By Aniekeme Finbarr

It was Tommy Lasorda, former American baseball player and coach who once said, that “there are three types of people. Those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happened.” The first line captures the passion that Governor Udom Emmanuel has brought to ‘make things happen’ in sports development in Akwa Ibom State.

The latest is the maiden edition of the Akwa Ibom State Youth Sports Festival that has begun in the state. The competition which is organized by the State Government through the Ministry of Youth & Sports in partnership with the Ministry of Education is an amazing strategy to revive school sports. The youth sports Festival, which has been approved to take place twice a year, in March and November is designed to help sharpen the mental alertness of schools’ pupils and students. The primary beneficiaries are pupils of primary schools in the state and students of secondary schools.

According to the organizers, the Primary school category comprises thirteen sports while the secondary school category comprises fifteen sports. Some of the sports to be competed to include football, basketball, volleyball, handball, wrestling and athletics. Others are Judo, Karate, Swimming, Badminton, Tennis, Squash, Taekwondo, Scrabble and Chess.

A peep at the itinerary reveals that the Local Government qualifiers has been scheduled to take place across all the thirty-one Local Government Areas of the State from Tuesday, February 14 to Friday, March 24. The champions from each Local Government Area will qualify to participate in the State Finals of the Games which have been scheduled to take place in Uyo from March 15 to March 19.

It is heartwarming that Governor Udom Emmanuel also sees sports as a window of opportunities to unlock hidden treasures for our younger generation . In 2015, he sat at breakfast with the management and players of our state owned team.  He charged them to write the name of Akwa Ibom State on the national sporting map.  He followed them all the way until we broke a 20 year old jinx. We won our first national football trophy at club level when Akwa United won the 2016 Federations Cup and qualified to play at the continental level.

Akwa Ibom State is taking sports back to schools and to further develop sporting talents in our state. School sports did not begin today. Available records on development of sports in Nigeria showed that following the
landmark independence of Nigeria in 1960, government started taking initiatives such as the introduction of the Nigeria School Sports Federation in 1976 to emphasize the relevance of
sports to nation building.

School children should play, explore their environment and build a wild imagination they will need later in life. Otherwise, by the time they get to secondary schools, they will find sports culture alien. The secondary school level is the best point to harvest fresh talents and begin to nurture them, not when their feet are getting tired and their counterparts elsewhere are already planning to retire. Countries like the US send coaches to high schools to scout for children who will play college sports.

If Nigeria will ever compete in tournaments like the U-17 football competition, it will have to learn to stop cheating by fielding players who are over 17 years. To stop cheating, they have to actively recruit young people right from secondary schools and develop them. As a country, we are used to lying our way to football glory and when modern technology like the MRI outs our dishonesty, we become confused. We need to re-orient ourselves towards doing things the right way. Getting there requires hard work and planning, something which Nigerian officials almost always seem to abhor. However, the Akwa Ibom Governor is showing the way.

Governor Udom Emmanuel is building ten sports centres in the ten federal constituencies in the state. He commissioned the first one few weeks ago at West Itam Secondary School, Itu LGA.  The second sports centre at Ikot Mbong, Onna is at advanced stage.

The importance of sports and games in school encompasses more than just the benefit of physical activity. Increases in self-esteem and mental alertness make school sports and games necessary for every school age child. Although the benefits of school sports abound, many schools had cut out sports and physical education programs to the detriment of students.

According to Theodore Hesburgh, author of “The Importance of School Sports and Education,” it is imperative for school age children to have access to sports and games. Not only does it empower youth and promote higher self-esteem, it also motivates students, enables them to earn better grades, especially in schools where obtaining certain grades is a pre-requisite to staying on the school team. Numerous physical benefits include maintaining a healthy weight, preventing chronic diseases and learning the skills necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle after graduating.

Closely related, the administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel has devised many creative strategies to make our youths to be relevant in a competitive world, including sports.  As he stepped into office,  he set in motion several training programmes to ensure their employability beginning with the 1000 of our sons and daughters that are on a state government training on Oracle Database Management. Another 200 have also completed a power sector training in Abuja. That power sector training was designed to equip the trainees with basic skills involved in power generation,  distribution and maintenance. 100 youths have undergone a special programme on mechanized farming in Israel which was strategically factored into the annual pilgrimage. He had since floated a scheme tagged the Akwa Ibom Employment and Enterprise Scheme where young entrepreneurs are encouraged to be self reliant employing different combined methods like the franchise,  common facility and business incubation system to address unemployment.

Governor Udom Emmanuel places very high premium on education and skills development as both are pivotal to human capacity development. Governor Udom Emmanuel places very high premium on education and skills development as both are pivotal to human capacity development.

He is  running  a youth-friendly government, and he knows that unemployment is the major scourge of the youths. He is designing more plans to provide opportunities for our youths and give them employment. His belief is that our youths should earn a living through the works of their hands as opposed to begging for a living. In the same vein, he have set up loan schemes for small-scale businesses, especially for our women.

And so, we wish our youngsters the best as they play in this beautifully arranged sports festival. Put on the spirit of sportsmanship and the winning mentality. Even if you do not win, don’t feel bad, never give up. It is not as if you lost, time wasn’t just long enough.

Finbarr is a public affairs analyst

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