By Norbert Chiazor
Sport is an engaging human activity. One of the greatest pleasures of mankind. It has a diverse appeal. Whether as fun – inducing, revenue earner, unifying force or sheer safe net for relaxation, the advantages of sport are priceless. Okowa and sports, the true pride of Delta.
Frontline sports from football, athletics to boxing among others, make the world a better place. Such preoccupation boosts popular prestige, promotes peace and enhances enterprise. This explains why perceptive governments pay all attention to sports development. In Delta State where there is a Governor so enamoured with sports, a positive change reigns.
A visitor to Delta would marvel at Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s passion for sports.
Last week, at the constitution of the Delta State Sports Commission, Okowa recalled that Delta retained its premier status in athletics, coming first in all National Youth Games and the National Sports Festival 2019. As the Governor stood happy highlighting the exploits of Delta before members of the Sports Commission-Chief Tonobok Okowa, Rev. Omatshola Williams, Chief Chinonye Daphey and Chief Ernest Juweto, his emotions were emphatic.
“ It is also gratifying to note that the State successfully hosted the 21st African Senior Athletics Championship, also known as Asaba 2018, at the Stephen Keshi Stadium and it is expected that this board will strive to sustain this momentum and break new grounds.”
The outstanding example of Delta’s colourful outing in sports is best drawn from the stadium named after late Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, former captain and coach of Nigeria’s national football team, a sports maestro who died 7th June 2016 at the age of 54.
The story of Stephen Keshi Stadium is not a palatable narrative. It is a shocking tale of denial and decay.
The stadium was conceived by the people of Asaba through self-help in the 60s. But it would suffer stillbirth for 44 years!
The government of Midwestern State took over the building of the stadium in 1974 under the unforgettable Samuel Ogbemudia as sports-loving Governor.
Colonel George Agbazika Innih as Military Administrator would inherit the stadium in 1975. He abandoned it in the hands of a successor, Commodore Husaini Abdullahi under a new era called Bendel state in 1976.
None of the seven other governors that ruled Bendel till its end in 1991, was able to complete the stadium. Abubarkar Waziri, Ambros Alli, Samuel Ogbmudia, Jeremiah Useni, John Inienger, Tunde ogbeha and John Yeri.
When Delta came in 1991 with Administrator Luke Ochulor, followed by the first son of Delta to govern, Felix Ibru, 1992, both men exited with no succour for the stadium.
For policeman Abdulkadiri Shehu and other military administrators – Bassey Asuquo, Ibrahim Kefas, John Dungs and Walter Faghebor, Asaba stadium meant nothing but deadly bush.
They must have learnt a piece of negative history from their military predecessors. In the 70s, Asaba stadium was used by the military authorities as a hideous forest where condemned armed robbers were sent to hell by firing squad.
A frightening memory of a particular criminal exterminated with hot bullets inside the stadium keeps encoding in my retention. I remember in adolescence, Flamboyant to the loudest vanity, he rode in town with gleaming black Mercedes Benz and beautiful women, enveloped in wild feasting. But his busy hooliganism ended one day in one bushy corner.
James Ibori walked into Asaba in 1999 as Governor, moved perhaps by the excessive rape of the bleeding stadium, cleared overgrown weeds at the left flank and built an indoor sports hall.
Emmanuel Uduaghan inherited the stadium in 2007 making efforts in the maintenance of the indoor sports hall.
Enter the administration of Governor Okowa in 2015.
History beckoned in 2018…….. The main bowl of Stephen Keshi Stadium Asaba would dress up first time in history to embrace the world after protracted lull slipping through the hands of 19 military and civilian leaders from Midwest, Bendel to Delta.
54 African countries came to the Stadium at Asaba for the Senior African athletics championship – the biggest sporting event in the continent in August 2018.
Today, from the rot and ruins of a long-forgotten treasure has risen a monument, amazing insight and glorious in standing. The sprawling presence of the Stephen Keshi Stadium built by Okowa lives as one of the best landmarks on the skyline of Asaba. Now a favourite destination, it has hosted countless continental and global soccer events.
Emboldened by the height of Stephen Keshi Stadium, Okowa is developing youth sports in communities, elementary and secondary schools with incentives and infrastructure across the state. A new generation of sportsmen and women that would take Nigeria to the global stage is evolving.
Under Okowa, Delta is reinventing itself as an offshoot of the defunct Bendel, famous for matchless excellence in sports.