Akwa Ibom marked her 35th state anniversary last week having been created on 23rd September 1987 from the mainland part of the old Cross River State after about four decades of sustained agitation.
It’s been 35 years of progressive journey with great successes recorded in all sectors of the economy and as a veritable tool for peace, unity and development, sports has also played a key role in creating a space for the state on the nation’s sport map.
The new beginning needed lots of ideas especially from indigenes who had already made sporting marks while in the old Cross River State like Charles Bassey and goalkeeper Moses Effiong who were members of the victorious 1980 Green Eagles that won Nigeria’s first Africa Cup of Nations, another goalkeeper Patrick Udoh, who was the first Akwa Ibomite to qualify and participate in any FIFA World Cup having been part of the Nigeria’s 1983 FIFA Under-20 World Cup squad to Mexico, the first FIFA World Cup Nigeria took part, Etim Esin who represented Nigeria at the 1987 FIFA World Youth Championship, Lawrence Iquaibom who competed in weightlifting at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul and won three silver medals at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland and many other prominent sons and daughters of the soil.
The new Akwa Ibom was not going to be lacking in talents and qualities needed to bring sporting success to the state, so the last 35 years have seen great Akwa Ibomites rising above challenges to write their names boldly in sports.
In 1996, Etubom Paul Bassey, a veteran journalist, CAF and FIFA Match Commissioner helped the state team now called Akwa United secure a slot to play in the Nigerian football league and in its 26 years history won the Federation Cup twice in 2015 and 2017, won the NPFL title in 2021, played in CAF Champions League as well as Confederation Cup and has become the biggest bridge through which Nigerian players secure deals abroad.
The club has produced names like Mfon Udoh who holds the record as the highest goal scorer in the Nigeria Professional Football League with 23 goals. He is also the first player to score over 35 goals in two consecutive seasons in Nigeria. He was the highest goal scorer in the 2016 CAF champions league with 9 goals, Emem Eduok who scored 6 goals in a single game for Dolphins and was the first player to score a goal at the Godswill Akpabio International stadium on its opening day in 2014. Others like Ezekiel Bassey, Aniekeme Asuquo, Ubong Friday etc who at various times and competitions have represented the country.
Vincent Enyeama, Nigeria’s most capped player of all time with 101 caps, is also a proud son of Akwa Ibom won two CAF Champions League and three Nigeria Premier League titles with Enyimba. He won the African Nations Cup in 2013.
Nigeria’s Super Falcons have also benefited from the qualities from the state, Cynthia Uwak won the African Women Footballer of the Year back to back in 2006 and 2007 and also the African Women Championship twice in 2004 and 2006 with the Super Falcons while Blessing Edoho won the 2014 and 2016 African Women Championships with the same team.
In Athletics, Enefiok Udobong won Gold medal in 4 by 400 metres relay at the 2000 Olympics as well as a bronze medal in the same event at the 2004 Olympics. Recently, we have seen the exploit of Imaobong Uko, the current World Under 20 400m Champion, who was Nigeria’s youngest athlete to Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, a proud product of the Akwa Ibom State Youth Sports Festival.
In Boxing, the WBC heavyweight champion in 2008, Samuel Peter cannot be forgotten and Isaac Ekpo, who competed in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens.
Judo has Catherine Ewa Ekuta who picked up a gold and two bronze medals each in three different All-Africa Games and represented Nigeria at the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Basketball has Mfon Udoka who rose from being a professional player to former Assistant Coach of the Nigeria women’s national basketball team the D Tigress that won third Afrobasket championship in Bamako, Mali.
Indeed, Akwa Ibom has been blessed with a pool of talents before and after its creation with names too numerous to mention while their achievements are too outstanding to forget. On a day when the state marks her 35th anniversary, it is good to be thankful for the past while we prepare better for the future.
In 2014, the state opened the gates of a world class stadium named The Nest of Champions, the facility has attracted and played host to FIFA, CAF and national competitions. In 2022, the state under the leadership of Governor Udom Emmanuel has added another stadium in Eket, if the successes above were achieved without a good facility, then the effort of the government must be commended because what lies ahead in terms of success in sports is definitely greater than what we have counted so far.
Congratulations Akwa Ibom