*As Gov Oshiomhole promises more for Edo sports
By Patrick Omorodion
March 26, 2011 was not an ordinary day in the ancient city of Benin. The city was aglow for the All Africa Games qualifier between Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea and the celebration from the Samuel Ogbemudia stadium was electrifying.
The ecstasy was not because the Austin Eguavoen-tutored team over-ran their opponents 5-0 but that the carnival atmosphere the Ogbemudia stadium was known for, has returned after a long lay-off occasioned mostly by the absence of top flight football.
The people’s darling club, Insurance Football Club was no longer playing in the elite league, after its demotion during the short tenure of Professor Oserheimen Osunbor. As a result, big clubs in the Nigeria Premier League which come every other week to battle the home side were no longer coming.
After the exit of the PDP government in the state, the ACN government of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole began the process of repositioning sports in the state, with the aim of ensuring that the state regains its enviable position in sports in the country and making Insurance Football Club play again in the elite league.
Governor Oshiomhole was therefore elated when the Nigeria Football Association, NFA decided to take the Nigeria-Equatorial Guinea match to Benin as he planned to use the occasion to showcase the new look Ogbemudia Stadium with its refurbished facilities that could be compared to the best anywhere in Africa.
The new dressing room which Governor Oshiomhole commissioned on the day of the match was a site to behold. It was no different from the dressing rooms of Ajax Football Club of Amsterdam and Manchester United once visited by this reporter. Without mincing words, it could go for the best among the state owned stadia scattered around the country.
Grinning from ear to ear in satisfaction of the new facility, the Comrade governor took a piece of chalk to write on the dressing room board as a coach would do, predicting the goal line of the impending match, 4-1. He said Nigeria should not be too ruthless as not to allow the visitors any goal, hence the lone goal he gave to the Guineans.
As it turned out, the U-23 team were not thinking in line with their host governor. They preferred to have all the five goals the governor predicted for themselves, not knowing what the second leg in Malabo will look like.
Speaking after commissioning the new dressing room, Governor Oshiomhole said the new facilities will be used judiciously by the state’s athletes to train for competitions so that the state returns to its position as the country’s number one in sports. He also said the facilities will be maintained so that more competitions are hosted in Benin in future.
To show that the people are happy to have their sports facilities refurbished and now capable of hosting national and international competitions, the stadium roared into ecstasy when the governor’s entourage arrived for the Nigeria-Equatorial Guinea match.
The only sore point of his arrival was that it coincided with the National Anthem of the visitors and the governor’s protocol team didn’t know that the governor’s entrance could have been halted a little to allow the National Anthem rendition end.
As the Guest of Honour, Governor Oshiomhole was not on ground to inspect the teams before kick-off as the task fell on Chief Mike Umeh, first vice chairman of the NFA.
However, to save the embarrassment, the CAF match commissioner from Cameroon had to be begged to allow the governor take a photo shot with the teams after which he then had an opportunity to shake hands with the referees and the Nigerian players.
The arrival disappointment for Governor Oshiomhole was wiped out by the scintillating soccer artistry displayed by the U-23 team which he has now agreed to host all through their qualifying series. Lanky Nnamdi Oduamadi, Nosa Igiebor, Obiora Nwankwo, Odion Ighalo and their captain, Haruna Lukman, despite his penalty miss, among others, gave the governor and match starved Benin fans, much to cheer. And talk about too for a long time.