By Patrick Omorodion,
As 2016 was fading off, precisely in October, this reporter went to Benin City to interview retired Brigadier-General Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, two-time Governor of the old Bendel state, on his views about the declining fortunes of sports in Nigeria.
The focus of the interview was to ask him what he did to succeed in making sports in the Midwest or the old Bendel a household name. From what he told me, I found out that first, he had passion for sports, being a coach himself.
He became emotional when he started talking about the decayed infrastructure and wondered how Nigeria thinks she can do well in sports if facilities put in place for athletes to train with and compete could be left to deteriorate.
The thought of the Afuze Games village, far-flung from the allure of city life, which served as training camp for athletes, turned into a cassava farm almost made him shed tears.
Even the Benin City stadium which was named Ogbe Stadium before it was renamed after him by the Adams Oshiomhole government, was also not in the best of shapes.
Few months after that interview, the legendary leader passed on at the age of 84. He carried the regret of seeing his legacy for a sports loving people destroyed to the great beyond.
Current Edo state governor, Godwin Obaseki was sworn in about a month after Ogbemudia granted that interview. He was also barely four months into his governorship when Ogbemudia passed on.
Governor Obaseki, who his admirers see as a silent worker and nicknamed “wake and see” governor, may have read and felt Ogbemudia’s pain that he and his footballer deputy, Comrade Phillip Shaibu decided to take the bull by the horns to revive the dilapidated sports facilities.
And what did they do? First they bidded to host the 20th edition of the National Sports Festival and the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development did not blink before awarding Edo state the hosting rights.
Immediately after winning the hosting rights, they went into action to renovate the Samuel Ogbemudia stadium to a world class standard.
Anyone who knows the Samuel Ogbemudia stadium and hasn’t been there in the last three years would need to be convinced when he gets there now that it is the same old facility.
Now an all covered arena, the pitch is no longer artificial but natural and lush green and fitted with not one electronic scoreboard as you have in many stadia but three. Four floodlights fitted with bulbs of over a 1000 watts will make watching of matches at night pleasurable.
The stadium now has four standard dressing rooms for players and can accommodate four semi final teams at once during a competition. It also has comfortable rooms for referees. Another novel addition is a Doping Control room as well as rooms for ball boys.
No sport is left out in the refurbished facility. An Olympic size swimming pool has been added to the one there before which has now been turned into a training pool for swimmers. The squash courts are not only of international standard but three in number, singles and doubles courts capable of hosting international competitions.
Plans are on to return international tennis competitions like the Ogbe Hard Courts with the renovation of the tennis courts. The difference this time around is the inclusion of a Centre Court for final matches with its own sitting terrace for fans.
Aware that Edo are gifted with talented gymnasts, the government has constructed a new indoor hall with a suspended gymnasium, first of its kind in Nigeria and would be fitted with modern gymnastics equipment to train the gymnasts so they can compete with the best in the world. The bottom of the indoor hall will take care of events like weightlifting, wrestling and the combat sports.
The newest addition to the facilities at the new-look Samuel Ogbemudia stadium is the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) device which comes with CCTV network to help in checking hooliganism within the stadium and tracking crime sites outside the stadium premises within five kilometres radius.
The spirit of the late Dr. Ogbemudia will be happy wherever he is today because his regrets are being addressed by the Obaseki/Shaibu government. They are not only limiting it to the stadium deservedly named after the legendary leader but extending it to facilities outside the arena.
The Indoor Hall at the Etete area of Benin City, abandoned over the years has been reclaimed from the Federal Government by the state. It is now wearing a new look, waiting to host some of the sports to be competed for at the National Sports Festival tagged Edo 2020.
The government has doused fears that the facilities which have gulped huge resources may not be properly maintained as usual. The Deputy Governor, Comrade Phillip Shaibu has said that a bill establishing an Asset Management Agency in partnership with the private sector will be sent to the State House of Assembly.
Legislation for public-private partnership which ensures that the maintenance of the facilities is not left with government, will give the private sector confidence to buy into the project.
The government wants to ensure that the efforts being put to making the arena world-class is not wasted when a government which doesn’t have interest in sports succeeds the present government and abandons the facility, making it worse than the Obaseki government met it.
With a Police post built inside the stadium, vandalisation and theft of the facilities will be checked. Comrade Shabu also assured that the stadium will not lack activities as it will not only attract international competitions but will play host to competitions like the Governor’s Cup, Academicals competition and the now revived State Sports Festival.
It could be safely said that the late Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia has resurrected with his legacy being revived once again.