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Athletes celebrate as Edo, FG agree to continue with National Sports Festival

By Christian Okpara, Samuel Ifetoye, Michael Egbejule, and Otas Davidson (Benin City)
09 April 2021   |   3:38 am
Athletes, sports officials and journalists covering the Edo 2020 National Sports Festival heaved a sigh of relief, yesterday, when the Federal Government and Edo State government resolved their differences and agreed that the festival will continue as scheduled.

Edo State Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu, addressing the media on the 2020 National Sports Festival in Benin City… on Wednesday

‘Presidency’s intervention saved the day’

Athletes, sports officials and journalists covering the Edo 2020 National Sports Festival heaved a sigh of relief, yesterday, when the Federal Government and Edo State government resolved their differences and agreed that the festival will continue as scheduled.

Benin City was thrown into confusion on Wednesday when the hosts decided to shut down the festival when it seemed the Federal Government would renege on its promise to fund the competition.

Yesterday, the Project Manager, Media and Communications, Edo 2020, Ebomhiana Musa, said in a statement that the LOC decided to continue with the competition after a fruitful meeting with the Federal Government.

“The Local Organising Committee (LOC) Edo 2020 has just risen from another emergency meeting to review the presidential intervention over financial crisis threatening the National Sports festival.

“At the end of the meeting presided over by the Chairman/Deputy Governor, Edo State, Philip Shaibu, the LOC has decided that the games have to continue.

“The LOC agreed that the presidential intervention is a very strong and direct commitment, which we must all respect, honour and take seriously,” the said.

He added: “We strongly believe and respect commitments from the Presidency. We take them by their words. It is a strong message to us that they are strongly committed to redeeming their pledge to support us for the losses suffered arising from the three postponements of the games.

“The LOC appreciates President Muhammadu Buhari; the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo; the Secretary to Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha; the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Agboola Gambari and indeed the Governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, for his high level of commitment to work with the Federal Government for the success of the festival.”

Earlier, yesterday, Edo State Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu, explained why the state had to shut down the festival, saying lack of funds and non-committal attitude of the Youth and Sports Development Ministry sent a dangerous signal to the state.

Shaibu said the plan to call off the festival was not to threaten the Federal Government, but for the state to know how it planned to commit to a successful hosting of the festival.

“We may be shutting down the 20th National Sports Festival not because Edo State is not ready; not because the facilities are not here. As you can see for yourself, we have the state-of-the-art facilities and all of them are in good shape and all the athletes and even the officials are quite happy with the facilities they have seen here so far.

“For us, it is a love for the nation and our support and the synergy that we have with Federal Government that led to the continuation of this festival. We have no reason to doubt the Federal Government for its plan to fund the 20th National Sports Festival after several postponements, which was orchestrated by the COVID-19 pandemic at the instance of the Federal Government.

“Even the honourable sports minister (Dare Sunday) attested to the fact that such situation will go at a cost and we have not got a full commitment from the honourable minister, who is the spokesperson, as far as these sports activities are concerned, as regards the commitment of Federal Government to fund.”

He said the state had so much trust in the Federal Government and therefore trusted it to do the right things.

“We had to look for sponsors that are not available because of the pandemic. We had to get our vendors to commit their own personal resources and companies’ resources with the commitment that we will get this fund from the Federal Government as promised and that we will pay them for whatever services they will provide.

“As I speak to you, it took the grace of God yesterday (Wednesday) for the caterers not to shutdown. Other vendors are still threatening to shut down and hence the LOC had no choice after our midnight meeting today (yesterday) to shut down the 20th National Sports Festival if we don’t get full commitment from the Federal Government by noon tomorrow (today).”

Reacting to Edo State’s ‘shock’ decision, the sports ministry through Ramon Balogun, said the Main Organising Committee (MOC) for the festival, said it was unaware of any plans or threat by the state to shut down the event.

Balogun said: “The honourable minister, permanent secretary and directors are on ground in Benin City where the Festival is holding, and it is expected that the Edo State Government would formally invite the ministry for a meeting should any urgency exist around the National Sports Festival or communicate officially with the MOC for the festival. The Ministry has no such communication.”

“For the records, the Edo State government due to the cost implications of postponements occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic requested financial assistance from the Federal government through the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development. The ministry has since been at work to secure the financial assistance, which it believes is being processed. The MYSD and EDSG are determined to deliver a successful National Sports Festival.”

The MOC is made up of officials of the sports ministry, Council of Sports and staffers of the host state. The LOC had yesterday shut down the MOC located at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin City. But the offices have since been reopened.