By Pual Bassey
Friday May 22: 62 scrabble players from all over the country gathered at the Ultra Modern Government Banquet Hall in Uyo for a farewell and thank you tourney in honour of the Pillar of Scrabble in Africa and the Grand Patron of the Scrabble Federation in Nigeria.
Tagged “ a celebration of excellence” the tournament was organized in the invitational and veterans category.
President of the Nigeria Scrabble federation, Mr Suleiman Gora led a powerful NSF board that included past President Chief Toke Aka, Mr Paul Bassey, Mr S.K Fashola and Pastor Umoh Bassey.
For the veterans category, it was a list of who’s who in the scrabble industry in the country including Bob Okoridem, Ojior Osikhena, Ologungbiri Clement, Owugah Moses, Dinyain Tare, Owokere Victor, Okoko Chelly, Etim Archibong, Farell Umoren among others.
It was not surprising that current Africa Champion Nsikan Etim won the invitational tournament that included a star studded cast made up of Wellington Jighere, Azu Ogbogu, Ezinore George, Moses Peter, Emmanuel Umujose, Saidu Ayorinde Rasheed Balogun and Comor Michael among others .
Nsikan Etim said though the over N1 Million naira prize money was a motivation, he was delighted to be one of those who had come to honour a man who had helped touch his live in many positive ways.
The scrabble family later paid a courtesy call on his Excellency where the Chairman of the State Scrabble Association Engineer Ufot Ebong fired the first shot to the intermittent thunderous applause of the packed ICT Powered State Executive Chambers.
“…..Your Excellency you took on a once ignored game called scrabble and showcased it to Nigerians and the entire world that it could be made a house hold game with the attendant educational and social benefits.
“Today the Godswill Akpabio International Scrabble Classics is rated as the number one scrabble event in the entire world scrabble calendar, no wonder you were crowned as the Pillar of Scrabble in Africa”
Engineer Ufot then narrowed the incredible success story to the state where he was all praise for the financial and moral support the governor had extended to them “ to groom and mentor our sons and daughters to take part in both local and international scrabble competitions, one that has yielded uncommon dividends, including the winning of the African title in 2014 by Nsikan Etim, an international competition in which another son of the soil came out sixth”
He informed the excited crowd that in the 2014 National Schools Sports Festival, the state emerged the overall second best scrabble team in the country while Emmanuel Joshua was voted the most valuable player.
During the National Sports Festival in 2013, all the 12 members of Team Akwa Ibom and the four officials won medals, an unprecedented feat in the history of the game.
Also mentioned was the 2014 Godswill Akpabio Scrabble to Schools Initiative where over 250 children from nine states of the federation competed and Miss Mfon Unanaifonke Etuk Udo emerged the overall best female player and third overall best player while Master Emmanuel Joshua was adjudged the second best overall player even as Moses Peter from 2012 till date remains king of the national championship.
“ Sir we can go on and on to enumerate our successes under your inspirational leadership and financial support and want to thank you immensely for all you have done for us “ a grateful Engineer Ufot concluded.
The President of the Nigeria Scrabble Federation Mr Suleiman Gora in an emotion-laden voice extolled the Grand Patron for “rescuing a sport that was once sold out by the National Sports Commission and leading it to the top of the African, nay world firmament.
“….. Because of the spectacular heights we have attained in Africa and the world I have been elected the President of the African Scrabble Federation and I and the Nigerian Scrabble family owe it all to you”
He informed that during the same African championship that Nsikan Etim won last year in South Africa, Nigeria cleared the first nine positions while South Africa managed to win the tenth position.
“ …..In this chamber today we can find potential world champions who will be crowned sooner than later”
The African Scrabble boss told the story of Sam Okosaga, the 2013 Godswill Akpabio Classics winner who went to the world championship in Prague and won all his 31 games only to falter during the play off round robbin where he ended up the third best in the world.
“ …..my colleague in Akwa Ibom has told you about the Akpabio International Classics which is the biggest tournament in the world sought after by the world best players and you will recall that the defending champion is world champion Nigel Richards who won it at second attempt. After failing in 2013, he came back in 2014 and won it”
A delighted and obviously shocked Governor Akpabio in his response said he was amazed to hear that “ ….the little mustard seed that was planted less than eight years ago was growing up to be such a huge oak tree not only in Africa but in the world.
“ …..we set out in our little way to change the fortune of scrabble in Nigeria but ended up changing the fortune in Africa and indeed the world”
Scrabble for him is one game that should be encouraged in schools given its potentials to aid intellectual decision making as decisions have to “ be taken not only in seconds but in nano seconds”
He ordered that a land be made available for a scrabble secretariat in Uyo while expressing his gratefulness to the National body for deciding to name its national secretariat in Abuja after him
“ I am indebted to all of you for this honour of immortalizing our modest contribution and will aid its execution if not as an individual but in helping to rally corporate support to its fulfillment. I may be leaving office in a few days as Governor, but I promise that I will always be there for you, so there is nothing to worry about “ he assured.
Pastor Umoh Bassey South South coordinator of the Nigeria Scrabble Federation who helped to facilitate the tournament spoke at length about the Akpabio Midas Touch and how passion and commitment can help turn around the fortunes of a once hopeless situation. “ Most of us now understand better why Akwa Ibom State is such a huge success. I wish we had a lot more Akpabios in all the other sports that are now lying prostrate due to lack of encouragement and financial muscle. His Excellency will live forever in our hearts and we were delighted to hear today that he will continue to support Scrabble as long as he lives”
For the Nigerian Scrabble family it was another opportunity to tell a story that sometimes is difficult to believe, that there is a game in this country that sits on top of Africa and the world, yet is so grossly under reported and unheralded that “… it hurts”
See you next week