By Julius Oweh
The hosting of the 21st edition of Senior African Athletics Championships at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba has transformed the Delta State capital into a kind of sports tourism haven. The athletics competition not only brought sports men and women from all parts of the African continent to Asaba, it saw the boom of business as all the major hotels were fully booked.
Not only that, smart business men and women from Delta State, Anambra and even far away Kogi state turned Nnebisi road into a mini market as all stripes of goods were sold when the competition lasted.
Food vendors also smiled to the banks, giving credence to the affirmation that sport, apart from promoting leisure and physical fitness, has a way of boosting the economic activities of the hosting town and state. It will also be recalled that the stadium played host to the Aiteo Cup Finals between Enugu Rangers and the Kano Pillars.
And recently, an elder statesman and two -time president of the nation ( military and democratically elected) Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was in Asaba to commission the stadium that he laid the foundation stone some sixteen years ago. It shows that the governor of the state, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa is a man of history.
Obasanjo while commissioning the stadium praised the resilience of Okowa, the importance of sports to healthy living and commerce and he returned a verdict that Okowa deserves a second tenure. Obasanjo said thus :‘ “No one can have a sound mind and sound body without exercising. The stadium is a veritable source of money for the state and the people of Asaba and environs.
“The thinking of the people is `what are you doing with the stadium?’ and, to the ordinary man, the importance is not appreciated.
“But the importance is in having a sound mind in a sound body. I have always played squash and I have a squash court in my house to keep fit and it is very important that you exercise.
“In today’s world there is virtually nothing from which you cannot make money. Sports tourism will make the economy of the state strong and the people of Asaba will grow their economy.
“We must not just have the stadium, we must utilize the facility to bring up the young ones by catching them young.
“You must recruit those that would be trained and build a hostel where they stay to be trained and if you do this, the state will develop.
“Sixteen years ago, I came here to lay the foundation of this stadium and today I am here to inaugurate it. I hope to come back to see the hostel you have built to train the youths,”
The former head of state while endorsing Okowa for second term argued thus:”As an elder statesman, whatever I see and heard, my mouth will talk about; where I come from, we are always looking for good things and when we have good things, we hold on to it.
“When you have good leaders, hold on to them; this governor (Ifeanyi Okowa) from what I have seen and from what I have heard, he is a good product and when you have a good product, you don’t throw it away,
“I know that this governor is a good governor, I will hold on to him because he has started well and we must give him the opportunity to consolidate on his good works,”
An elated Okowa spoke on the importance of the stadium and how it will help to grow sports tourism. The governor went on memory lane by saying that when he came to office, the stadium was at 20 per cent completion stage and he took it upon himself to complete it. He explained further: “Now, the stadium has hosted an international athletics competition which had in attendance athletes from about 52 African countries in August, and it has also hosted the 2018 Aiteo Cup final match between Rangers International FC of Enugu and Kano Pillars FC.
“During these events, the state’s economy blossomed as hotels in the state capital were fully booked and other economic activities thrived. But some persons have asked that `of what importance is the stadium?’
“We will be hosting some friendly matches here too.
“But beyond this, the fact is that we are trying to grow our economy, and when we hosted the athletics championships and the Aiteo Cup final, economic activities in Asaba increased.
“Now, we have gotten the Asaba Airport runway right and just few days ago a flight took off from the airport to South Africa and returned and we plan to concession the airport for effective management as cargo airport by December,”
As for Pinnick Amaju, the president of Nigeria Football Federation, the stadium is not only a source of pride to him as a Deltan but it would take football in the country to a higher level. He stated that he was very happy that the Super Eagles trained in the Stephen Keshi stadium before leaving for South Africa and they qualified for Cameroon. He added that the Super Eagles are ready to adopt the stadium as one of their own.
Amaju spoke of his excitement: “When it was announced that we were boarding and flying to Asaba, it gave me great joy, it shows that God rules supreme in Delta State, we have qualified for AFCON and we are going to Cameroon to make great impact. On behalf of NFF, I thank the governor and the good people of Delta State for their show of enthusiasm since the Super Eagles came, that stadium is wonderful and the Super Eagles will be playing some matches here.”
It would be recalled that before the commissioning of the stadium , the governor of Gombe State Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo visited the stadium and was very much impressed not only by the level of work, he praised the Delta State governor for building such magnificent sports edifice.
.After a tour of the stadium, the Gombe Governor expressed great delight at the architectural masterpiece, adding that he was not surprised because over the years he has come to realize that Governor Okowa was a silent achiever. whose work speaks for him. Governor Dankwambo also admitted that the good deeds of the Delta State Governor were worth emulating; promising to replicate a similar stadium in Gombe state.
The Minister of Youth and Sports, Solomon Dalung in various fora had spoken of the importance of the Stephen Keshi stadium to the development of sports in the country and that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa should be commended for showing uncommon passion in the development of sports in the state and the country at large.
He said: “There has been a massive advancement in works at this stadium since the last time I visited and I can confidently assert that from what I’ve seen here, our capacity to host a World Championship is possible.
“This is because, apart from the infrastructure, the facilities that have been installed and are being installed here can serve the world.
“I must commend the government of Delta State for not only taking the responsibility to host this championship but also for this massive and durable legacy which the Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa has invested in.”
Nothing could be said better about Asaba as sports tourism destination than by these eminent Nigerians.