Akwa United football club of Uyo, on Sunday 1st August 2021 before a crowd of teeming supporters lifted for the first time in club history, the coveted NPFL trophy at the Godswil Akpabio International Stadium. Their triumph today, significant as it were, marked a fruitful crescendo to an age-long quest for the NPFL Title for the Uyo Side.
For many, Sunday’s Victory for Akwa United is a function of months of hard work and tenacity, with a little spice of good fortune, but for those of us in Akwa Ibom State, we can boldly say that Akwa’s graceful outing this season, and their eventual League conquest, did not come about via a sudden flight. In fact, it is an open secret that Sunday’s triumph is a result of a well-calculated sports master plan, agenda and deliberate investments in the sporting sector. As a matter of fact, Akwa’s triumph validates American Automobile racer – Bobby Unser’s famous quote that “Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” The state spent the past five years preparing for this moment, hence when the opportunity presented itself, seizing the moment only came naturally.
So how did a state government contribute to a club side’s successes? Upon assumption of office in 2015, Governor Udom Emmanuel left no one in doubt as to his intent to transform the sporting sector in the state. Knowing fully well that the genesis of every sporting success is the grassroots, the state’s helmsman targeted the early discovery of key talents at their nursery stages. This he achieved by the provision of world-standard facilities through the construction of sports mini stadia in 10 schools – one for each federal constituency. The import of this particular investment cannot be overemphasized. In fact, a cursory glance at the number of young Akwa Ibomites playing at different club sides in the state, the country and even across the globe is a direct indicator that the investment of standard sporting facilities has yielded good results. Furthermore, the state government ensured timely maintenance of the Godswil Akpabio International Stadium, as well as the remodelling of Uyo township and Eket stadia. This was done in a bid to ensure that home teams in the state do not lack world-class stadia of play.
The Akwa United story would have perhaps been different but for the timely release of funds for the effective running of the club. Statistics made available to us show that Akwa United is one of the top clubs in the league where salaries, match bonuses and other remunerative arrangements are never late. Furthermore, the club’s management has never been more stable than it has been under Governor Udom Emmanuel. Since the appointment of astute sports journalist and administrator – Charles “Sports” Bassey as Chairman of the club, the government has given them a free hand to run the show.
While the euphoria of her first NPFL Title lingers, fans, enthusiasts and even onlookers have already begun to look beyond the moment. Many are concerned about the sustainability of the gains in the sporting sector beyond 2023. To this section of the public, it is clear, that Akwa’s triumph and indeed other wins for clubs, individuals and sporting groups in the state is reflective of deliberate government intervention in the sector. How then can we ensure that an imminent change in government doesn’t mean an imminent loss of all our hard-earned dividends? The answer clearly is a government that will place priority on continuity and growth acceleration.
This is where Mr Akanimo Udofia comes in. While it can be conceded that each of the 2023 gubernatorial hopefuls has not just got intimidating profiles and huge resumes, the one whose agenda stands out as being relevant to the continuity and consolidation of the huge investments in sports so as to foster development, gainful employment, as well as sports tourism is without a doubt Mr Akanimo Udofia.
The Oil magnet, philanthropist turned politician has ab initio not shied away from embracing tourism as an integral part of his agenda. One of the key drivers of this tourism agenda is of course sports. Udofia, himself a huge fan of Akwa United, is well travelled and exposed and hopes to replicate the flamboyance he has witnessed in his sports-related globetrotting in Akwa Ibom State.
Key areas of focus gleaned from informal interactions with the governorship hopeful include Sporting Infrastructural consolidation, organization and sustenance of regular sports tournaments, leagues and competitions to discover and groom new talents, while helping already discovered stars to Horne their skills, increased and targeted funding to key sporting sectors, as well as an effective marketing and Brand Management for the sector.
With all of the aforementioned in place, one can safely say, that the renaissance in the Akwa Ibom State Sporting sector isn’t just a one-off, but a revolution that has come to stay. With Akanimo Udofia at the helm of affairs in the state, it will indeed be a new dawn for Akwa Ibom State and its sports-loving public.