The last time I made a trip to Uyo was on the 9th of February, 2020, a Nigeria Professional Football League game between Akwa United and Enugu Rangers.
I have not done much travelling between then and now as I chose to focus on games in Rivers State- Port Harcourt and Omoku. The reasons are not far-fetched as the road are in a terrible state and are not safe too.
But when I heard that the Confederation of African Football, CAF had picked Uyo to host their Confederation Cup final, I started making plans to attend.
Driving to Uyo was out of it, because of what I perceived to be the state of the road, especially, the Akpajo/ Eleme axis in Rivers State, but my good friend, Olalekan Ige would be driving down and I had booked to ride with him.
Favour Itua would also join us and we planned to move on Thursday afternoon at about 1pm.
Oh! Our highways
The first part of the journey is the exact reason I no longer have much interest in interstate road trips in Nigeria because the highways are not for the faint of heart.
We went through Aba road, then Elelenwo and that was the last we saw good roads in Rivers State. From Akpajo it was a very bumpy ride until we got into the Ogoni side of the East West road, and then Akwa Ibom State.
“You know what,” I said to Olalekan Ige and Favour Itua in the car.
“It’s a shame that after almost seventy years of independence, Nigeria as a country cannot even achieve good roads.”
We talked over it for a bit and then moved into other topics of discussion. We talked about the Women Super 6 Play-offs and I was amazed that Olalekan still followed the women league that much. Rivers Angels were not doing well and it seemed that title would be a straight fight between Bayelsa Queens and Nasarawa Amazons.
We talked the Nigeria Professional Football League and the giant strides of Rivers United, Plateau United, Rangers, Remo Stars and even Akwa United who Favour still believes have a chance to finish in top 3. A tall dream, but haven’t stranger things happened?
All that Pork
Then next thing, Olalekan was slowing down and parking the car by the Fly Over at Oruk Anam. Aha! I knew what was up. Ige wanted to get roast pork and palm wine.
I had always been a fan of this on my previous trips to Uyo, especially when I drive down, but I wasn’t sure I would have stopped to buy in this case, if I was alone. I just did not feel in the mood.
We spent about fifteen minutes here and had some that we ate right there. We knew that on our way back, we would buy some more to take back to Port Harcourt.
Turning on its own
Arriving in Uyo was one thing, finding the hotel was another. We just could not locate the place. We had agreed to get to the hotel first, then head to the Stadium for our accreditation, but how were we supposed to find the hotel.
The name and address was given to us and we located it on google map. But at the point the voice prompt said, “You have arrived at your destination” there was no building insight, not to talk of a hotel.
We turned around, and around, and around and around and at some point we had to call the FIFA referee, Ferdinand Udoh. He was the plug for the hotel, but he seemed pre-occupied and thought we could find the place ourselves.
After driving around and around again, we had to go locate Ferdinand where he was to lead us to the hotel he had reserved for us.
As embarrassing as it was, we had passed by the hotel twice but did not know it was it, because we were not looking and did not obey the directions given to us.
It was actually not difficult to locate.
It was decent enough. Much better than the former place I used to stay in Uyo. It was much better.
The stadium is really cool
Entering the stadium, we saw a red flag and that was the Nigeria Police. They never know how to handle sporting activities.
There was a police truck behind the team bus of BS Berkane and Olalekan Ige pointed to me what was going on there. There was a small crowd at the stadium gate, probably trying to get tickets and we were behind the convoy.
As soon as the policeman at the back of the truck saw the crowd, he unleashed his assault rifle and pointed it towards the people at the gate, why?
Was there an uprising? Was he in any danger? Why was he pointing his gun at them? I just hope that man and colleagues with his mentality won’t be at the stadium because they might just ruin the game.
It was good to meet Ayo Ibidapo of the NFF communications department. It was back slapping and he saying these words to me, “Oga, you still dey fresh o. You still dey form young boys like us,”
I took the compliment with my full chest. It was great to see him. I’d known Ayo circa fifteen years, from his days at Ray Power FM, Port Harcourt where he interned under Peter Abaje. I had also observed his growth with keen interest. He had done well for himself.
Victor Modo walked in to say hello, same as Fisayo Dairo and later, Tunde Liade who incidentally would be in the same hotel as me.
Favour pointed out the chairman of Akwa United, Paul Bassey, standing with a man, we thought at first, was Enyimba chairman, Felix Anyansi Agwu. And then there was Chris Emeruwa there. It was already looking like a full house of administrators.
I walked down to have a word with Paul Bassey.
I remember reading his column in the Champion Newspapers in the 80s when I was in Secondary School and then the University. I even read one of the last columns he wrote on Champion when he was about to start an all-sports newspaper, that was called Today Sport.
In that column, he was asking us, the readers if we would still support him if he left Champion Newspapers. He wanted to know if we would buy his paper. Oga no wan take risk. He was sorting out his new customers before venturing into the deep end.
I was one of those that wrote back saying I was going to buy, because I loved his work, though I was not a fan of Champion Newspapers at the time. I would buy just to read his column. Incidentally, and I do not know if he knows this or remembers this, I wrote a women’s football page at Today Sports. One of the editors, Waheed Jinadu convinced me to do it.
We, Paul Bassey and I agreed to meet in the morning before the game, well depending on his schedule, and it was time to retire for the night. It had been a long day.
I still needed to get accreditation tags for the other fellows coming from Port Harcourt from the game, or tickets.
I called Mighty George Essien to let him know I was in town. He told me he could, but took the time to invite me over to his sports show at 7am. Typical Nigeria Sports broadcaster. They utilize every opportunity to get a new voice on their shows. Tomorrow will be busy.