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When Grace is Sufficient, by Joe Iniodu

Governor Ambode with Governor Emmanuel Udom (2nd right); Deputy Governor of Niger State, Mr. Ahmed Muhammed Ketso (right); President of Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), Mr. Amaju Pinnick (left); representative of Sport Minister, Mr. Nansel Nimyel (2nd left) and Captain of Akwa United, Otobong Effiong (3rd left) during the cheque presentation to the winners of the AITEO Cup.

Anyone who ever doubted if the blessings of God abound in Akwa Ibom State must be confronted with a compelling need to review that position after witnessing the miracle that was wrought upon the Akwa United/Niger Tornadoes pulsating encounter of Sunday night at Agege Sports Stadium, Lagos. It was the final of the AITEO Cup which both teams had qualified in a rigorous competition that had about 72 teams.

But there is more to the outcome of that match. With a less impressive outing obviously owing to the artificial pitch, the tide still turned in favour of the State signifying that when a people are under a Covenant Leader, grace locates them. The tension laden match which was decided via penalty shoot out with the opponent team parading an excellent goal tender that gave Akwa United team cause to worry, produced a result that only grace was capable of giving. While their goal-keeper stopped some of the penalties from Akwa United players, Niger Tornadoes players kicked theirs over the goalpost. It was an act of grace which others may opt to call luck.

Akwa United Football Club which started as Ibom Stars was an unknown quantity in football circles until less than 3 years ago. It acquired a tradition of being a relegation bound team that always struggled to survive. The team enacted a turn around when it clinched the Federation Cup in 2015, the first since the inception of the tournament as Governor’s Cup in 1945. It was a cheering development as the axis of the State from it days as South-Eastern State to Cross River State until the present Akwa Ibom State had never gone close to carrying the coveted trophy. But the Udom administration in the first year of his being the helmsman of the State changed the narrative and Akwa United FC won the trophy in 2015.

Having tasted the sweetness of victory, the team put up another stellar performance as it glided its way through the various competitive games with about 72 teams to qualify for the finals of the tournament. With the superlative performance of the team in the competition, many tipped her to win the maiden AITEO Cup. But it was a tough hurdle as Niger Tornadoes FC which locked hones with Akwa United also sought to prove that it can not allow thunder to strike in the same place twice having previously lost by 3-1 to the same Akwa United during one of the qualification matches. Even though Niger Tornadoes retaliated that defeat with a paltry one goal at their home, there was an apparent determination on the part of the team to rewrite football history at Agege Sports Stadium that fateful day. That formidable effort brought the game to 0-0 at regulation time resulting in the penalty shoot out that was used in determining the winner.

Clad in the scriptural equivalence that posits that where man’s effort ends is where God’s miracle begins, Akwa United FC had to recourse to other attributes and qualities that are inherent in the leadership and people of the State. The first can be said to be the passion of the leader. Governor Emmanuel has consummate passion for the good of the State. He is vigorously seeking to make a difference and putting the State on an enviable orbit. When he came into power, his development minded vision cast a view at many facets especially areas that can engage the youths. Aside the industrialization vision with all the attendant value chain that is expected to create wealth for our people, he also identified sports as another veritable source of wealth creation. This led to the provision of modern sport facilities into two Federal Constituencies at the first instance and with a pledge to replicate same in the remaining Federal Constituencies in the State. The idea is to expose our young people to these facilities and trust that they will avail themselves by way of quality training that would predispose them as beneficiaries of the financially buoyant sport sector. As Governor Emmanuel himself said: “When the youths are exposed to the best sporting facilities at early age, we give them wings to soar and the sky can only be their limit”. One can say without equivocation that this vision would blossom and bring prosperity to the State in no distant future.

As confirmation to the role of grace in the victory, Governor Emmanuel himself submitted that “the victory is God’s answer to our prayers”. The elated governor recalled how he visited the dressing room to motivate the players, boost their psychology to yield positive impact on their performance while the grace of God completed the rest. He identified unity and teamwork as key complements in that victory. He said the entire Akwa Ibom was united in their support for the team. Hear him: “… we should be united as a people; yesterday we were there, playing as a team. Everybody knew Akwa United of Akwa Ibom, nothing like political party, nothing like ethnic groups or political blocs”. He attributed the success to unity.

Governor Emmanuel also understands the need to motivate. For him, motivation is holistic and should cover the gamut of pep talk and actual incentives. No one is in doubt as to the governor’s manifest support for Akwa United FC. The Commissioner for Information who received the team on behalf of the governor on arrival at Ibom International Airport said that much. According to him, Governor Emmanuel has spared no efforts in promoting youth and sports development in the State. Senator Ita Enang, Senior Special Assistant to Mr. President on Legislative Matters (Senate) in his remark commended Governor Emmanuel for driving Akwa Ibom to national limelight”. He said that the team succeeded as a result of the governor’s enhanced welfare package and support to the team. Hear the parting words of his statement: “For the second time, Governor Udom has done it again on the football front. He deserves commendation” Professor Chris Ekong, an ardent critic of the Udom administration also joined in the effusive praise of Governor Emmanuel on the victory of the AITEO cup. Hear him: “Let us appreciate the governor of Akwa Ibom State for supporting the team with incentives to win the trophy”. It is on record that Akwa United FC enjoys prompt payment of salaries, bonuses and other incentives. It is perhaps why the chairman of the team, Mr. Paul Bassey stated that the victory is a befitting gift for the State governor, His Excellency, Mr. Udom Emmanuel for supporting football. According to him, it is that support that saw Nigeria qualifying for the World Cup with ease.

The governor’s encouragement to football is fast turning him into a Nigeria sports pillar. Through his enormous goodwill, the super Eagles have found home in Uyo. It is a gratifying record for the State that Nigeria qualified for Russia 2018 from its soil. This is indeed an act of grace. Clinching AITEO Cup was another grace with more expected as prospects for another honour in the female version of the tournament beckons.

* Joe Iniodu is a public affairs analyst 

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