– Samuel Ayara
Eleven years after the last Governor’s Cup, Akwa Ibom State Government has built and owned the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo, the Eket Sports Stadium in Eket, rehabilitated and upgraded facilities at the Ikot Ekpene and Uyo Township Stadiums in addition to the West Itam Sports Centre in Itu. If that length of time is not enough to worry about how we have fared as a sports-loving people, then certainly a reminder that we have seen three Governors between 2012 and 2023, should quicken us to how much time we have lost, as much as the urgency of a possible recovery.
The volume of water that have passed under the bridge for this epochal return could be akin to crying in the rain, but its sustenance could herald our advent on the turf of global sports, where the rain of foreign exchanges as with other privileged societies can begin to fall; this much could on many scores suffice for a consolation for the times lost. It may not be a very convenient option for government at economic downtimes as this, but every kobo entrepreneurs, in both sports and non-sports activities can make in the course of the tournament could make all the difference.
While in the trenches a substantial eighty percent of promises Governor Umo Eno made as candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party were ideas that would socially and economically keep Akwa Ibom closely knitted; but in all, not the best of telepaths could forecast the return of the long forgotten Governor’s cup. As with other palpable wonders of the ARISE Agenda, this remains a stride that will tower so high in the re-invention of a breeding ground for champions to serve our unsaturated athletes roll and more for gainful exports – a perfect fit for the ‘Nest of Champions’ moniker for the worldclass stadium.
Kudos must be given to the much preceding administrations contributed to the development of sports, including the physical infrastructures, which have put the state on the map of sports tourism. Notwithstanding the grandeur of ownership, mention must not be lost on the sheer attempt at having them serve intended purposes other than political rallies. This is where the Mobil School sports that chased Aniekeme Alphonsus into global renown and the Akwa Ibom Youth Sports Festival that produced Imaobong Nse, another of the state’s export to the world of atheletics come ready and handy in enrolling sports as an endeavour that lifts, regardless of social rung.
These liftings are never a product of lameluck, but of calculated devotion and resolve to break the ceiling and carry with their successes the Akwa Ibom’s flag to stardom, as did several who through sports have earned a fortune. Vincent Enyeama, Troost Ekong, Mfon Udoh; name them, the optimism that Akwa Ibom is headed for bright skies in sports finds expression in this amity with grassroots sports where talents in their unprocessed form can be mined. Little wonders Governor Umo Eno’s remark in this direction at the ARISE Agenda launch, where he stated, “we will provide massive skills acquisition initiatives to empower youths; revive and promote interschools sporting activities, where new talents in sports will be discovered”.
In less than ten weeks after the ambitious promise, the Governor in making good his desire to see the state ascend the ladder as privileged earners in the sporting world on Thursday September 21, 2023 performed the kick-off ceremonies for the Governor’s cup as one of the activities for the state’s 36th anniversary of creation. The pulsating encounter between Uyo and Nsit Ubium Local Government Areas has not only excited soccer enthusiasts, sports entrepreneurs for the rest of the tournament may have to turn their lights on Akwa Ibom for what they can harvest from this lofty opportunity. Each side of the opening encounter had not only walked away with a goal apiece from the duo of Benson Mkpoikanke and Otuekong Sunday, who eventually became man of the match, more champions will unassailable be unveiled.
Succeeding days of this tournament will more than strengthen our chord of unity, provide bankable options for the numerous league sides in the state, while scaling up the consciousness for each Local Government Area in developing and maintaining a competitive football team, which could be achieved through a replication of this initiative as Chairman’s cup in the various council areas. The gains of walking this path would find expression in healthy collaborations between the various All Stars formations and local football bodies, to aide the return to when end of year tournaments and inter-village soccer competitions were events many would pay not to miss.
With this return of the once famed competition, plaudits must be given Akwa Ibom sports administrators of the last one decade, Commissioner for Youths Development and Sports, Sir Monday Ebong Uko and Mr. Paul Bassey. These duo would most definitely report fulfilled for the return of this tournament as a feather their caps have earned. If Akwa United FC has twice won the FA cup and the number of indigenous football clubs in the National League increased when we paid less attention to grassroots sports, then we can going forward win more.
The Governor’s cup in all its glory has not returned without fond memories of some of our finest sporting minds who would have loved to behold its return before life happened, it is hoped they turn in their graves for the good reasons from successes of this edition. Also, the supportive brands displayed on the advert panels struck the nostalgic chord that a little above a decade ago, this tournament enjoyed the sponsorship of brands that have since gone extinct. This consciousness may be all that is needed to wish indigenous brands like Ibom Air, HENSEK, U&K Engineering and others; proud sponsors of the tournament see out more Governor’s cup.
A good reason to toast for more happy hours, but not without remembering Hilary Clinton and one of her famous quotes, “there is difference between fair game and playing games”. For Akwa Ibom at 36 and beyond, our fixation should be on fair game; such that abhors mediocrity, ethnicity, partisanship and other mundane considerations. Whether in the offices, market places or farm settlements, fair games would serve more and better, as there are not much we would not achieve playing to win on fair terms. Cheers to a worthwhile return, may the tournament in every sense be gubernatorial.
Samuel Ayara writes from Ibong Otoro in Abak LGA.