By Joe Apu
Sports has always been a veritable tool for national development as it offers limitless opportunities for all sectors of an economy to integrate and foster more benefits for future generations and organisations.
In Akwa Ibom State, sports development has over the years become one of the focal cardinal points that has propelled the state to global limelight with the success story of the state at major national and international sporting events.
The State has also produced world class athletes and administrators since its creation on September 23, 1987 that have become models and ambassadors promoting the ideals of sports renaissance of the State Government.
At 30, the milestones of good governance and the sports sector in Akwa Ibom state cannot be over emphasised with the many success stories especially under the sports loving leadership of Governor Emmanuel Udom.
It’s been a passionate experience with the landmarks the Governor Udom Emmanuel administration has sustained since May 29, 2015 as we recall his campaign promises to develop this sector and the need to ensure that the state will pursue the construction of a National Institute of Sports under his administration.
During his campaigns, he was the only candidate who had a blueprint for sports development among the contenders and has always sustained a philosophy to ensure that grassroots sports development takes a priority in achieving the set targets as it remains the bedrock for future successes.
One of the earliest foundations of the renaissance of the success story of sports development in the state was the feat of Akwa United in November 2015 barely six months into the lifespan of the administration where history was made as the team won the 2015 Federations Cup in Lagos State.
That historic feat, marked the beginning of the Dakkada belief in the state athletes and the new signature tune of self belief, the I can do spirit of the Akwa Ibom Person to rise beyond any challenge to excel became the working template which sent positive signals to the outside world.
The conception and development of Sporting Centres across the ten Federal Constituencies in the State has become a welcome development and opportunity for budding stars at the grassroots to utilise and consolidate on their techniques and other technical content especially the zeal to ensure that education remains the driving force behind the sporting successes.
The completion of the West Itam Sports Complex remains a milestone, perhaps, the very first in the country where a novel pilot sporting template has successfully started. The facilities which include a football field, basketball, volley ball and tartan tracks for athletics is a beehive of activities for athletes in their zeal to reach their optimal strength. There is an on-going construction of another Sports Complex in Onna, Eket Federal Constituency which when completed will offer the youths of the area the opportunity to have access to quality, modern facilities.
At the second edition of the National Youth Games held in Ilorin, Kwara State in 2015, Team Akwa Ibom emerged fourth out of the Thirty Six States of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory which featured. What mattered most was that the State remained at the echelon of national sports competitions as they had finished second in the first edition.
The re-organisation of Akwa United Football Club under the professional management of veteran journalist and CAF, FIFA Instructor, Etubom Paul ‘’ Sports’’ Bassey re-engineered the story of the club which in the past battled relegation waters season after season and in just his first full season in charge (2016/2017), Akwa United finished fourth on the final league table of the Nigeria Professional Football league. The best position ever reached by the club since its formation.
The story of the beautiful season for the club gaining a continental ticket remains on course as they are aiming for a place in the Aiteo Cup semi finals with a great optimism for the final push.
Today, Akwa United has become a national brand with fans spread across the country, there has been a rebranding of the club’s jerseys in the State’s Orange colours which have made the players stand out in any of their fixtures across the country.
The team’s welfare remains a reference along with a highly respected Technical crew that have re=defined the style of play of the team to perhaps not just being a delight to watch but one of the most entertaining sides to watch all season.
The story of football competitions being hosted recently in the State remains another landmark with the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium being the new fortress of the Super Eagles. Governor Udom Emmanuel has ensured that the Super Eagles have fared well in Uyo as the hospitality and provision of every detailed facility has become well adopted by the Super Eagles who in the next few days will return to Uyo to sustain the momentum of their World Cup qualifier-Africa (Group B) as they get set to fly past the Chipolopolo of Zambia in a must win encounter that will ensure Nigeria becomes the first African country to qualify for Russia 2018.
The amiable sports loving Governor has always been on ground to cheer the team to victory and it is expected that as qualification draws near for Nigeria to be at Russia 2018, Uyo will remain the centre point of the success story that will be written about these great patriots. One of the most formidable milestones of the Governor Udom Emmanuel administration is the historic feat of successfully hosting the very first Akwa Ibom Youth Games in February 2017. The vision of the conception of the Games stemmed from Team Nigeria’s poor Olympic run at Rio Summer Games 2016.
Governor Udom had charged sports administrators in the state to ensure that a long term programme for sports development be charted to ensure that the state remains on the global map of sporting excellence in no distant future.
As such, when the Akwa Ibom Youth Sports Festival was held, it broke new grounds in sports development as stakeholders including the Sports Minister, Barr. Solomon Dalung urged other state governments to emulate the success story of the Akwa Ibom State Government in laying a firm foundation for the future of our budding talents at the grassroots.
Over 6000 youths drawn from various schools across the state were camped and participated at the Games which were heralded as a historic first of any kind by any state in Nigeria.
The benefits of the Games continues to be reaping more benefits as Team Akwa Ibom at the Third edition of the National Youth Games which ended last week in Ilorin , Kwara State finished second behind eventual champions, Team Delta with sixteen Gold Medals, fifteen Silver medals and fifteen Bronze Medals.
At 30, Akwa Ibom State has set new standards in the drive to usher rewarding economic benefits through sports and education. The templates of the long term gains as spelt out by Governor Udom Emmanuel clearly shows that our youths must live a foundation endowed with education and sports as a pivot to compliment the strides that will bring more honour and reward to self and motherland.
There is no gain saying that today, it keeps getting bigger each day we talk sports in Akwa Ibom State and I must commend the men at the helm of the sports administration in the state for successfully implementing the vision of Governor Udom Emmanuel and working in synergy to propel the state to heights of excellence so far.
The Honorable Commissioner for Youth and Sports, Akwa Ibom State, Sir Monday Ebong Uko is a leader who works behind the scene and gets the job done. In one of my closest encounters with him, he has always emphasised that ‘’ efforts put without results achieved ,means nothing’’ and as such has always pursued his set targets with the determination to uplift the standards of sports development in the state. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Coach Aniedi Dickson is the first professional athlete to attain the career height in the Ministry and has brought his wealth of experience to consolidate on the gains of the state in sporting events.
The Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Sports, Etubom Paul Bassey is a man who has re-designed the content of sporting administration and professionalism that has enhanced the excellent status the state presently enjoys in this sector.
Widely respected, Etubom Paul Bassey who is also the Chairman of Akwa United Football Club brings a midas touch in the dynamics of his administration which today has re-positioned the State among the echelon of sporting communities. With his laudable initiatives, he has left no one in doubt that his call to serve his state is timely and has started yielding fruitful benefits for the future.
At thirty, the golden flames of sporting glory are far lit upon the horizon of Akwa Ibom State with the enormous and limitless window of opportunities to identify and excel.
These are just the first steps in the evolution of the new podium of excellence which this great state is offering to the world. It’s a beautiful season to walk in the historical strides on the path of the vision of our founding fathers and the wonderful feats we celebrate today are just the new beginnings of our greater future.