Building a Prosperous Akwa Ibom through Sports


Aniekeme Finbarr

It was Tommy Lasorda, former American baseball player and coach, who once said, that “there are three types of people. Those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happened.” The first line captures the passion that Governor Udom Emmanuel has brought to ‘make things happen’ in sports development in Akwa Ibom State.

It’s no news that Akwa Ibom is the home of sports in Nigeria. It is the fortress of the Super Eagles of Nigeria, the country’s senior national team. The warmth, the hospitality, the facilities and the ecstasy of the people of the state has made several groups and individuals unable to resist the urge to come to Uyo for their sport meets. Just recently, the Super Eagles dominated, annihilated, decimated and destroyed the gutless and gormless Lions of Cameroon by 4-0 to the joy of over 160 million Nigerians. Such priceless excitement!

The Akwa Ibom governor has invested generously in sports Infrastructure and human capital development. The Niger Delta state can boast of a solid consolidation to the existing set of sports facilities. The Godswill Akpabio International stadium stands as a beautiful face of sports in the state and has been excellently managed for optimum use. Mr Emmanuel has decongested the use of the world class facility by upgrading the Uyo township stadium and other stadia in the state. He has also built 10 sports centres with multiple facilities for different sports.

The Udom Emmanuel administration sees sports development as a valuable gift to our children and youths. Just as the Akwa Ibom Governor says “We know that when we expose them to the best sporting facilities at an early age, we have given them wings to soar and the sky can only be the limit. Such thinking gave vent to the establishment of sporting centres in each of the ten Federal constituencies of the State by my administration. Today, sport is beyond the rubrics of the rhetoric of entertainment. The business side of sports is indeed, a goldmine. So, beyond the story of this festival, our youths should be launched to the glory of the money-spinning venture of sports. We know that the secret of the Lionel Messis, the Christiano Ronaldos, the Serena Willaims, the Usain Bolts and other world stars, is hidden, first and foremost, in early exposure to world-class facilities particularly at an early age. So, this catch-them-young initiative is well situated”.

If Nigeria will ever compete in tournaments like the U-17 football competition, it will have to learn to stop cheating by fielding players who are over 17 years. To stop cheating, they have to actively recruit young people right from primary and secondary schools and develop them. As a country, we are used to lying our way to football glory and when modern technology like the MRI outs our dishonesty, we become confused. We need to re-orient ourselves towards doing things the right way. Getting there requires hard work and planning, something which Nigerian officials almost always seem to abhor.

The Akwa Ibom governor is leading the way to get school sports back on the table with its many advantages. It is heartwarming that Governor Emmanuel loves to win and also sees sports as a window of opportunities to unlock hidden treasures for our younger generation. In 2015, he sat at breakfast with the management and players of our state owned team. He charged them to write the name of Akwa Ibom State on the national sporting map. He followed them all the way until we broke a 20 year old jinx. We won our first national football trophy at club level when Akwa United won the 2016 Federations Cup and qualified to play at the continental level.

In addition to Akwa United, the state is sponsoring 3 other clubs in the state, Akwa Starlets, Ibom Youth FC, Ibom Angels are playing in different leagues in the country. All the state teams are well funded and performing well.

There is also a long term recruitment and training programme for state athletes even as the state’s performance at the National sports festival has improved every passing year. Akwa Ibom State government is tackling the growing challenge of unemployment among youths and the urgent need for wealth creation in many ways. With a growing youthful population of pupils and students graduating from primary and secondary schools each year and many others from institutions of higher learning, confronting youth unemployment requires more than rocket science approach. One of the ways the state government is confronting this hydra-headed issue is by investing in sports facilities across the state.

Governor Udom Emmanuel is building ten sports centres in the ten federal constituencies in the state. He commissioned the first one few weeks ago at West Itam Secondary School, Itu LGA. The second sports centre at Ikot Mbong, Onna is at advanced stage.

Governor Emmanuel has smashed a hat trick by organising a youth sports festival for children in primary and secondary schools. Speaking to declare the weeklong festival open, Governor Udom Emmanuel who is spearheading the new momentum of sports development in the state said the business side of sports is a goldmine that has yet to be fully developed.
“So, beyond the story of this festival, our youths should be launched to the glory of the money-spinning venture of sports. We know that the secret of the Lionel Messis, the Christiano Ronaldos, the Serena Williams, the Usain Bolts and other world stars, is hidden, first and foremost, in early exposure to world-class facilities particularly at an early age. So, this catch-them-young initiative is well situated,” Emmanuel said.

According to the governor, no matter one’s “background, this competition should be regarded as a common ground for all to spring and bring fame to your family, and pride to your state,” adding that by the time we finish “our golden blueprint in sports for Akwa Ibom State, I wonder which team that will be constituted in any sports in Nigeria that the first five to be invited to camp will not be Akwa Ibom children.

“Yes, that is not impossible. It is a fruit we will not just pluck or pick by mere wishful thinking, we are planting the seeds on fertile grounds today, we will water the tree tomorrow, and with God, we will reap the fruits in the future. Your attitude will either hasten the ripening process of that cherished fruit or render the harvest incomplete.”
This remarkable initiative by the state government did not fail to attract the attention of the Federal Government as Solomon Dalung, the minister of sports, who was present at the opening of the youth sports festival pledged that the Federal Government would support the Akwa Ibom State in its renewed efforts to develop sports and discover talents saying that there is the need to bring back grassroots sports.

“We need to bring back grassroots sports development, we must adopt bottom-to-top approach in sports development,” he said.
Dalung used the opportunity to announce the readiness of the Federal Government to organise the national sports festival as part of efforts to encourage sports development in the country and to give youths the avenue to develop their talents.

Indeed youth unemployment is one of the major issues that should be addressed. The use of sports not only to discover talents but to be a platform for engaging the youths on productive ventures should be supported by public spirited individuals as well. With the faces of the young athletes taking part in the festival beaming and glittering with smiles, the sports festival is indeed an innovative attempt to use sports in addressing the growing menace of youth unemployment and if it is sustained, it would go a long way in providing a conducive atmosphere for the industrial development of Akwa Ibom State. Other governors owe the country a duty to take a clue from these incredible feat.
––Finbarr is a Public Affairs Commentator.