By Julius Oweh
Recently the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba played host to the Delta State Principals Cup Competition among secondary schools in the state, an avenue to breed young football talents. It is yet another affirmation that Asaba would continue to be a breeding ground for young athletes and at the same time growing the local economy. Speaking at the occasion, the chairman of the local organizing committee and the Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education, Mr Chiedu Ebie said the competition was a deliberate effort of the government to give sports its pride of place.
Said the commissioner before the final :‘We have been working hard to give this event a befitting final. These are the future stars and the competition is an event very close to the heart of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa.
We expect a funfair of sort in the third place and final matches. Attractive prizes will be given to the finalists and players who excelled in the competition.‘
Since the commissioning of the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba by the former head of state, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the stadium has played host to many international sports competitions including the Senior African Athletic Championships. When Obasanjo was commissioning the stadium, he went on memory lane saying that some sixteen years ago; he laid the foundation of the stadium and was very happy to be part of the commissioning ceremony. Obasanjo, as a leader who will not want any opportunity to slip by without making seeming policy statement praised Okowa for the vision of completing the stadium. He also harped on the importance of sports as a source of generating income. Obasanjo said thus :‘ “No one can have a sound mind and sound body without exercising. The stadium is a veritable source of money for the state and the people of Asaba and environs. The thinking of the people is ‘what are you doing with the stadium?’ and, to the ordinary man, the importance is not appreciated.
But the importance is in having a sound mind in a sound body. I have always played squash rackets and I have a squash court in my house to keep fit and it is very important that you exercise.
“In today’s world there is virtually nothing from which you cannot make money. Sports tourism will make the economy of the state strong and the people of Asaba will grow their economy.`
And not too long ago, the economic activities in Asaba peaked as a result of the international events at the stadium. The matches were those of Nigeria and Seychelles , Nigeria U 23 and Libya and Nigeria and Egypt . One noticeable inconvenience, however, that during the days of the matches, as from 2pm, the Nnebisi Road was locked down from Maduemeza Junction to AGGS Junction.
Speaking on the matches, Christian Eze , the sports editor of the state government owned newspaper, The Pointer said that the turnout of people were very impressive, adding that residents of Asaba, Onitsha and other neigbouring towns value the importance of relaxation. He maintained that despite the gate fees, many Nigerians were happy to be at the stadium.
Eze spoke further on the three days of international soccer at the Stephen Keshi stadium: ‘The stadium was filled to its capacity of 22,000 in the match against Seychelles with the gate fee at N1,000 for regular side and N3,000 for the VIP section.
The second match between Nigeria U-23 and Libya counterpart had a very low turnout as people didn’t show enough interest for many factors but the match against Egypt was very well attended despite the late hours as the match started by 6.00pm.The cost was affordable judging by the full capacity experienced in the first and third matches played against Seychelles and Egypt respectively. It did boost the level of interaction with many people within and outside the community social wise and has created forum for friends to be discovered and sustained over time. Economically speaking, it created avenues for people to get themselves employed in one business or the other especially those in buying and selling of edible products and their kinds‘
Speaking in a similar vein, Comrade Kenneth Okoh, a secondary school tutor and chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools, Delta State chapter maintained that he would rather see the matches in the province of a capable and visionary administrator in the person of Governor Okowa that saw the wisdom of completing the stadium. He explained further: ‘ I will see the competition from the point of view of the gains to the government and citizens of the state. I will appreciate the governor for building the stadium that is selling Asaba and Delta State to the international community. Different countries are gracing Asaba for international sports meet because of the vision of a leader. It had paved way for the acceptability of the stadium. The economic benefits have affected petty traders, food vendors, ‘keke‘ riders, taxi drivers and in fact the hospitality industry. The international and national media are focusing on Asaba and Delta State because of the various sporting activities in the stadium. The stadium now because of the soccer tournament is a source of emotional relief, the stress level of civil servants, business men and other people in Asaba and environs are next to zero level. It is my prayer that government should build another international stadium so as to spread the goodies round the state‘.
Madam Amaka Ochei, owner of eatery and drinking spot would rather see the Stephen Keshi stadium from the prism of economic gains. According to her, anytime there is a major sports meet in the stadium, her profit margin is more than fifty per cent, thinking aloud that if it were possible to be holding sports event every week. Ochei speaks on the economic impact of the stadium: ‘ The stadium is like a money spinner for those of us who cook. The patronage is very high as both the sports men and women and the spectators always buy our food and they ask for more.
Unlike our regular customers, these people are very free with money and they do not haggle about prices of food and drinks. My only complaint is that government should devise a means of not blocking the stadium stretch of the Nnebisi Road, Asaba`. On a lighter note, she observed that anytime there is national and international sports competition, ladies of easy virtues flood the stadium not to watch the sporting activities but on the lookout for customers.
It could be recalled that at various fora, the governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa had harped on the theme of making sporting activity and the building of stadia across the state as a major policy thrust of diversifying the state economy and to peak up the internal revenue base of government. Thus apart from the Stephen Keshi stadium, there are two other standard stadia in Warri and Sapele. There is also the Delta State Polytechnic, Ozoro stadium, Oghara stadium and the Kwale stadium. The development of all these stadia showed that Okowa has great passion for sports and the grooming of young sports men and women. And it is the hope of this piece that these stadia shall be maintained so that they too can be economic hub of the state.
It could be recalled that last year, the state government in collaboration with a sports icon, Duke Odoozor organized grassroots competition with the aim of catching and grooming young talents. The governor reiterated his administration’s commitment to discovering young talents in sports and developing them into world champions. He said thus at that occasion: ‘I want to congratulate Duke Odiozor for organizing this clinic; it will help in the discovery of young talents and identify a way of grooming them up for the good of the nation and state. It is my hope that the next Odiozor should come from Delta State, I hope that we will continue to deliver the young talents that we have in sports including tennis. We need to groom the young ones in primary and secondary schools so that they can become world champions,I want to assure Mr Odiozor of the government’s participation in the development of the talents at the primary and secondary schools, we are ready to partner with you at this level.`