Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Ibom International Stadium: New sports’ destination

Ibom International Stadium: New sports’ destination

The world stood still. The elements stood still to offer clement weather. Even government bureaucracy in the State had to stand still as work free day was declared while related parts were subordinated for the handling of some aspects of the event. It was the inauguration of the ultra-modern Akwa Ibom International Stadium which ground-breaking ceremony was performed on October 27, 2012 by President Jonathan. And so two years later, the same President Jonathan returned to officially declare the stadium ready for use. The date was November 7, 2014 and the world stood in honour of the great feat, great accomplishment which is an exhilarating addition to the sports’ menu that many would savour. 

Many had waited for the day with bated breath. While cynics believed that the pictures of the stadium that were published in papers and beamed on televisions were mere computer simulations, those who see Governor Akpabio as a promise keeper only wondered whether the date was realizable. And so when it was confirmed with various news medium reeling out the programme, their joy knew no bounds. 

The well planned and clinically executed programme of events which had the Chief of Staff, Sir Etekamba Umoren as chairman of the planning committee and the Permanent Secretary, Protocol Unit, Mr. Aniekpeno Mkpanang as principal foot soldier was scheduled to commence in the afternoon. But by morning, the new stadium was already thronged with people basking in joy and excitement for the new wonder Governor Akpabio had brought to Akwa Ibom shores. Admission into the stadium was based on tickets which were given free but restricted to perhaps avoid admitting more than the 30,000 sitting capacity of the stadium. 

The stadium is truly a wonder to behold. It is by every ramification a modern facility that ranks among the best in the world. Sited on a generous 36.3 hectares of land, the architectural masterpiece is configured as a globe and covered with façade. It is said to be one of the very few so covered. The stadium which is fitted with state-of-the-art facilities has a bullet proof fortified VIP box that can sit 250 persons, a media tribune that can accommodate over 100 journalists and camera stands where TV journalist can do their work without difficulty. It has an electronic scoreboard that is compliant with sundry IT activities. Three hundred floodlights of 2000 wattage each which are under the roof have such illuminating power that one can pick grain with the light in the night. The stadium is also security compliant with sundry up to date CCTV cameras that can capture text messages on phones. The pitch is 100% natural grass with its lush green beauty. There are also many other features that make the stadium unique and one of the best in the world. 

By morning of November 7, another unique infrastructure also completed by the Akpabio administration, Ibom International Airport was thronged with human and vehicular traffic with eagled security operatives preventing vehicular movement beyond a certain point to the airport except those cleared by them. It is said to be part of the security norm every time a high caliber official in the like of Mr. President is visiting. 

President Jonathan who was billed to perform the inauguration of the new stadium touched down at exactly 1pm. He was received by Governor Akpabio and other top functionaries of government. In the company of Mr. President was the chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, His Excellency, Alhaji Ahmadu Adamu Mua’zu and other dignitaries from the Presidency including the special assistant on media, Dr. Reuben Abati. On ground to also receive him were some members of the federal executive council. After some minutes of ceremonies, the governor led his guest to the presidential lounge of the airport to wait for the Presidents of Ghana and of Cote d’Ivoire who were to accompany President Jonathan to the event. 

The aircraft conveying the President of Cote, His Excellency, Dr. Allassane Outarra landed Ibom International Airport and taxied to a halt at about 2pm. He was received by President Jonathan and Governor Godswill Akpabio at 2:05pm. Airport ceremonies which included exchange of pleasantries with dignitaries and cultural displays lasted for about 10 minutes. At about 2:20pm the plane carrying Ghanaian President, His Excellency, Dr. John Dramani Mahama touched down. He was also fêted with the same airport reception before departing the airport. With three serving presidents on hand and a former head of state, the event assumed the character of a summit of heads of States with the ecstatic crowd at the airport displaying a cathedral of colours to welcome the august visitors. 

The entourage of President Jonathan and his counterparts entered the new stadium at 5:15pm amid loud ovation by an ecstatic crowd that had waited from the early hours of the morning. The sitting arrangements which were done via the tickets gave that aspect of the event a caveat of orderliness. And so when the people sighted the Presidents and Governor Akpabio walk in into the VIP box and waving profusely, the entire arena exploded in joy.

 The array of Masters of Ceremonies which included the iconic Ebere Young, Oliver Udo Ukpo, Raphael Edem and Mauren Umeh were on hand to direct proceedings and they did a good job. Several activities which were lined up for the event had to be put on clock work precision to be in sync with the allocated time of live telecast on many television stations. Even though there were some slights in the timing, there were serious attempts at effective time management. Everything was made to be exciting and brief.

 Governor Godswill Akpabio in his address thanked the Presidents for honouring the State. Referring to President Jonathan, he said not only is history being made today, the scripture is also being fulfilled. He cited the scripture to give a force of credibility to the claim. According to the Good Books: “The hands of Zerubabel had laid the foundation of the temple, and that his hand shall complete it”, asserting that Mr. President laid the foundation of the stadium and had returned to complete it in commissioning. Governor Akpabio said that “this should serve as a sign that whatever foundation the President has laid, he would complete it including his second term in office”. He noted that the President represented all the answers to the nation’s national question.

 Governor Akpabio paid glowing tributes to President Alassane Ouattara and John Dramani Mahama describing them as great African leaders. He appreciated former Head of State of Ghana, John Jerry Rawlings and thanked him for his great contributions to Africa. He said the stadium is built in line with global best practices to maintain the highest level of comfort and safety given the level of global technology. He charged the youths to rise up and possess the facility noting that the anticipated global sports growth for 2015 is USD145.3 billion pointing out that the State needs a niche of that. Governor Akpabio stated that the stadium would provide the youth access to training facilities asserting that through Nest of Champions, the State would produce future Serenas to go out there and conquer the world. He announced a friendly match between Nigeria and Brazil scheduled for March 29, 2015. 

President Jonathan performed the inauguration ceremony of Akwa Ibom International stadium at 6:15pm and executed the tape cutting at exactly 6:17pm. The exercise was witnessed by the two visiting Presidents. His Excellency, Dr. John Dramani Mahama, President of Ghana and chairman of ECOWAS spoke on behalf of the sixteen ECOWAS countries. He said he brought a message of felicitation from other heads of government under the body to Nigerians. He further said that the country’s fight against ebola virus is symptomatic of what the people of Nigeria can achieve if they work together. He described the Stadium as the best in Africa stating that members of ECOWAS are united in the opinion that Governor Akpabio has done well as a leader. President Mahama also stated that it is his wish that the stadium would not only be a nest of champions for future Akwa Ibom champions but also African Champions. 

President Jonathan in his comment described the day as special. He noted that there is no State in the country that has had the distinction of hosting three Presidents at one go. The President further noted that he is familiar with Akwa Ibom State which he visits at least twice a year since 1999 adding that there is a lot of progress going on. President Jonathan stated that he sees Akwa Ibom as a pacesetter and that Akpabio represents transformational leadership. He said that with infrastructure as found in Akwa Ibom, the nation’s journey towards development has actually started. 

The President’s speech which was greeted with loud ovation was followed with a pot-pourri of entertainments. Mish, a music icon with origin in Akwa Ibom State took the stage to do his popular tune; Akwa Ibom Ayaya, loosely translated as Akwa Ibom is beautiful. The coterie of choreographers dressed in black trousers and tops demonstrated body flexibilities that thrilled the crowd. This was followed by another group of artistes including Tiwa Savage, De Prince etc led by popular Don Jazzy. They did a popular tune that electrified the crowd and engendered participation. Even those reluctant to dance saw themselves responding to the rhythm of the music. That exciting performance was followed by that of Kcee who also did a popular tune. The dancers who also did some acrobatics caused joyful stir among the spectators. Then followed the parade which had several groups. It was a cathedral of colours that elicited visual beauty. 

And finally came the first football match to be played on the stadium. It was between the home-based Supper Eagles and the Black Meteors of Ghana. The pulsating match ended 1-0 in favour of the Super Eagle with a son of the soil, Emem Eduok wearing number 10 shirt nodding in a header at 8:46pm. It was a providential intersection with history as the first person to score a goal on that ultra-modern stadium was an Akwa Ibom son perhaps to justify the investment of the State. The match which started 8:10 ended at 10:10pm with Super Eagles lifting the first ever Transformation Cup.
Joe Iniodu is a public affairs commentator

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