Udom Inoyo and sports development in Nigeria
May 1, 2020 began a new day for Udom Inoyo. It was particularly the day of his release from public life as a Chief Executive of an oil conglomerate into private life. That day in my reckoning did not go without some timeous activity. History was again made. It signified the day he walked from one public responsibility into another public duty. It was the day his immense wealth of knowledge and incredible experience in public administration was recruited and re-entrenched in another public call. And this time, it was to be in the service of his own state. Inoyo is a golden fish. Hence his lack of a good hiding place. He cannot be allowed to exit into a quiet and seamless retirement life by the government of his home state or given the benefit and privilege of resting like others before him; who, having gone into retirement from years of serving the nation or some reputable international corporation should have retired into the peace of fishing on holiday beaches around the world. But Inoyo is not so “lucky”. Which goes to explain the maxim more plainly and appropriately that “to whom much is given, much is expected. That the reward for good work is more work.” So Inoyo in his supposed time of required rest is drafted by his state government into the copious work of teaming up with equally well-honed and endowed egg-heads to chart a post – COVID-19 economic survival and reconstruction blue print for Akwa Ibom State government. Such lies the dilemma of a most sought after individual with an incredible capacity for proven potentials.
But Inoyo is perhaps one of the biggest names in corporate Nigeria from Akwa Ibom State. He rose to the Zenith of his industry and was a leading ambassador of the State brand even as the President of the Nigeria’s Chartered Institute of Personnel Management. It is on this note therefore, that one can see me as being happy at this instance to invite myself to comment on many of his key possibilities and contributions to the development of sports in Nigeria as well as in Akwa Ibom State. I have heard and read about Udom Inoyo’s retirement from Corporate life; heard and read about his Growing Business Foundation (GBF) Micro-Credit Facility for micro, medium and small enterprises in the state. I have heard and read about this illustrious son of Akwa Ibom’s relentless contribution to developing education through the Inoyo-Toro Foundation, a solely private initiative where indigent students, hardworking and dedicated teachers and the hoi poloi of the state’s poorest of the poor have benefited scholarships, monetary and distinguished awards in service or starter financial packs to roll off small businesses with a view to eradicating poverty among the state’s expanding socio-economic segment. I have heard and read about so many things including his timeous promotion of oil and gas projects resourcing to the exclusive advantage of our state and country, Nigeria; the Support and Training Entrepreneurship Program (STEP) that has raised many of our indigenous youths from crime and poverty to excellence and success. But I am yet to hear and read about some of his contributions to sports, which happens to be my culture medium.
For the purpose of this expose, I may have to recall that though he retired as Vice Chairman and Manager, External Adviser Upstream, our paths crossed in 2002 when he was General Manager, External Relations, and Member MPN Leadership Council. In that position, he superintended over the Akwa Ibom State/MPN/Schools Athletics and Championships. A sport talent and skill discovery programme which ran for a whole of 15 years. On his table was the decision to fund and host a competition dedicated to the honing of the athletics fortune of the youths, in schools and colleges of Akwa Ibom State. Before him, there was Mr. Adeyemi Wilson, assisted by Isong Akpabio and Regina Udobong. When the mantle fell on him, it was a simple case of “hallelujah”, of a patriotic Akwa Ibom son saddled with a project aimed at benefiting the youths of his home State. As consultant to the project, I had the herculean task of convincing the top Mobil Producing Management of the need to fund and support this novel ideal even as a corporate social responsibility. Whenever I walked into that meeting, there is no gainsaying the fact that the presence of Udom Inoyo was the needed vaccine, a shot in the arm that aided the quality and flow of my presentation and inspired a responsibility buoyed by his ever nodding head and body language. Every year for 15 unbroken years, I had a responsibility of defending the need to stage the competition in Akwa Ibom and every year, I got the approval and nod of the ever demanding and highly expectant Mobil Producing Nigeria, thanks to Udom Inoyo. Today, Akwa Ibom can through that novel investment and vision boast of a cream of talented young men and women who passed through this programme to establish themselves in the national and continental limelight of sports. It also promoted grassroot sports development at the time, provided sport equipment and incentives to schools and individuals, such as spike shoes and one off scholarships to winning athlete students.
Interestingly, the year 2013 was very key to this annual sports programme in our State. A certain Aniekeme Alphonsus of Community Secondary School, Ikot Abia Idem, Ikot Ekpene, emerged overall best athlete with three golds in 100, 200, 4×100 girls. That same year, Mobil Producing approved the taking of the winners to Calabar for a two-week holiday training programme and invited the best coaches in the nation including, Amelia Edet, Solomon Abari, Onuagaluchi Kerechukwu, Sule Oluyomi, Gabriel Okon, Stephen Nuhu, Utitofon Uko-Nkantah, Obajimi Lucas, etc. They were all recruited to help train and raise Akwa Ibom talented youths to fame and prominence in sports. The impact was wonderful, as Akwa Ibom State left the Calabar camp for the 1st Nigeria Junior Sports Festival in Abuja and won the Athletics event with six gold, five silver and seven bronze medals.
At the said national event, Aniekeme, emerged the fastest female junior athlete in the country and proceeded to represent Nigeria at the African Championship in Addis Ababa and Mauritius, where she also excelled exceedingly. Today, she is plying her lucrative trade in USA, joining her compatriot Ifiok Andrew, sponsored by the Governor Udom Emmanuel administration. And same can be said of the National Mobil Track and Field competition, which for 21 years was Nigeria’s biggest and most glamorous Track and Field event. It was the pedestal to choose Nigeria’s athletes for Olympics, Commonwealth Games and the All Africa Games. This yearly sport event produced top athletes like Aniefiok Udobong, Obikwelu, Fasuba, Durotoye et al. It helped to revolutionize the athletics environment with modern equipment and infrastructure, including electronic timing devices and the training of officials to oversee the growth of the athletics industry. In casual estimation, these investments in sport and youth development consecutively ran into tens of millions of naira in corporate funding and approval. And it is, however, left to be considered how could a man have loved raising the potentials of the youth of his state and country better than this? That, is the Udom Inoyo I know, a man whose passion for community projects, whose love and vision for the youth helped me in midwifing and delivering a trail blazing championship, a unique national event that laid a foundation for the realization of the dreams of hundreds of school children, every year for 15 years. On behalf of Ifiok Andrew (400m), Goodnews Akanimoh Ntuk (400m), Christiana Emmanuel (400m), Deborah Emmanuel (800m), Bright Ikpe Tom (100m), Esther Ekanem (100m), Atiata Daniel (800m), Esther Okon (100m, 200m), Aniekeme Alphonsus (100m, 200m), Comfort James (800m), Deborah Johnny (400m), Idara (Javelin) etc. I take this opportunity to say thank you to Exxonmobil, thank you to Adeyemi Wilson, Gloria Essien Danner, Isong Akpabio, Regina Udobong… Thank you Udom Inoyo.
Bassey, a veteran journalist, is a senior special assistant to Akwa Ibom State Governor on Youth and Sports Development.