By Onochie Anibeze
Governor Raji Babatunde Fashola of Lagos is inviting Nigerians to the closing ceremony of the 18th National Sports Festival this evening at the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Surulere. Lagos is promising a magnificent show and the governor wants many to feel the stadium atmosphere tonight.
Lagos has done well in the hosting of the games. They provided a level-playing field and aside few challenges that mark games of this magnitude in Nigeria true winners emerged in most of the events. Cheating was not as pronounced as it was in some past festivals.
On the opening day on November 27, Governor Fashola announced that the ultimate dream was to develop sports and not a medal chase at all cost. His lieutenants lived up to this. Lagos did not intimidate opponents. They did not cheat. They promoted the spirit of fair play and they deserved their third place position on the medals table.
It is their best outing in the past five games. And they want to cap their efforts with a classic closing ceremony that will be full of entertainment. Eko for show is a common phrase in Nigeria. Lagos is determined to justify that. During the games, fans had fun at different centres.
Musicians and comedians entertained in different relaxation centres. There were many shows even at the venues. The events were well attended and fan clubs made the atmosphere at venues exciting. The excitement continues this night at the closing ceremony where athletes will bid bye to their friends.
Eko 2012 will remain green in the memories of many participants. It may be the last for many of them, their ages notwithstanding. It is the last festival that will be restricted to those who have competed in international events and those who have attended two festivals.
The 2014 games in Cross River will be open to all. It will be Nigeria’s quasi Olympic Games. States will field their best athletes at home and abroad. This will make the National Sports Festival very competitive and some those who competed here may no longer meet the standard to compete for their states.
The stakes will be higher. And for the purposes of discovering talents, there will be a national junior competition. Many have commended this direction and hoped that the competitions would be well organized to achieve the objectives of the country. And so Lagos is making history as the last host of the closed games.
It is equally so for Delta State which leaves Lagos as title holders of the last closed games. Emerging tops here makes them the best state in sports in the recent times. They have won five out of the last seven games, losing to Edo and Rivers when those states hosted the games. Delta won in Bauch 2000, Edo won in Edo in 2002, Delta returned to their winning streak in Abuja in 2004 and Abeokuta in 2006.
They also won in the Kaduna games that had to be postponed two times before losing to Rivers in Rivers. Now, they are back as winners in Lagos, the City of Excellence and a state that won the games consecutively at Markurdi ’96 and Imo ’98. The plunge in Lagos set in after then. But Fashola has launched a programme to revive sports and the march is on.
“The good thing about our victory is that it cuts across many sports. We won gold medals in almost all sports. It makes our victory complete and proves how serious we are about sports development ,”Amaju Melvin Pinnick, head of sports in Delta said. His governor Emmanuel Uduaghan had said that they had the capacity to “win the festival any time we want so far there’s fair play.”
He has also said that the focus now should be transforming sports in Nigeria so that Nigeria can begin to do well at the Olympic Games and also make sports the industry that it is in some countries. It is the same song that Fashola and Liyel Imoke of Cross River State are singing.
As the curtains will be drawn on Eko 2012 today, two athletes will be in the minds of many who saw them compete. They are the stars of the games. They should be the faces of Eko 2012. Kingsley Forcados and Otobodo Owanren as at Friday had won 12 gold medals. Each of them had won four individual and two team gold medals.
They are Delta athletes. Kingsley is the younger brother of Blessing Forcados who won seven gold medals in the Abuja games and when asked what she wanted government to do for her she asked for nothing but wanted the state to build a swimming pool in her senatorial district.
Kingsley and Otobodo will get special attention as the games come to an end today. The winners of Eko 2012 are, however, not only the medalists. The hosts, the organizers and all the entertainers who performed at the opening ceremony and those who will make tonight a wonderful one will, in a way, remain the stars of Eko 2012.