Sports development in Akwa Ibom: Akwa United FC as a case study

Sport can be aptly defined as any form of competitive physical activity or game that aims to use, maintain, or improve physical ability and skills while providing enjoyment to participants and, in some cases, entertainment to spectators.

Sports play an important role in national development. Sports promote peace and understanding of unity and integrity among different nations. Sports break the barriers of discrimination based on colour, caste, creed, and religion. Sports provide better social interaction among people and fill them with a feeling of brotherhood.

The Udom Emmanuel-led administration understands the importance of sports to national development and has invested so much in the sector. These investments have yielded so much positive result.

One year after the inception of the administration, during the National Youth Games held in Kwara State, Akwa Ibom emerged second position with 7 gold, 7 silver and 1 bronze, just behind the eventual winners, Delta State, which got 9 gold, 5 silver, 11 bronze.

It came as no surprise to many when the Governor Udom was awarded as Sports Governor of the Year 2017 by the National Sports Award. The Award is given to administrators, managers, and other stakeholders whose exceptional contributions have significantly advanced the cause of sports. In the same year, the Akwa Ibom was voted as best in Sports infrastructure, best in grass root sports development and best in fans supportership.

It should be noted that the state hosted the 11th Nigerian Navy Games in 2017; the 3rd Nigeria Air Force Inter-Command Combat Sports Competition in 2018, as well as the South-South elimination series of the National Youth Games in the same year. Of note also is that the Uyo Stadium is a much loved pitch for the Nigerian Super Eagles thanks to the exceptional leadership of Governor Udom.

Furthermore, through sports, the state has provided gainful employment to numerous Akwa Ibomites by sponsoring Akwa United, Ibom Angels, Akwa Starlets and Ibom Youth. These clubs enlist the services of indigenous players and management staff every year.

Still on sports development, it is important to discuss extensively the role the Udom Emmanuel administration has played in turning around the fortunes of the state owned club, Akwa United FC. Sunday, August 1, 2021, was a day of celebration for the club as it clinched its first title as the winner of the 2020/2021 Nigeria Professional Football League season. The Uyo-based team, coached by Kennedy Boboye, defeated MFM FC 5-2 to win the league with 71 points from 37 games.

The journey of the Promise Keepers, as they are fondly called, to league glory has been a long and tortuous journey. As the saying goes, “where there is a will, there is a way”, Akwa United FC has kept forging ahead in order to reach the greatest heights.

Akwa United Football Club of Uyo was founded in 1996. In the same year, the 1996/1997, Akwa Ibom Stars Football Club (as it was then called) began her professional campaign in the second tier football league known as Pro League, under the leadership of Barrister Assam Assam and Coach Bernard Ogbe, as its Pioneer Chairman and Technical Adviser respectively. It should be noted that between1996-2006, the club won the state challenge cup for a record 7 times.

In the 2007/2008 season, the club was finally gained promotion to the first tier league, the Nigeria Premier League.

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In the same year, Chris Ekong, who led the management of the club applied for a change of the name of the club from Ibom Stars Football Club to Akwa United Football Club, and the application was granted. The first match of the team in the League ended in a victory of 1-0 over El-kanemi Warriors of Maiduguri .

Between 2008 and 2014, the team experienced many ups and downs. They finished 17th in the 2008/2009 season and were relegated. Two years later, in the 2011/2012 season, they were promoted back to the League finished in the 12th position. In the 2012/2013 season, they escaped relegation by the whiskers finishing in the 16th position. The same feat was repeated in the 2013/2014 season. In the 2014/2015, they finished the league in the 14th position.

In the mid 2015/2016 season of the league, Paul Bassey, a seasoned journalist turned football administrator, was appointed as chairman of the club. He thereafter appointed Coach Maikaba to take charge of the team. This signaled the beginning of a positive turnaround for the club in the NPFL season. Akwa United finished the 2016/2017 NPFL season in fourth placed (their highest ever finish in the top flight.

In the 2017/2018 NPFL season, they finished in the 4th position, just 6 points behind league winners, Plateau United, 2 points behind 2nd placed MFM FC and 1 point behind 3rd placed Enyimba FC.

In the 2018/2019 season, they were close to clinching their first NPFL title, but lost it to Lobi Stars, who had 2 points ahead of them. Then came the 2020/2021 NPFL season; the long wait for the NPFL trophy was over. With 5 points over 2nd placed Enyimba FC, and 6 points over 3rd and 4th placed, Kwara United and Nasarawa United, Akwa United Football club, clinched the trophy, even when they still had an outstanding game. What a great feat achieved by the club.

During the official reception of Akwa United FC as champions of NPFL, The President, Nigerian Football Federation, Mr. Amaju Pinnick said “I commend Governor Udom Emmanuel Efforts in sport development in the State. He is a leader with a difference.”

As has been rightly said by leadership coach, John C. Maxwell, everything rises and falls on leadership. The success of Akwa United FC is directly tied to the interest and investments of the Udom Emmanuel led administration in the sports industry of the state in football as well as in other sports. From the inception of the administration in 2015, it has been from one story of success to the other in the sports industry. Successive administrations have so much work to do in maintaining the level of success attained by the Udom Emmanuel led administration in the area of sports.

Usoro, a sports analyst, writes from Uyo