By Patrick Omorodion
Yesterday I remembered my friend and Edo brother, Mr Victor Omoregie, the former Corporate Affairs Manager of the Vanguard Media. Vikolo, as Mr Omoregie was fondly called by his friends and colleagues, was a great athlete in his university days, representing his alma mater, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka at NUGA, the Nigerian University Games.
He did not stop there as he competed for the country at the World Universities Games in the 80s. He was passionate about athletics and cried each time Nigeria failed to make any impact at world or African Championships. He is no longer alive to weep for Nigeria as he passed on late last year.
Vikolo will always remember the ‘good old days’ of Nigeria’s athletics, reeling out figures to buttress his views on how great Nigerian athletes like, Felix Imadiyi, nick-named Beautiful Legs, Charlton Ehizuelen, Peter Okodogbe and Innocent Egbunike, among others ruled Africa. One area which Vikolo never stopped criticising was the long distances, especially the marathon races which MTN and Globacom tried to promote in later years. His anger grew when the Okpekpe Road Race made its entry into Nigeria, worst still, through his ‘beloved’ state of Edo.
This was an area that almost always incurred his wrath for me as he would always ask me why I should support an event I know will never bring any dividend for Edo state and Nigeria at large. When I tried to convince him that competitions are not always hosted because host cities or countries must win, he gets infuriated.
He however, allowed me to hold my opinion. That is why as the 2018 edition of the Okpekpe race, the first under Governor Godwin Obaseki held yesterday, I remembered Vikolo and the good times we shared discussing sports and athletics in particular. If Mr Omoregie were still alive, may be he would have changed his position on the needfulness of the Okpekpe Road Race.
Because he felt former Edo state governor, Adams Oshiomhole never supported or invested in sports in the state, he queried the support the Okpekpe Road Race was enjoying even though it had a lot of private sector sponsorship.
Apart from Vikolo, the hatred other athletics faithful in Edo state and Nigeria had for the Okpekpe event was the reality that no Edo indigene or Nigerian for that matter will ever get to win the big prize money. From inception till yesterday, the east Africans, the Kenyans and Ethiopians have always dominated the race and earned the prize given in hard currency. They did it again yesterday.
This thinking may have necessitated the organisers to introduce prizes for Edo winners to encourage them and ensure the benefit from competition trickles down to the people. Critics of this annual event have not thought of other benefits like putting Edo state and Okpekpe in particular on the world map and making it a tourists destination. Before the advent of the 10km Road Race, most people, including me, an Edo indigene never knew of a place called Okpekpe. I knew only Auchi and heard about Fugar and Agenebode in Edo north.
The decision of the Oshiomhole government to open up other areas of Edo state by the massive construction of roads ignited the idea of a Road Race in Okpekpe by one of its indigenes, Mr Mike Itemuagbor, a sports marketer who was already known in sports circles in Africa.
Before the construction of the road linking Okpekpe to Auchi, I learnt that the journey of less than 20 minutes or thereabout to Okpekpe, lasted several hours and happened every four days when the people go to the market.
Today, at this time of the year, precisely every second Saturday of May, athletics buffs around the world look forward to making the trip to Okpekpe to partake in the competition in a carnival-like atmosphere.
The town is electrified by the sound of musicians instruments and drums from the local masquerade as well as the buzzing sound of various types of automobiles.
Men, women, boys and girls turn out in their best clothes to join in the celebration of an event that has made the rustic town talk of the athletics world. The people make brisk sales of various food items, drinks and souvenirs, earning some income in the process.
This is definitely the benefit many critics didn’t see and which the past administration only saw as one of those sports events. Governor Obaseki whose slogan is Public-Private Partnership has embraced the event which has been endorsed by the world athletics governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, IAAF.
With Gov Obaseki opening up Edo state to the business world, one won’t be surprised if by the second edition under his tenure, many more private organisations may key into it as more and more visitors from across the athletics (sports) world make it their destination.
However, before I end this piece, I want to say that while FIBA is still foot-dragging on the fresh election into the NBBF it directed after its fact-finding to Nigeria, the Tijjani Umar group not wanting to allow the game die, has proceeded with the new basketball season with the commencement of the Kwese Premier League which enters its third week today.