By Ozioruva Aliu – Benin City
President Muhammadu Buhari, Tuesday night, in Benin City, Edo state, insisted that the National Sports Festival (NSF) remains a major uniting force in Nigeria and urged the participating athletes from the 36 states and the federal capital to ensure that they play by the rules of the game and not deviate from the dream of the founding fathers of the game which started shortly after the civil war.
Buhari stated this at the opening ceremony of the 2020 NSF where he commended the resilience of Edo state government in hosting the festival depite several postponements due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Represented by the Minister of Youths and Sports, Chief Sunday Dare, Buhari said the NSF could be rightly described as Nigeria’s Olympics because it has produced renowned athletes both locally and internationally that have gone to shine on the world stage.
He said, “The National Sports Festival as we all know it is the biggest Sports fiesta in the country, where both professionals and home base athletes converge to display their prowess.
“Although, the 20th National Sports Festival was supposed to have taken place one year ago, but due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, it suffered several postponements.
“However, with the determination of His Excellency, President, Muhammadu Buhari in ensuring that the youth are engaged productively through sports, the doggedness of Edo state Government to host the Festival and the unwavering commitment of the Ministry of Youth and Sports- today, we are here not to just have the festival, but a befitting festival.
”To thousands of our young athletes, let me commend your stoic patience and faith in government to make this happen.
“Indeed, this sports festival rightly dubbed Nigeria’s Olympics showcases Nigeria’s best talents in over 30 different sporting events.
”By the sheer population of the participants, historically about 14000, the reach and how it engages Our youth- the NSF deserves a primus place in the priority list of any government.
“The National Sports Festival as we all know, still remains one of the veritable tools for uniting the country, as well as bringing the young men and women to interact and make friends, it is also an avenue to discover talents for various sports that will represent the country in the global arena.”
He paid tributes to the founding fathers of the game such as General Yakubu Gowon, Late Major General Henry Adefope, Late Brigadier General Samuel Ogbemudia and others who “initiated and brought this great event to limelight.”
He said since the commencement of the Festival in 1973 it has resulted in the discovery of great Stars.
He said “The NSF promises to thrill and produce talents and expose stars. From Benin will emerge a new tribe of world beaters and great athletes.”
The speech was preceded by that of the state governor, Godwin Obaswki, who said the Vice President who was scheduled to declare the event open could not fly to Benin City because of bad weather but said his administration has invested much in the Samuel Ogbemudia stadium to world class standard for the event.
Representatives of the 36 states and Abuja performed the colourful traditional parade spiced with music of all genres.