It may not have created the sort of spell-binding attention the Olympics had caused across the world, but the 18th National Sports Festival which opened last Tuesday at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos, had several impressive highlights.
Lagos lived up to its moniker, "Eko for Show" as the National Sports Festival kicked off at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos, on Tuesday portraying the rich history and culture of Lagos State.
Months - and indeed weeks - preceding the festival, the story has always been about the glamourous show in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, which hosted the last of the festival.
However, there is no doubt that nearly everyone was held spellbound at Lagos State's exuberant display of history, culture and hospitality. Surely, Lagos State has raised the bar with regard to how the opening ceremony of the sports festival should be.
"We have always wanted to set a standard. One of our objectives for hosting the 18th edition of the festival was to do something that will not only be unique, but something will last in the memory of athletes, officials and visitors to Lagos. We didn't just want people to come for the festival and go but leave with fond memory of the festival and indeed Lagos State," the Commissioner for Youth and Sports Wahid Oshodi who also doubles as the Vice chairman Local Organising Committee told THISDAY.
There was no boring moment on Tuesday night and the atmosphere and the crowd screamed in excitement when over 200 youths in colourful costume danced to the tune of the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti's popular number, Water No Get Enemy to portray Lagos as the "state of aquatic splendour". But no doubt the high point of the night was the appearance of a miniature Eyo masquerade.
Local masquerades known as Gelede entertained the crowd with some symbolic dance while a calisthenics display added beauty to the event. The narrator's baritone recounting the history of Lagos also spiced up the three-hour show witnessed by the crowd that thronged the Teslim Balogun Stadium.
Declaring the festival open, President Goodluck Jonathan, who was represented by Vice President Namadi Sambo said the festival since inception has met with its cardinal objectives of fostering unity and friendship among Nigerian youths, and the discovery of budding talents for the future.
"This year's festival that is being hosted by Lagos State is like home-coming as it all started here in 1973. The federal government has donated the sum of N45 million for the first, second and third teams that will emerge at the end of the festival. I'm pleased to officially declare the National Sports Festival open. It was here that the games debuted 39 years ago. However, this is the first time Lagos State is hosting the games. I enjoin you athletes to be magnanimous in victory and gracious in defeat. I hereby give N20m, N15m and N10m to first, second and third placed states," he said.
Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, charged athletes to compete with fairness and admonished officials to judge fairly, adding that whereas Lagos hopes to compete for the top spot, the state is not desperate to win. "The ultimate objective of the festival is to discover talents for the future. The festival has been elevated by previous host but Lagos hopes to extend on it. I wish all our visitors an eventful stay," he said.
Chairman of the LOC and Deputy Governor of the host, Adejoke Orelope Adefulire, however charged the participating athletes to imbibe the spirit of sportsmanship and to see the festival as an avenue to foster good relationship while competing. She noted that she is convinced this edition of the multi-sports competition would churn out athletes that would represent the country at international competitions.
Minister of Sports and Chairman of the National Sports Commission, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, disclosed that the commission will use the festival as part of preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games billed for Brazil, adding that an Athletics Observatory Team are already on ground in Lagos to identify talents and monitor them. "The London Olympics have taught us an ugly lesson, so we are going to use this festival to pick talents that can win medals for the country in the near future.
"We announced after the 2012 Olympic Games that the National Sports Festival will produce new talents that will become part of the elite athletes programme. I'm hopeful Eko 2012 will live up to high expectations we have set for it with the keen competition we will see in the next days to come. We have a team that will identify the talents. The identified athletes will form the bulk of our team for future international tournaments," he said.
The opening ceremony had many dignitaries in attendance. These include, chief host, Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, Vice President Namadi Sambo and Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi.
Others include the first Military Governor of Lagos, Mobolaji Johnso, former Lagos State Governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Ogun State Governor, Ibikunle Amosun.
About 11,549 participants were registered for this year's festival. According to the secretary general of the Main Organising Committee, Abba Yola, the participants are made up of athletes, officials and delegates with athletes expected to compete in the 25 events made up of 8,045, while the officials are 1000 with the rest being the delegates.
He however, charged states fond of poaching to desist as there is now a strong determination to sanction any erring state. "We know that poaching exist, but we are also ready to ensure that states desist from doing. So our eligibility criteria had stated that for any athlete to represent any state, such athlete must have resided in that state for one year. While athletes that are fond of representing different states will also be penalized if found guilty. We believe that athletes who had competed in three Olympics, Commonwealth and All Africa Games are not expected to take part in the festival because it is meant for amateur athletes that will be discovered and groomed to national stars," he said.
To check cheating during the festival, Yola said independent observers and collators not known to the federations and secretaries as well as the technical committee have been appointed to confirm every result after it would have been certified by the technical committee.