By Patrick Omorodion
Like the religious ritual done annually by Muslims and Christians to Mecca and Jerusalem, Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State has taken a new toga of Mecca of Scrabble as Nigerian players and foreigners alike look up to it annually.
Again, the competition is here in 2011 running from September 9-11 with over about 300 players expected to participate in the four categories, Masters, Intermediate, Opens and Veterans to competed for.
Before 2007, scrabble was played mostly as a leisure sports and little competition at national, continental and world levels but the stature changed that year when Godswill Akpabio, himself a scrabble freak, emerged the elected governor of Akwa Ibom State.
The Nigeria Scrabble Federation, NSF wanted to honour one of their own and decided to organise a reception cum scrabble tournament in honour of Governor Akpabio. According to the NSF, “The original concept was to get all the friends and peers of the Governor and also the older but influential Scrabble players together in one hall to felicitate with the governor. And that was how the event started with only one category called “veterans” being played in 2007.”
Today the competition has grown, not only in number but in the prize money which has drawn not only home-based players but Nigerian professionals and other nationals from Europe and Asia, all whom clamoured for the expansion of the categories to include the Masters, Intermediate and Opens.
From the 2007 edition which was more or less an exhibition, the 2008 edition became an international event tagged “Godswill Akpabio International Scrabble Classics” with a star prize of $5,000. This singular development caused an attendance of 178 players from far and wide, the first in the history of the sport.
To buttress the new stature of the competition, the NSF state that “The event was graced by the then Association of British Scrabble Players Association (ABSP) Chairman; Mr. Terry Kirk, who came to represent the World English_Language Scrabble Players Association (WESPA) chairman: Mr. Allan Simmons.”
At the turn of the third edition, following the international recognition accorded the competition (Featured on the international calendar) as it was thrown open to all comers across the world, Governor Akpabio graciously jerked up the prize money to $10,000.
Equally the number of players increased from 178 to 273 spread across the Masters, Intermediate, Opens and Veterans categories with the world champion, Pakorn Nemitramansuk from Thailand in attendance. Another foreigner, Michael Tang, who came to represent the WESPA chairman, Mr. Elie Dangoor, also attended.
Tang would have been surprised by the standard of the Nigerian players, who are no small players anyway, having dominated the African scene for God knows how long, as Nemitramansuk was demystified and beaten to the fifth position.
Elated by the stature of the competition and the exposure it was giving to the little but oil rich Akwa Ibom State, Governor Akpabio again ensured that winners at the competition were enlarged and the prize money also increased with special prizes carved out for female players.
According to the NSF, “ By 2010, the Godswill Akpabio international classics had become an event that virtually every Scrabble player in Nigeria saves towards attending. Uyo thus become a Mecca of Scrabble for players and lovers of the game.”
Because of the new status of the competition, the total prize money came to nothing less than $50,000 spread across the four categories. The attendance was 259, slightly lower than the previous year, with players from across Africa, Singapore and Thailand.
This time around Governor Akpabio decided to take on Pakorn, the world champion, who attended once again, in an exhibition match and defeated him to the admiration of the players inside the Le Meridien Ibom Hotel & Golf Resort.
The Scrabble governing body cannot but commend Governor Akpabio and its affiliate, the Akwa Ibom State Scrabble Association for making the sport not only a house-hold name in Nigeria, but helping to boost the image of the country and improving the status of Nigerian players.
“The classics has really helped to boost the development of Scrabble in Nigeria and put Nigeria on the international Scrabble calendar.
The hosting of the event annually has in some ways empowered the National Federation and the Akwa Ibom State Scrabble Association. It will also be recalled that at the close of the 3rd edition of the event in 2009; the Governor made a donation of two 15_seater buses to both the state association and the National Federation. This gesture is indeed a laudable one as it has eased transportation one from point to the other; as we indeed travel a lot.”
The 2011 will be followed with a lot of interest by both the indigenes and outsiders alike following the breaking of the jinx by a home boy, Moses who beat all, including the heavy weights and national champions to the top prize last year.
Uyo is truly a Mecca of sort for scrabble and every resident of the city will know that a game growing in leaps and bounds took place there for three days when the boisterous players and officials depart tomorrow.