Courage, they say is a love affair with the unknown, which implies that with a heart laced with courage, nothing can be termed as impossible. This arguably accounts for the resilience, confidence and passion that Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, has approached several layers of governance in the State.
Okowa’s administration practically teed off its presence in the sports arena with the completion of the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba and consequently announced its arrival to the international sports community. This tactically placed the government in a pole and good stead to harness the vast benefits available in sports development, especially the gains in harnessing energy of youths including socio-economic advancement.
The completion of the stadium which was hurried up to meet the deadline of the hosting rights of Confederation of African Athletics, CAA, African Senior Athletics Championship tagged: ‘Asaba 2018’, immediately changed the landscape of Asaba, the State capital. In particular, the aerial view that became a beauty and a delight to behold not just for residents but also for visitors, especially those flying in.
This encouraged residents and sports lovers across the state and neighbouring towns like Onitsha in Anambra State to troop out in large numbers whenever there is a sports event, to have a glimpse of the exquisite sports facilities as well as savour the joy of athletes displaying their skills and talents. No less than 15,000 spectators besieged the stadium to watch events during the CAA competition that lasted for about one week.
That period, most youths were won over to sports; many were gainfully engaged either as ad hoc staff, in one economic activity or the other to earn money.
Apart from growing the economy of the town and by extension that of the state, the event checked criminal activities and depopulated the criminal world as idle hands were positively absorbed.
The Stephen Keshi Stadium boasts of a 23,000 capacity seats with roof; a standard football pitch; facilities for jump events – triple jump, long jump and high jump; facilities for hammer, discuss, javelin and shot put; facilities for track events. There are also amenities for handball, volleyball, basketball, badminton and abulla.
Similarly, it has a weightlifting hall, a shooting range, a dart hall, including an arena for karate, judo and kickboxing. Equally, the stadium has an Olympicsize swimming pool measuring 50m in length with a width of 25m and depth of 2m.
It can host all swimming competitions. According to the Chairman of the Delta State Sports Commission (DSSC), Chief Tonobok Okowa, the rebirth of the Asaba township stadium, which was named after a former Super Eagles captain and coach, was conclusively executed by the current administration.
He said: “Many thanks to His Excellency, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa who made real, his vision to make the state the sports hub of the Federation during his tenure and he established it.”
To attest to this claim, the DSSC Chairman, said that in less than two years of the completion of the stadium, it has hosted the Senior African Athletics Championship; Nigeria vs. Seychelles AFCON qualifier; Nigeria U23 vs. Libya U23 football match; Super Eagles vs. Pharaohs of Egypt football match; Super Eagles vs. Cranes of Uganda friendly football match; Aiteo Cup Final between Rangers International and Kano Pillars; FA Cup final between Rangers International of Enugu and Lobi Stars of Gboko; among others.
Although Delta State has been a leading State in sports in Nigeria since the 2000 National Sports Festival held in Bauchi State, and has maintained the top position in virtually all the sports events, retaining that stance in the past five years has not been an easy achievement.
It took deliberate policy and programme from the Okowa administration to motivate the sports administrators, coaches and athletes which translated into higher performance and success galore for the state.
For instance, some athletes that excelled were rewarded with employment into the civil service while others got cash gifts for medals won. Still ,others were recognized in different ways and some officials were promoted.
Thus, sports became a tool for poverty alleviation as talented athletes had a complete turnaround from paucity to a higher economic level. A case in point is Deborah Okpochini who received N9m for winning nine gold medals following Governor Okowa’s reward of N1m for every gold medal.
At inauguration, Okowa hinted that his administration’s policy direction is to create an enabling environment for sports to thrive and give opportunity to the young ones to discover, nurture and develop their talents. Beyond the sports infrastructure be-