By Chido Nwakanma*
“Asaba 2022 will be the best in terms of infrastructure and others that will be in place in the next few months. We have the personnel to stage a fun-filled and friendly sports festival from the beginning to the end”.
Host governor Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa pledged in 2021 to deliver to Nigeria a superlative National Sports Festival as the Federal Ministry of Sports awarded the hosting rights to the twenty-first national sports festival to Asaba, the Delta State capital. There is excitement in the sports community as they look forward to a positive manifestation of the words of Ifeanyi Okowa.
High expectations follow the prospects of Asaba 2022 running from 2 through 15 November 2022. Those expectations rely on the tried and tested Human Capacity management principle that past performance is a predictor of potential. The other expression is “the taste of the pudding is in the eating”.
The sports community has tasted and tested Okowa’s capacity in sports policy and administration. Plaudits attend each one. He walks in what persons in the communication recognize as above-the-line, below-the-line and through-the-line within sports.
Okowa is a sports lover and patriot who intervened many times to save Nigeria’s blushes when it wavered on the hosting of the African Athletics Meet in 2018. Our country pledged to host, then began fumbling and wobbling, as Coach Fanny Amun famously described dithering. Okowa stepped to the rescue.
Before and after that, Okowa is one governor who rallies to the national call for the training and equipping of our sports team. He took on the task of grooming twelve athletes for the Tokyo Olympics. Two did very well, including Ese Brume of Delta State.
These below-the-line building efforts hardly cut ice with the skeptical public nowadays. Nigerians have become like the biblical Thomas insistent on seeing and touching. Okowa offers a grand edifice for such persons to see.
The Stephen Keshi Stadium Asaba is a testimony and testament to the project management acumen of Ifeanyi Okowa. He converted a dream of Delta State for 17 years into the reality of a stadium that serves the local, national, and international sports community. Yes, the building of the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba took 17 years until a determined Okowa broke the jinx.
By delivering the stadium, Okowa saved Nigeria’s embarrassment. The country then hosted the African Senior Athletics Championships, Asaba 2018, from 1-5 August 2018. It was a masterclass in project management.
First, several hiccups hit the first few days of the competition. Critics went to town to excoriate the governor, the Local Organising Committee, Delta State government.
Logistics management suffered under the management of the National Sports Commission. Athletes screamed. The media amplified it, and columnists on print and online went to town.
There were critical glitches at the commencement with flight connections for athletes. The Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, engaged chartered flights to solve the problem, though it was not the remit of the State Government to handle that aspect of the logistics. At the end of the competition, there were no further incidents with flights or accommodation with the State Government taking charge. Indeed, by the time the games commenced, the initial disappointment caused by the airport delay had become a distant memory. Instantly, some of the athletes and visiting journalists changed their tune. For instance, Wesley Botton, one of the journalists, tweeted: “After a horribly wobbly start, the Local Organising Committee pulled through today at the African Championship.”
Fifty-two countries participated in Asaba 2018. It was five more countries than in the previous tournament. Eight hundred athletes in attendance created a tournament record. Events in the contest increased from 44 to 46.
Stephen Keshi Stadium boasted luxurious new tracks that passed the certification tests of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) and the Confederation of African Athletics weeks before the games commenced. Asaba 2018 complied with all rules guiding international athletic championships.
Stephen Keshi Stadium is currently one of the few stadia in Nigeria with fully covered stands. It has high-quality warm-up tracks, equipment, and facilities. The stadium that Ifeanyi Okowa built in Asaba is now part of the sporting, cultural and entertainment landmarks, and calendar of Asaba and Delta State.
Now you see why Sports Minister Sunday Dare and the folks in the sports community enthuse me about Asaba 2022. Governor Okowa and his team have already promised to deliver a first-rate Games Village and other infrastructure. Work is ongoing.
When a project matters, Nigeria turns to a tested project manager called Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa.
By Chido Nwakanma*