By Ben Efe
The 20th National Sports Festival began in earnest in Benin City Monday but the official opening ceremony took place on Tuesday amidst heavy downpour.
The weather was so bad that the Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo who was scheduled to officially declare the Games open could not land. As the rains gave way to the sun ray, Chief host, Governor Godwin Obaseki performed what turned out to be a colourful opening ceremony.
Soon after the commencement of the Games, which suffered several postponements, the jigsaw began. The Main Organising Committee and the Local Organising Committee began hide and seek games which almost disrupted the flow of the festival. Indeed, an observer said the Local Organising Committee which is headed by the Deputy Governor of Edo State, Comrade Phillip Shaibu threatened to stop the games as the federal government had not fulfilled its financial commitment to the state, as promised.
“The state, on request, was promised assistance by the federal government to cover the expenses it had incurred, in view of the several postponements the games had suffered. This assistance was not forthcoming and eight days after the games began nothing was heard from the FG. Worse still, the LOC was still in the dark as to how much the FG would release to them,” a source said.
Rising from an emergency meeting Wednesday night, the LOC issued a terse statement opting to stop the festival because of lack of funds. The statement signed by Project Manager, Media & Communications of Edo 2020, Ebomhiana Musa, said it took the decision to end the games due to paucity of funds.
The Deputy Governor, Dr Phillip Shaibu who doubles as chairman of the LOC said, “We cannot continue to run the sports festival. Our resources have been stretched,” Dr. Shaibu submitted.
“We have been running the sports festival on the premise that funds promised by the federal government would be released. It’s eight days in the sports festival yet there has not been any interface between the sports ministry and the Edo Local organizing committee.”
“We don’t know how much they are giving us or when we are getting it.”
This sent shivers down the spines of the MOC and the ministry of sports quickly issued a counter statement quelling all fears regarding the fate of the Games.
The grandstanding by the Edo State government through the Local Organising Committee paid off as the Presidency hurriedly intervened, with a promise to make funds available to allow the Games continue.
We gathered that the sum of N500 million was approved by President Buhari and both parties agreed that the games should go ahead.
But observers are not carried away by the FG’s late response, saying the entire scenario was a direct result of the political differences between the PDP-controlled Edo state government and the federal government which is APC-controlled. An anonymous writer on a social media platform said, “This is politics playing out. Edo was formerly of APC and now it’s controlled by the PDP, and the FG that will release funds is controlled by…………………..you can fill in the gap. This is Nigeria”
However, observers have raised concerns over the situation on ground.
“It is unprecedented that a sports festival would be shut down midway through. There would be political repercussions for the Edo State government,” said Samuel Fatula Nigerian foremost athletics statistician.
“Besides all the participating States paid a participation fee of N10,000 per athlete. It is from this fee the sports festival is partly funded. So what’s the commotion all about?”
Delta State sports commission chairman Tonobok Okowa described the scenerio as absurd.
“We are staying put to complete the NSF.
” Edo would have to practically chase us out of Benin City.”
Another commentator, a sports journalist of repute, Julius Okorie of the Nation Newspapers made a deep reflection out of it all. He wrote, “Any country, organisation or association that puts politics above everything can not progress and even if it does will be progressing either in error or in the wrong direction.
“When Dr Amos Adamu said years back that “approval is different from release “he made a valid point. Put in another way the horse should always be in front before the cart and not vice versa. Anyway Naija get her own things Sha.
Another commentator, Olusolasportpedal wrote, “Why did the state bid in the first instance? What is the role of the MOC and LOC if they cannot get the needed logistics ready? Why open the games village? Why start the games?”
It’s been speculated that the Edo State deputy governor is playing a heavy hand in order to get the sports ministry release the funds. This is because once the games are over the money will never be given to the Edo Local Organizing Committee.
“We wouldn’t have even bothered the FG, if the NSF was allowed to run in March 2020.
“There was only one coronavirus case in Nigeria then. The Postponements cost us and that was the FG pledge assistant,” said a member of the Local Organising Committee who craved anonymity.