By Uwemedimoh Umanah
The construction of the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium marked a watershed in football and sports development in Nigeria and the African continent. The stadium is among the top 3 best on the African continent, alongside Soccer City, Johannesburg, Moses Mabida and Cape Town stadia. It was modelled after the Alianz Arena in Germany, and it remains the only stadium with a full colour changing exterior in Africa.
When this historic edifice was conceptualised and initialised by the immediate past administration in the state, sceptics believed it was a waste of funds and that a stadium of such magnitude was not necessary in the state. Today, history has proven the skeptics wrong- relegating their propositions to the abyss of history in Africa. The stadium hosts the biggest football matches in Africa and has multiplied the number of visitors and tourists in the state.
Historically, during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, Grant Thorton, an accountant firm estimated that the country had an extra 0.5% growth as about 373,000 foreigners visited the country. About $12.4 billion was injected into South Africa while Tourists accounted for about 16%.
It was not for nothing that the Super Eagles, Nigeria’s senior national team, made the Nest of Champions their home. Apart from being the only functional of the top stadia in Nigeria (Abuja, National and Enugu stadia), it is the best run and managed football facility in Nigeria, thanks to the dynamism of Governor Udom Emmanuel who has made sports and youths development a cardinal thrust of his administration. The Stadium has launched Akwa Ibom into the global map, not only as a sports tourism brand, but located in a state where leadership is working.
Apart from building modern sports complexes in the 10 Federal Constituencies (two are ready while others are ongoing) to engender the growth of sport and a healthy population, Governor Emmanuel has invested hugely in the home team, Akwa United through timely payment of sign-on fees, salaries, allowances and other bonuses, which have led to the team’s victory over Niger Tornadoes at the Federation Cup finals recently in Lagos.
Suffice it to say that this gesture of encouragement was extended to the Super Eagles of Nigeria and that has impacted tremendously on the result of the team’s matches in Uyo- contributing significantly to the country’s qualification to the Russia 2018 World Cup.
An important dimension to football tourism in Akwa Ibom is the huge resources that have trickled into the state from the numerous visitors, spectators and tourists into the state. It is instructive to note that in 2017 alone, Uyo, the capital city of Akwa Ibom State, has hosted several major fiestas such as the Chief of Naval Staff Games, Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) and the AITEO/Federation Cup.
The impact of these on the economy of the state cannot be overemphasised. It should be adumbrated that poverty alleviation, job creation and wealth creation are major integrals of Governor Udom Emmanuel’s 5-point agenda, which he clearly and explicitly outlined and explained during his electioneering campaigns, hence his conscious effort at synergising sports tourism with his economic development blueprints.
Studies, for instance, reveal that during the Nigeria-Zambia World Cup qualification match on October 7, 2017, the visiting country came with 400 fans, while about 5000 Nigerian football fans from across the 36 states and the FCT came to the state. It also reveals that a minimum of 3000 hotel accommodations across Uyo, Ikot Ekpene, Eket and Abak – the major urban centres which have proximity to the capital city, were fully accommodated.
Also, recreational facilities in the state in such periods experience a boom because football/sports spectators express their euphoria with bottles of beer, soft drinks, wines and other consumables. On-the-spot assessment of performances in 5 recreational facilities/joints in Uyo metropolis: ME Lounge, Osongama Estate, Olympic Joint, GEJ Boulevard, Maitama (Ewet Housing entrance) Uyo, Amazon Bar near the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Car Wash, Shelter Afrique Estate and Discovery Park, Udo Umana Street Uyo, exemplify that football was most capable of heightening economic growth, tourism development and psychological escape in society to a very large extent.
Complementing the above is the growth of other crafts such as sowing /designing of jerseys and the National Flag, sales of hats, mufflers and trumpets. Numerous sellers of snacks and other confectionaries trooped into the international stadium and its environs. Random sampling conducted shows that such opportunities created ‘big business’ for retailers, some of who admitted earning between N10,000 and N145,000 during international matches. This portends great hope for the state whose Governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel, is poised at engendering a private sector driven economy.
Uwemedimoh Umanah is an International Public Affairs Analysts.