Okosieme and many others.
With the establishment of viable infrastructure for major Stephen Keshi Stadium there will be ready facility to train talents from the area. The location sporting events by the STARS University and other youth development programmes, there will be basis to produce sporting talents whose income will translate into invisible trade and boost foreign exchange earnings for the State.
• Odiogor, a veteran journalist, writes from Lagos.