The renowned and cerebral Ajayi Abimbola once observed that no life is deemed successful unless it makes impact on the lives of others. The same goes to organizations, institutions and governments. The aforementioned are only adjudged as successful when the conditions of people within their perimeter of service record noticeable improvement.

Ati Annang Foundation as a socio-cultural organization is one body that can beat its chest with satisfaction having impacted on the lives of many. The Foundation which was founded about 24 years ago has not only shown resilience and undying spirit, it had from the outset considered making positive impact on society and the lives of its people its avowed creed. And so from that dingy room in Port Harcourt where Ati Annang was hatched in 1994 in the company of a few sons of Annang extraction led by Sir Emem Akpabio, a fiery sense of altruism and strong community spirit had also been birthed. That egalitarian spirit, that reinvented and rekindled love amongst brothers, that enthusiasm to hold out a helping hand to a fellow brother became concomitants in the birth of Ati Annang. Today, society is savouring the beauty of these additions.

On February 14, 2018, we watched the full display of some of these added values. The well organized Inter-school Football Tournament across Annang land instituted for the purpose of exposing Annang young talents signposts a forward looking organization seeking impactful existence. At that colourful ceremony, which witnessed massive encouragement to the players and teams by the organization through mouth watering rewards, were legendary players of note and representatives of FC Barcelona of Spain who were also in the State to watch the pulsating competition.

A key component of 2018 Ati Annang Football Tournament is the signing of Memorandum of Understanding, MoU between Barcelona Football Academy of Spain and Ati Annang Foundation of Nigeria. The terms of reference of the agreement include to identify, train and develop sports talents for export. The CEO of Barcelona Sport International in Lagos, Leslie Oghomienor who was at the venue to watch the artistic display by the players said, “We have found some people that are good though we have not made contact with them yet, we have seen some good players”. He however said that the boys will need some training to sharpen their skills. He described Marcus Ekpeno who won the Most Valuable Player, MVP Award as very good and charged all of them to continue to give their best to the game.

Oghomienor’s view was in tandem with his colleague, Bernat Villa who is a coach with FC Barcelona Academy in Lagos. Bernat who watched the game with another coach said, “We saw good players who are physically and technically good as well. If they train a little bit on tactical part, I am sure they would become very good players” Mr. Bernat who acknowledged the partnership with Ati Annang Foundation revealed that the modality would involve enrolling the players in their training programme in Lagos and when they are good enough, send them to Barcelona or Europe. He stated that the Academy has what it takes to train them the same way talents are trained in Barcelona. It is pertinent to mention that FC Barcelona has two Academies in Lagos to wit: Surulere and Lekki.

The wisdom of crating such collaboration bespeaks an organization with purposeful existence. Many of the raw talents that inundate our land have remained largely un-utilized because they are either not exposed or harnessed. The talents remain rustic and eventually unuseable. The platform provided by Ati Annang firstly through the competitive tournament and secondly through the recent collaboration with FC Barcelona would make great impact on the lives of the players, dependants and society. Ati Annang must be commended for this great initiative which end product is economic buoyancy.

Apart from signing an MoU with the football giant of Europe, Ati Annang also added a psychological pep to the matrix by inviting accomplished footballers to the tournament. Visual option in anything is known to have very great impact. The physical presence of ex-footballers of note to aspiring players who hitherto only saw them on television sets has a galvanizing potential to reposition the career of the young players. Thanks to the organizers who invited ex-footballers that have never been found wanting in the course of their career. The likes of Victor Ikpeba, Kanu Nwankwo, Uche Ukechukwu, Waidi Akanni and Friday Ekpo were metaphors for discipline and sterling values all through their career and up till date are role models to many.

During interaction with Yours truly, some of them shared some insights on the event and extended some counselings to the would be international players. Victor Ikpeba in his remark thanked Ati Annang for the initiative. The ex-international said that they came to the State to activate “Let’s Play” which was a prelude to the finals of the Schools Sports Football Tournament. He thanked Ati Annang for promoting bonding among communities through sports. He also thanked Sir Emem Akpabio whom he said is always part of anything that has to do with the grassroots. The former Super Eagles player said that their presence is also about inspiring the young boys. Ikpeba commended the boys for high quality display of skills during the game but appealed to relevant authorities to rehabilitate the pitch so as to help the boys. The ex-international further said that the only thing that should be done for the young boys and girls is to inspire them through education and sports. He charged the young lads to be disciplined, committed, focus on education, focus on their sporting activities pointing out that they are the things that would make them better in life.

Another ex-international, Kanu Nwankwo who was also on hand for the tournament thanked Ati Annang for the initiative stating that sports should be used to engage the youths. Kanu said that while watching the match, he spotted three to four players that he can recommend to national team asserting thus: “If you don’t have the platform, you cannot see them”. He charged other states and communities to take a cue and replicate the laudable initiative in their domains. The one time Arsenal player also advised aspiring players to be disciplined and hardworking. He warned them to keep away from friends who are likely to influence them negatively.

The final of the match was between Confidence High School, Ikot Ekpene and Community High School, Nkwot Ikot, Etim Ekpo Local Government Area. The match ended in favour of Confidence High School with the representative of the Speaker of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke presenting the trophy to the exciting winners.

Joe Iniodu is a public affair analyst

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