By Paul Bassy
If we believe, we can achieve everything,
Including the impossible. This I know.
So let’s lift up our heads, raise up the flags,
Scream like you are born to win,
This is the sign of victory.’
R. Kelly

For two weeks I was lost to family and friends, most of whom thought I was away on honeymoon.
I thank God for the GSM facility, though there was a time when for over 48 hrs, the network got mad in Eket.
Yes Eket, the little but beautiful oil city that incorporates Ibeno, which serves as operational base for Mobil Producing Nigeria in Akwa Ibom State.

Eket, where in the last ten years, I have been involved in the ritual of organizing a track and field championship for secondary schools and colleges in Akwa Ibom State.

Eket where we decided to pull all stops in order to celebrate the NNPC/MPN Joint Venture for ten years of sustained sports sponsorship advantage the youths of Akwa Ibom.

It has been ten years of dedication and hard work, ten years of belief and expectations, ten years of corporate responsiveness on the part of a company that is forever working towards the amelioration of its area of operation.

From inception, this programe had been unique in the sense that we tried to raise its standard hence the attendance of sports and education ministers, ministers, senators members of the House of Representatives of Akwa Ibom extraction.

In the year of our Lord 2000, I was saddled with the responsibility of midwifing a schools sports programme in the state.  My primary thought then, was football.

I was quickly put in check by Mr. Isong Akpabio, then of Public Affairs MPN who said, “it will be better if you don’t touch football.”

Mobil Producing Nigeria at that time was yet to recover from the trauma that accompanied a football induced riot and attendant destruction.

The revised proposal received the Approval of MPN but with a proviso that it had to attract the partnership of the state government and this was to be reflected in the name of the competition with the state government support.

I  then took off to Uyo, met with the late Mr Asua I. Asua, then Director of the state schools sports board who was so excited that he let everything drop and shepherded me to the office of the then Deputy Governor Engineer Chris Ekpenyong whose office supervised sports in the state.

We quote the deputy governor, “I believe that the decision by Mobil to take sports to the grassroots is a laudable development that will in the long term, benefit the state and the nation. I commend Mobil’s initiative and guarantee the State’s support.”

So, empowered, I returned to Lagos where Engineer Yomi Adeyemi-Wilson immediate past President of AFN and General Manager External Affairs of Mobil, got management approval and the project was then sent to Qua Iboe Terminal Eket where the logistics of actualization had to be tackled.

Since then, there has been no going back.

This year was not an exception.

After Mr David Findley, MPN Director  on behalf of the MPN Managing Director, Mr. Mark Ward,  had welcomed all to the meet and appreciated a programme that had done a lot to raise the sports hope of the country, the Athletics Federation of Nigeria President Chief Solomon Ogba thaked the sponsors for keeping faith with the championship for ten years.

The AFN boss remembered that at the national level, he was also a beneficiary of the faithfulness of the Joint Venture who have so far sponsored the Mobil Track and field for 21 unbroken years.

He then appealed to the state government and MPN to work towards a cinder track in Eket or anywhere else in the state that will help raise the quality of the races.

In his response, the state commissioner of sports, Pastor Oyong Asuquo who was also representing the State Governor, promised Chief Ogba that “ By this time next year, when you come back, you will meet a tartan track in the state” to the applause of all present.

Before the speeches and ceremonial round ups, Mary Onyali Omagbemi, Afica’s evergreen track queen who was this year’s role model had spent some time with the student athletes on the need to combine sports and education.

She advised them to keep off drugs, and strive to “…….Be like me”. The students were visibly delighted to have a living legend in their midst.

Then came the South South invitational relay which chief Ogba relished all through as Hussey College and Our Lady’s High Model College in Efurum  both representing Delta State won the boys and girls races.

Perhaps, the high point of the day for this year was the celebration of the decade of sponsorship with an anniversary song and R. Kelly’s SIGN OF VICTORY was considered appropriate.

The beautifully attired students went wild with joy, the VIP’s rose to their feet in dances as colourful balloons floated towards the heavens.

Signs of victory, signs of a greater tomorrow in a country where too much premium is placed in competition rather than the discovery of talents from the grass roots and the subsequent nurturing of same to maturity.

I saw Mary Onyali and Maria Wophill working. I saw Solomon Abari, Gabriel Okon and Dr. Lucas Ogunjimi penciling down what they considered potential stars. Those whom Onyali described as “…..possessing fantastic inborn techniques who though did not win gold have wonderful potentials for growth”

“ I can see the colours of the rainbow, I can feel the sign on my face, I see the light at the end of the tunnel and I can feel heaven in this place” R. Kelly sang.

A night before, Chief Ogba was not too happy that after ten years we could not have ten solid athletes to point at, because of a dislocation in the system  that did not track the students.

Ten years on, even if darkness seems to be around us, yet we can still find the way.
This column is dedicated to all those who in the last ten years contributed towards the realization of a dream.
Like someone said in Eket, if only we had more MPNs doing the same thing all over the country even in different sports, our stories of failure will become a thing of the past.

Gonners for life.
Today, the world will be tuned to what I will consider the real El Clasico in world football.
Today some school boy players will run round the field, stringing a number of passes together only to end nowhere.
Today the master tactician, leader of all coaches worldwide  will further prove why he is a SIR. Sitting comfortably on the top of the premiership with a game in hand.

Abeg, see you next week.


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