The popular saying that “it is not how far but how well” has started playing out on Late Stephen Keshi Stadium, formerly known as AsabaTownship Stadium.
The project, a multi-billion naira facility of 22,000 sitting capacity, which was long abandoned by successive administrations in Delta State, has received uplifting, having depicted obvious picture of neglect, waste and mismanagement for 19 years.
For 27 years that the ‘oil’ rich Delta State was carved out of the defunct Bendel State by the former military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), its state capital in Asaba, cannot boast of a befitting stadium that can host a local championship nor national league.
Successive administrations since 1991 have paid lip service to the construction of the stadium, and were unperturbed by the public outcry that ‘the state is the flagship of sports in Nigeria’ and has been nicknamed as “Giant of Sports in Nigeria.”
They were not disturbed that the state had produced great men and women in sports, including the likes of Austin Jay-Jay Okocha, Blessing Okaghare, the late Stephen Keshi and a host of others.
Between 1999 and 2007 when former Governor James Onanefe Ibori held sway as the helmsman, nothing was done to complete the stadium, except that he awarded, laid the foundation and abandoned the project for eight years.
Ibori’s administration in 1999 initiated the stadium project, alongside others, including, the Ogwashi-Uku Township Stadium in Aniocha South Local Government Area of the state, which former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan also renamed the “Austine Jay-Jay Okocha stadium”; the Ughelli Township Stadium, the Warri Township Stadium, the Oghara Township Stadium, the Oleh Township Stadium, the Sapele Township Stadium and others, across the 25 council areas of the state.
The first phase, which consists of the aforementioned stadia were completed, except the Asaba Township Stadium, which the foundation stone was laid by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2001.
Uduaghan, renamed the Asaba stadium to immortalize the sport legend, Stephen Keshi, who hailed from Illah in Oshimili North Local Government Area of the state for doing the state proud as a football star and for winning numerous laurels for Nigeria. Uduaghan only re-awarded the project and abandoned it. Residents and visitors to the state were disappointed that throughout his eight years on the saddle, no tangible work was done to compete the project.
At the height of public outcry in August 2010, the Chairman of contracting firm, Visioni Stabilini, that was handling the project, Dr. Wale Babalakin, was summoned to appear before the Delta State House of Assembly to answer to queries, bordering on undue delay in completing the stadium and the one in Sapele axis of the state. The contractor pleaded with the people of the state that Asaba and Sapele stadia would be completed by April and July 2011 respectively.
He also appealed to the legislators to assist him in collecting the balance being owed his company by the state government. Uduaghan’s Commissioner for Information, Mr Chike Ogeah, an indigene of Asaba, blamed the noncompletion of the stadium on the fact that the facility lacked sufficient space to accommodate future expansion.
“We want to assure that we will complete the two jobs by April and July as we have resolved what has been holding us back. We know the importance of the projects and also know how important they are to Deltans.
So, be rest assured that we will do that”, Chike said. Reports later had it that in February 2013, Uduaghan’s administration terminated the contract over non-performance, with a promise to complete the stadium in six months with a new contractor.
The thick bush within the pro-posed main-pitch of the stadium became a natural habitat for crickets, ants, termites, hawks, snakes and other wild animals. The project soon became an embarrassment to residents and new-comers to the state, as the proposed swimming pool of the stadium that was dug for years was overtaken by scorpions and other dangerous reptiles. The Indoor Sports Hall, which Ibori managed to complete, became a reception ground for church programmes and other events.
The blue long-span roofing sheets that is now wearing a new look, thanks to the Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, who was determined to complete it and host the 2018 Edition of African Athletics Championships, billed for August there, were blown off to different sections across the perimeter fencing of the project site, and were seized and put to use by kiosk owners to mend their leaking shops. Although, several reasons, including that the project site was predominantly the Asaba skyline and was originally designated as an evil forest by the Asaba community, where people of questionable character in the community were buried or thrown into, were alluded to the project failure.
But that the stadium was poorly cited, along the popular Nnebisi Road within the metropolis. It is within the heartbeat of the capital city where economic activities are often high. That was said to have largely contributed to its abandonment, as government was contemplating on relocating it.
These were aside the allegations of incompetent contractors and lack of political will power by past administrations in the state to complete it.
As if that was not enough, the abandonment soon assumed a spiritual colouration as forces of darkness were said to bedevilling the project. Uduaghan had to invite Bishop (Dr.) Chris Kwakpovwe, author of Our Daily Manna Devotional publication, to come and deliver the project from the power of darkness and from manipulations by unfriendly friends. “I have told God that I am not going to leave any abandoned project in this state. We have been having challenges with the contractors in charge of this stadium.
It was about becoming an abandoned project but this will not happen because it will be completed soon”, Uduaghan prayed to no avail. Instead, the age-long abandonment made the project site to become the camp of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the state in 2012 and 2016. Over 1,000 victims of flood disaster were drafted to take asylum in the uncompleted stadium. At a point in the history of the state, sports activities were being taken to Warri and Oghara Stadia to be played, a development that triggered animosity among the ethnic nationalities, especially between the Anioma and Urhobo extractions.
Succour however came during the 2016 Ministerial Press Briefing when Governor Okowa’s Commissioner for Economic Planning, Dr. Kingsley Emu, who was partly an appointee under Uduaghan, supported by his counterparts in Information, Mr Patrick Ukah; Finance, Olorogun David Edevbie and Culture, Ernest Ogwuzzy, were bombarded with questions on the abandoned stadium. They assured the people that the reconstruction of the stadium project was accommodated in 2017 budget after a prolonged argument at the State Executive Council meeting. Today, the story of the stadium has changed from abandonment to completion. In preparation to the hosting of the 2018 edition of African Senior Athletics Championship, Okowa said the state was ready to host the tournament at the Stadium in Asaba.
The governor, who inspected the grassing of the field, construction of the tartan tracks, the VIP lounges, training areas, swimming pool, among others, of the ongoing project, alongside the former President of Athletics Federation of Nigeria and the Chairman of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) for the championship, Chief Solomon Ogba, accompanied by top officials of the state’s Sports Commission, assured the people that the stadium would be ready before the D-Day.
He said: “It is good that we are here to see the level of work done. You can see that the contractor is working to deliver the job to international standards. What you are witnessing is the reconstruction of the stadium.
It was redesigned to accommodate nine lanes and I am satisfied with the level of work done so far. We are ready to host Africa because, the championship will make people from different parts of Africa to gather in our state.
It is a thing of joy for us to host Africa.” He listed the benefits of hosting the championship to include, the unifying factor, which involves the peace and love to bDominic Adewolee celebrated during the tournament.
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