By Omon-Julius Onabu in Asaba
Nigeriaâ€™s Minister of Sports, Mr. Solomon Dalung, has commended the Delta State Government for its commitment to sports development, and particularly for overhauling and upgrading facilities in the Stephen Keshi Stadium Asaba to world-class standard.
Dalung, who stated this after inspecting ongoing work at stadium, expressed delight at what he saw and urged other states to emulate the Delta State example in order to take sports development in the country to greater and enviable heights.
The minister and the President of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, Ibrahim Shehu Gusau, were conducted round ongoing work on various facilities by the local organising committee (LOC) chairman, Mr. Solomon Ogba, and the Delta State Sports Commission Chairman, Mr. Tonibok Okowa.
Both the sports minister and the NAF president were also at the fundraising dinner held Thursday night at the Grand Hotel Asaba, where more than N500 million was raised towards the 21st African Senior Athletics Championship holding in Asaba from August 1st to August 5th, 2018.
The list of donors at the event included corporate bodies and individuals with Zenith Bank Plc leading the pack with a N300 million donation; Bube Dan gave N20 million, Levant Construction N20 million and Gomene N11 million.
Delta State House of Assembly supported the initiative with N7 (seven) million, the Federal Ministry of Sports gave N5 million among others while some corporate organisations and individuals made their donations anonymously.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, his wife, Dame Okowa, Deputy Governor Kingsley Otuaro, Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori, Minister of Sports, Mr. Solomon Dalung, President of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Mr Ibrahim Shehu Gusau, were among numerous dignataries that graced the occasion.
Okowa in his remarks underlined the significance of hosting the African athletics fiesta: â€œIn less than three weeks from today, athletes from 47 African countries, as well as officials will begin to converge on Asaba for this historic event; it is historic in the sense that though this is the second time Nigeria would be hosting this event, this is the first to be held outside Lagos, Nigeriaâ€™s sporting capital because in 1989, Lagos was the venue for the sixth edition of the competition.â€
He disclosed that he accepted for Delta State to host the tournament being organised by the Confederation of African Atheletics (CAA) in conjunction with the NAF, saying, the championship provides â€œglorious opportunity to further our agenda to regain Deltaâ€™s frontline status in sports by hosting this event.â€
According the governor, â€œApart from being a dominant force in the National Sports Festival in the years gone by, Delta State has produced foremost international athletes such as Tony Urhobo, Maria Usifor, Violet Odogwu-Nwajei, Sunday Uti, Blessing Okagbare and many others. â€œHowever, in recent times it does seem like athletics is taking a backseat, hence, our young ones do not see much hope in pursuing a career in athletics; we believe this event has the strong potentials to reawaken the interest and consciousness of the upcoming generation and motivate them to strive for greatness in athletics,â€ the governor said.
He continued: â€œOn our own, we have delivered on our promise; the Stephen Keshi Stadium is ready for the event; it was tough but, we got it done and the stadium is actually a beauty to behold.â€
Also speaking at the fundraising dinner, the sports minister described Governor Okowa as â€œa performerâ€ who saved Nigeria the shame of failing to host the tournament.
Dalung said: â€œIf this type of stadium is replicat
ed in every part of Nigeria, no Nigerian will pass through the Sahara (Desert) to look for greener pasture because they will be engaged.â€