Task before Gov Obaseki

By Patrick Omorodion

Penultimate Saturday, the baton of leadership in Edo State changed hands. Not from one party to another but the same party, the All Progressives Party whose sitting governor, Comrade (that title now causes bellyache for me) Adams Oshiomhole handed over the reins of power to his party’s flag-bearer, Mr Godwin Obaseki.

The choice and victory of Obaseki gave me hope because I don’t see the new Governor as a typical Nigerian politician whose interest, first and foremost, is selfish. I am looking at Obaseki with the same eye I saw Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola who, as a political neophyte as it were then when he succeeded Bola Tinubu as Lagos Governor, performed wonderfully well. So like Fashola, Obaseki too is not a typical politician.

As a technocrat who Governor Oshiomhole praised for being a part of his economic think-tank and helped to raise Edo state higher than where all past governments left it, I believe Obaseki could do as well as Fashola, if not better.

From tomorrow Governor Obaseki will begin the second week of his tenure as governor of Edo state. However, I will not judge him by the standard set by Fashola in Lagos but by the standard set by Dr Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, the best Governor that came out of that part of Nigeria hitherto known as Midwest and later Bendel but now separated into two states, Edo and Delta.

For a start, Governor Obaseki must break away from the shadow of Oshiomhole and create his own identity. He must search his mind and think of the areas that indigenes of Edo will be happy to see changes. Let me tell him a little story Dr Ogbemudia told me two days before his 84th birthday when I visited him in his Benin city home last September.

He told me that immediately after he was appointed the governor of Midwest state after the civil war, he found out that the non-Igbo speaking people in the state and the Igbo speaking people were living together with mutual suspicion.

Sensing that it was capable of the stalling progress of his government, he went to work and did a little research. He found out that 70% of the population of the people were youths and 30% were adults. He then thought that sports were the only tool that could engage the youths and make them forget what part of the state they came from. For the adults, he engaged them in constant meetings.
What again did he do? He ensured that for the youths to be adequately engaged, they needed sports infrastructure and he provided it for them, even to the secondary schools. With this, they engaged in several competitions. The result was that the state produced many stars who later brought honour, not only to the state but the entire country. Dr Ogbemudia’s tenure as governor of Midwest/Bendel has remained a reference point till date.

It is to his credit that Edo state today has a stadium, the Ogbe stadium which the regime of Chief Lucky Igbinedion later named after him. It is also to his credit that the state had the Afuze sports camp, a facility that gave Bendel athletes of old an edge over their counterparts. The camp was far flung from the city and as a result, the athletes had no distraction whenever they were in camp.

Sadly, though, that facility is now a shadow of itself, with the football pitch now converted into a cassava farm. After the era of Dr Ogbemudia, all other governors that had the honour of governing the state, either as elected civilian governors or appointed military administrators, paid lip service to sports. They either saw sports as a mere recreation or propaganda for their governments.

It will interest Governor Obaseki to know that the same could not be said of Edo’s sister state, Delta. It is not a mere coincidence that Delta state is today the number sports state in Nigeria. They have invested in the provision of sports facilities which their athletes depend on to hone their skills.

The state has mini stadia scattered across the state while Edo, the senior of the twin, is still stuck with the Samuel Ogbemudia stadium constructed several years ago. What past administrations did was just a constant cosmetic refurbishing of the facility at mind-boggling amount of tax payers money.

Nobody is saying Edo state must fund a football club like most states are wont to do, which comes at great cost to the government. These clubs are never run professionally as government as usual uses it to compensate party loyalists who divert the money to other ventures other than running the clubs. As Governor of Lagos state, Fashola made it clear that he was not going to fund any football club but will provide the enabling environment for privately funded clubs to thrive on.

He instead concentrated on the provision of facilities for grass-root/schools sports development. Today, Agege area of Lagos boasts of a football field that hosts premier league matches. This is outside the Teslim Balogun stadium or the popular Onikan stadium. This not to mention other playgrounds around the state.

What Edo people demand from Governor Obaseki today is the provision of a functional stadium in each of the three Senatorial districts of the state as well as mini sports facilities scattered in all the local government areas. With these, talents will be discovered to return the state to its enviable leadership position in the country.

I know some people will ask where is he going to get the money from? He was part of the fund drive in the Oshiomhole regime. He could use the same method to get fund for these projects. If a state polytechnic like the Ozoro Polytechnic in Delta state could build a 14,000 capacity mini stadium, I don’t know why Edo state can’t build three of such in its three Senatorial districts.

It’s also high time wealthy Edo sons and daughters started contributing to the development of sports by owning sports clubs to employ our teeming boys and girls. There are many Ifeanyi Ubah in Edo state who can take the bull by the horn and float football, basketball or other sports clubs, not only to keep them off the streets but also help them earn a living. One of them could tomorrow turn out to be the next Kelechi Iheanacho, who today is a big foreign exchange earner for his family, nay the country.

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