Edo State has seen it all, sportswise. Sports was and remains the mainstay of the state. From the days of old, when it was called Bendel state (Edo and Delta), Edo has remained a force to be reckoned with in Nigerian sports.

In 1973 when Nigeria.won the All Africa Games gold medal in football, Bendel state contributed seven members of that squad. Even after the present Delta state was carved out of what was the old Mid Western State (later Bendel), Edo still had that winning aura.

The state is hosting the ED0 2020 National Sports Festival and the mood in Benin City is that of festivity. The government and people of Edo state are ready to show the world that they are still a traditional number one destination in sports.

Saturday Sports Vanguard took a trip to Benin for an on the spot assessment of the level of preparedness of the state for the festival, which is less than 2 weeks away. We spoke with key officials of the Edo 2020 organising committee.

Dudu Orumen is Chairman, Edo State Sports Commission and member of the Local Organising Committee. He spoke with us. Read on.

By Jacob Ajom

Edo 2020 is two weeks away, how prepared are you, as hosts?

Edo state is ready. What we are doing now is clean up. We are cleaning up here and there and putting finishing touches to the work that we have been doing.

The Samuel Ogbemudia stadium, which is going to host the major events is in sparkling shape. I can assure you that in terms of logistics for the games, we are ready. We have new buses; big, medium and small buses for the uninterrupted movement of athletes, officials, and tourists, because Edo 2020 is a combination of sports and tourism.

There are over 300 registered, quality hotels and the Governor has said that security is in the front burner. All the mechanics for the smooth movement in town have been put in place, like involving private security agencies and Edo state transport regulatory bodies. We are ready.

In terms of facilities, the University of Benin, is going to provide about 13,000-bed spaces. We have negotiated with the Vice-Chancellor and the school authority to adjust their academic programme so that the students can be on vacation and we can make use of the place as Games Village.

It is one of the two or three places we have registered as Games Village. The other one is Ekewan Campus, which is also the University of Benin.

In terms of food, we have invited caterers and received tons and tons of applications. Only about thirty have survived the screening exercise, which also included health checks as we don’t want people distributing contaminated and infected foods.

This is one Games where athletes are not going to be sleeping in classrooms; they are not going to have toilet challenges and other inconveniences.

In the whole, organisationally, I think we are ready. Facilities wise, we are ready. The ownership of the federal government indoor hall at Etete has been transferred to Edo state and we have repackaged it.

Table tennis and para-sports will take place there. Imaguero College is venue for more games and it is ready. We also have the New Era College with an ultra-modern sportshall. We have cricket facilities at Edo Boys High School, etc. I can tell you without fear of contradiction that as far as Edo 2020 is concerned, we are ready.

How have you sensitized the people on the street concerning Edo 2020?

There are banners and posters everywhere. We have produced and aired jingles on radio and numerous TV promos as far as Supersport and CNN.

In terms of sensitisation, there was a flag off which was done by the governor himself and the message is all over the place. We are only short of using local town criers, every Edo man, woman, youth knows that we are going to play host to the National Sports Festival.

And because Edo State is called the heartbeat of Nigeria – there is no part of this country that you are going to that you don’t pass through Edo state many people are aware we are going to play host.

We want to make Edo 2020 memorable as even those who are doing artifacts, carvings and all that have intensified their work to ensure the popular Benin artifacts are not in short supply for those who would want to go home with memorabilia like the brass works and carvings. We want people to come back here again.

You have talked about the facilities and every other thing, how about the athletes? Is Edo hosting to win?

Edo is hosting to win but it has been quite a task getting them to that shape of mind. Government has been able to put them together and we are taking them to Auchi, away from distraction. They have been in open camping where they used to train at the University of Benin.

On your appointment as Chairman, Edo State Sports Commission. How has it been so far?

You see, I have a private sector background which falls in line with Mr Governor’s vision to make Edo state sports commercially viable. He wants to return Edo to the pinnacle of Nigerian sports. In 1973, when Nigeria won the All Africa Games gold in soccer, 6 members of that squad of 18 came from Bendel Insurance, We have always been pace setters but there has been a dip, which we recognise and we are trying to do things anew.

As chairman of the Sports Commission, I have tried to put up a few things which I wanted to do when the National Sports Festival rights was won. We have had to make do with what we have, then.

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We have tried to reconfigure things here and there, but ultimately, after the big event the Sports Commission will really take its place. We are coming with a vision and a mission that Sports Commission is not only about a change in nomenclature, from sports council to sports commission; it is a change in form and structure.

There will be a board where members are going to be appointed to join me after the games; there will be a director-general, who obviously, will be in the rank of a permanent secretary, a director each for the seven directorates: institutional sports, grassroots sports development, medical, admin, records, etc.

We want to restate our position as number one and to achieve that we need to have an effective machine for governance.

We want to take sports back to the schools. You may be aware that the government of Governor Obaseki is building 20 mini stadia, one in each local government and each of these would be located in secondary school premises in order to serve dual purposes: it serves the school and the community.

It will make it easier for the children to graduate from primary school sports to secondary and to tertiary institutions.

It is our plan to also introduce the American collegiate system because the old programmed athlete system is really wearing out. It served its purpose at some point but it also left some liabilities. For instance, the Sports Commission has nearly 700 staff out of which about 80% or more are unproductive.

It is not their fault because that was what they came into and there was no Plan B for them. The new arrangement will ease them into decent retirement.

For you to continue to be an athlete that represents Edo state, you have to go to school, so that you don’t retire and become a liability to us and the society later, We will give training grants and you will continue to get your grants depending on performance – the higher your performance you get more.

We will partner with universities to offer a percentage of scholarships for athletes. We will join hands with the universities and polytechnics to achieve that return to the top.

Today’s sports have gone scientific and if you are not educated, it will be difficult to understand tactics, difficult to understand the need for certain exercises and other things that otherwise would be difficult.

Education is key and I want to encourage every Edo state athlete so that they can understand the need to see themselves as professionals and be completely attuned to professionalism so that when their best days are gone they have insurance and other things to fall back on.

Sports would return to the primary schools and we will liaise with the ministry of education to make sure that every school will have one day to do sports. If you don’t have a pitch we will arrange one near your school.

We will bring back the Principals Cup and we will find a sponsor. The plan of the Sports Commission is to look for our own money. We will make a corporate profile that will be sellable. We will have chains of activities and each of these activities would be a sub brand of the main brand.

All that will show that we are here to do business and not to make money for ourselves. We intend to bring back some of our legacy sports like the Ogbe Hard Court, the Okpekpe Road Race which is a premium brand for us and a lot has been invested into that, the Ososo Cycling Race is coming, the Owan Invitational just concluded last Saturday.

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We want to make every month an activity month in Edo state. There is the Motor Race tracks in Obani South, about five minutes drive to Abudu. We will have Mr Governor to approve this calendar and we will partner the private sector to do business with us.

We want to do all these in order to take the youth off the streets, empower them through sports. If a child plays sports all day and he gets tired he will go to sleep. Some of the money you spend on security, we will tell you give it to us in sports and we will keep the youths gainfully engaged.

That sounds radical and out of this world. How are the people prepared for this change because it is always difficult for human beings to accept change?

Ultimately, they will. The mode of presentation will make them understand that rather than go through Libya to Europe and become house helps or hotel cleaners, it would be better that you go through school sports you can get scholarship and go to American univrsities.

We are going to bring out models like Godwin Obasogie, Charlton Ehizuelen, people who have represented this state and country before. They will help us get the message across. There was Tony Akpekpe who represented this country in the sprints in the 1976 Olympics. He was Africa’s best during his time.

I think he is a doctor today at the University of Benin. There is Dr Ogamu, although he is from present-day Delta State, he once played for Bendel Insurance and read Geography in the University of Ibadan and got a Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Planning. When we bring people like that to deliver the message, it will be clearer. We are going to create different fora to send in the message.

The ultimate target is to create a brand, the Edo State Sports Commission brand. I know it is not going to be easy, but we have a four-year plan which Mr. Governor has approved. We are going to deliver it to the private sector and make Edo state destination one in sports tourism.

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