CEM OPINNION, SPORTS | The recent certification of Akwa Ibom State-owned football stadium by CAF as the only approved home ground for all of Super Eagles’ international matches is a big boost for tourism in the state, and a dividend of the huge investments in sports facilities that the government has made over the years. The Super Eagles will now play all their CAF/FIFA international home matches at the famous Godswill Akpabio International Stadium (also known as the Nest of Champions) in Uyo.
Fans are already bracing up for the arrival of the Eagles in Uyo as the 2024 Nations Cup and 2026 World Cup will soon kick off; and since Nigeria is co-hosting the 2024 AFCON Cup with Benin Republic, football fans across the country will soon descend on the Akwa Ibom capital. Completed in 2014 by the Akpabio administration and designed in the shape of a bird’s nest, the 30,000-capacity stadium is the most modern football facility in West Africa. It is modelled after the Allianz Arena, the 70,000-capacity stadium in Munich, Germany.
The Nest has bullet proof VVIP/VIP areas; Box Office; media facilities; two scoreboards and video facilities for replays. There are 30 emergency exit points; a helipad; two dressing rooms and ambulance bay. When I broke the news of the certification to Senator Akpabio last night, he cooed: ‘’Congratulations to Akwa Ibom people. They are reaping the benefits of the era of uncommon transformation’’. There are other smaller, but up-to-date stadia that are suitable for trainings.
Last year, the Uyo township stadium was comprehensively refurbished with an Olympic-sized swimming pool added. In Eket, a 40-minute drive from Uyo, the government has also built a new township stadium. It was commissioned early this year by former Governor Udom Emmanuel. About a kilometer from the Nest of Champion is another football stadium built in 2017. NDDC hosted its sports competitions in 2020 down there.
But there is more to Akwa Ibom than sports facilities. The state has two five-star hotels: Ibom ICON Golf Resort, a beautiful facility lying on the banks of the tributary of Cross River. The lawn tennis courts on the marina are my favourite getaway. The 18-hole golf course is one of the best in the country on which many international golfer has played since it opened in 2007. There is also Four Points by Sheraton Hotel in Ikot Ekpene, just a 25-minute drive from the Nest of Champions.
Typical of the renowned Sheraton brand, the facility is one of the best furnished hotels in Africa. In addition, there are many other privately owned hotels that would cater for ordinary football fans that will pour into the state. With a good road network, Akwa Ibom has the least crime rate in the country. Its airline, Ibom Air, has in its four-year history, impressed the travelling public with its prompt service. The cuisine is in a class of its own. A lot of people talk fondly of edikang ikong soup, but if you haven’t tasted the fisherman soup in Uyo, then you ain’t eaten nothing yet!
Akwa Ibom State is therefore a natural home for the nation’s football team, and this much was stated by the NFF Chairman, Ibrahim Gusau when he visited Gov. Umo Eno on Thursday. He asked the government to support the Federation to make the tournaments successful, just as Mr. Eno commended his predecessors for the huge investments in sports in the state. He announced that the state has renewed its facility management contract with Julius Berger Plc to continue keeping the Nest of Champions in good shape. I should emphasize that this stadium had in the past hosted a few of the Super Eagles’ international engagements and fans had always come out in their numbers to cheer them. I have attended a few of those games.
But in recent times, the national team have been playing at the MKO Abiola National Stadium in Abuja. But by designating Akwa Ibom as the home ground for the Eagles, all CAF/FIFA games would only be played in Uyo. It is a pleasant development. In addition to keeping the stadium beautiful, the government should go a step further and ensure that the state looks its best. Steet and traffic lights should work perfectly; lunatics that roam the streets, apparently brought in from neighbouring states, should be permanently taken care of and refuse collection efforts should be stepped up. The police will do well to keep crime rate as low as it is or even lower.
Much more, I will like the government to encourage sports among school kids in the state. Whatever happened to inter-secondary school football competitions which were so well organized in the ‘70s when I was a star footballer for my school? What of basketball, lawn tennis and athletics? It is possible that the death of youth sports in our schools has led to the flourishing of cult activities among these kids. The government should bring back Boys’ Scouts, Girls Guide, Man-o-War and other such associations to our schools. They helped in instilling discipline and moulding our characters in those days.
I welcome Super Eagles to the Nest of Champions. Their coming should boost the stadium’s advertising revenues which should go into maintaining the facility. The influx of football fans into Uyo will undoubtedly boost the local economy. I urge the fans and Akwa Ibom people to enjoy the games responsibly.