By Paul Bassey
Calabar holds a special place in my life. It was in Calabar that I cut my teeth as a journalist when I got employed as a proof reader in the Cross River State Newspaper Corporation, Publishers of The Nigerian Chronicle, after a glorious stint as editor of the Saint Finbarr’s College magazine ,The Conqueror.
In Calabar, I decided to further my studies, acquire the mastery of French Language which was to help boost my sports reportage, that is how I got admission into the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics of the University of Calabar even as a staff of The Chronicle.
Passing through Calabar Airport to Akwa Ibom always brought back fond memories of my “Malabite” days until Governor Akpabio made the Uyo Airport a reality and Calabar became far away.
Two months ago, I went back to Calabar, to negotiate the use of facilities at the U.J Esuene Statdium, facilities that The Athletics Federation of Nigeria ( AFN ) had certified world class through the yearly Mobil Trials ( Name changed recently)
I needed the tartan track and the infrastructure in Calabar to camp 165 graduates of the AKS/NNPC/MPN Schools Athletics championships. After 12 un- interrupted years of sponsorship of the competition, in Akwa Ibom Schools and Colleges, we decided( and MPN approved) a holiday camping and training programme aimed at honing the skills of the 2011 and 2012 winners of the competition.
Going to Calabar meant transporting them from the beaten earth of Eket Stadium to the tartan tracks of U.J. Esuene stadium. This also meant the use of spike shoes, introduction to starting blocks and all other paraphernalia necessary to make a difference in their athletics life.
Seven top track and field coaches in the land were contracted to handle the various departments of jumps, throws, long distances, sprints and relays, and that is how I got in touch with Armelia Edet, Utitofon Nkantah ( Nee Ukoh), Stephen Nuhu, Professor Lucas Ogunjimi, Solomon Abari, Ken Onuaguluchi and Sule Oladimeji .
For two weeks, these coaches were required to not only mentor but introduce the athletes to the basic rudiments of track and field. My plan was to set the machinery in motion and get out, only to come back and close the camp as it were. How wrong, as I had to savour all the fourteen days that those kids were in camp, having the time of their lives..
The first inspiration I drew was from the coaches who marveled at the abundance of talent on display. They started by pouring encomiums on Mobil Producing Nigeria, Operator of the NNPC/MPN Joint Venture for starting a programme that this country needs if we must recapture the lost glory of our track and Field and indeed all sports.
After one week, the coaches decided to hold the first trials and were awed at the progress made by the students, progress that the coaches insisted must be sustained if we must make any impact in the programme.
By the time the second trials came up, it was evident that we had the destiny of sports in our hands. A few examples will suffice.
In 100 metres boys, the 10.7 seconds returned by Ndipmong Uwem was considered good enough to get him an invitation to the national camp, ditto the girls sprints queen Aniekeme Alphonsus Edem who was constant on 12 seconds in addition to a technique and pace that the coaches said was professional.
Coach Oluyomi was delighted by the 5.11 metres done by Maria Joseph in the Long Jump. Hear him. “ She started with 4.88 metres and after one week did 5.11 metres which is as good as the jump made by some senior girls in this country. Also worthy of mention is Emenim Effiok the properly built student of Saint Brians Model College Uyo who threw a distance of 16.53 metres in Shot Put.
Effiok came into the camp doing 4.88 metres and by the time coach Onuaguluchi took him on for two weeks he had done 16.53 metres. You can then imagine the progress these kids are likely to make if subjected to constant quality and progressive training.
All, repeat, all the students that went into the camp came out with personal best times, throws and jumps.The verdict was unanimous that given constant training and tracking, there exists not less than fifteen national champions in the experimental batch that we took to Calabar.
The crowning of the show was the closing ceremony held in Uyo where Governor Godswill Akpabio commended Mobil for such an initiative and urged the Oil Drilling Giant to continue to be the Good Corporate citizen that it has always been.
Represented by his Deputy, Noble Lady Valerie Ebe, Governor Akpabio reiterated the need to catch them young and promised the delivery of an Olympic Sized stadium before the end of his tenure.
The State Education Commissioner Professor, Atim Antai and the Special Adviser to the Governor on sports and Youth Development Mr Samuel George Frank also spoke glowingly about Mobil and the initiative that will go a long way in shaping the lives of the students especially those who are anxious to forge a career in the sport.
Back in Lagos, I was browsing through the results returned at the just concluded Junior African Championships in Mauritius and concluded that what we have started in Calabar, if well handled, was indeed the future of track and field.
Take heart Kayode.
Nigeria’s foremost Sports Librarian Kayode Tijani has lost his father. At 86, Pa Kayode has lived his life and his departure could only be termed a “celebration of life”, but as I told his industrious son, a father is a father and he will be greatly missed.
Take heart Kayode and welcome to the club of orphans of which I have been a member, only God knows for how long.
See you next week.