By Patrick Omorodion
Saturday, May 4, 2013 will go down as a significant day in the history of Okpekpe, a dusty and mountanious little village in the Etsako East Local Area of Edo State. That day, the people who are basically rural farmers witnessed three events rolled into one.
The village was abuzz with athletes from far and near featuring in the first ever Okpekpe 10 kilometres road race for which a handsome prize money of $100,000 was at stake for the winners. Nigerians had to contest for it with the traditional long distance athletes from Ethiopia and Kenya.
However, aware that Edo indigenes are not too good in long distance races and may not share from the dollar rain, the organisers through the State government approved handsome prizes for Edo indigenes who placed first to eight in both the men and women categories.
At the beginning, the ceremony actually took the picture of a marathon race but as the athletes emptied into the dusty king square of Okpekpe, it turned into a carnival as the indigenes trooped out in their numbers, men, women, old and young alike, some in their best dresses, to catch a glimpse of their hero, the Comrade Governor, popularly called Oshio Baba as well as other dignataries on the governor’s entourage.
Colour was added to the carnival atmosphere as masquerades took turns to thrill the visitors, sometimes to an uncomfortable level, digging up red dusts that poured on all and sundry, irrespective of your status.
On the side of the government, officials of government which included commissioners, advisers and even security operatives jostled to be on parade before the start of the event with their long queues of cars which almost caused president of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, AFN, Solomon Ogba to lose his voice as he shouted on them to stop going to the Start line.
The other aspect of the occasion was the political rally dimension it took, courtesy of the announcer who took over the floor from the athletics officials, eulogising the governor and introducing every member of the Nollywood team who were brought by the State government not only to add colour to the event but drum support for the Governor who has shown that Edo could be transformed into a modern State infrastructurally.
Before now, Okpekpe was cut off from civilisation as there was no motorable road to the place. Governments before Oshiomhole’s may not have seen any need for one but Oshiomhole who is an Afemai himself believes that development should be equally spread and so remembered the Okpekpe clan.
In his speech at the event, he promised the people that the road would not only be extended to the palace of the traditional ruler of the Okpekpe Kingdom but further down to other adjoining towns and villages like Imiegba, for which he received a roaring applause.
Like a showman that he is, Governor Oshiomhole chipped in that after the road project is completed, one of the illustrious sons of Okpekpe whom he described in glowing terms, Mike Itemuagbor, should make provision for street lights to illuminate the area.
Before the Governor’s speech, the Sports Minister, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi had eulogised Governor Oshiomhole for the development he has brought to Edo and assured that he would support in making the Okpekpe road race an annual event to make Edo and Okpekpe in particular, a tourist destination.
Like I mentioned earlier, one of the sore points about the road race was relegating the race participants to the background for the Nollywood actors and actresses. This is not supposed to be as the athletes were the main reason we were there.
What the organisers should have done was make provision for the medal presentation immediately after the race so that the athletes, definitely tired after running, could take their leave to shower and take a deserved rest while the carnival and political rally for the people and politicians could continue, and may be run into the night, if need be.
Another sore point during the race was the overzelousness of the police men led by CSP G.O. Acha and DSP Kingdom Wowo who stopped the AFN bus conveying the medals and the media bus from following the runners. All effort to convince the leader, CSP Acha on why the vehicles should be allowed to join the convoy fell on deaf ears.
What however, irked the AFN scribe, Mrs Maria Wophill and journalists most, was that the police allowed a Senator and some Nollywood actors, who had no job to do on the race route to pass through. When he was told he could be queried for his action, he buckled and let the vehicles proceed.
No doubt, Okpekpe, totally unheard of to majority of those who thronged there that day, now rings a bell around the country and the world. A repeat of the race next year, like Mallam Abdullahi suggested, would make the small and dusty village a constant in the heart of all athletics lovers.
Mention must be made of the dignataries who attended. Apart from the sports minister and Chief Ogba, the AFN president, former AFN president, Dan Ngerem was also there. So were two prominent commisioners like Louis Odion, for Information and Clement Agba for Environment. Whether these men completed the race, could not be ascertained.
Though it was the inaugural edition of the race, it attracted a lot of sponsors like Edo State Government, NDDC, SETRACO, Malta Guiness, GLO, Coca Cola, AIT, Supersport, Hotsports, Adidas and Fourteen Africa, the official wear for the race. With the success of the first edition, more sponsors could be attracted for subsequent races. If it happens, the organisers and the athletes will be the better for it.