Review by Promise Etim & Priscilla Christopher
Community relations is a term used to describe the ways and means of establishing and maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship with the communities in which organizations or entities operate. It is by far one of the most significant things which bind organizations or entities with their host communities. Through good community relations, members of the society are impacted positively and made to feel the impulse of development. As much as community relations aim at maintaining peaceful coexistence between organizations and their host communities, individuals who have made a name for themselves and feel inclined to give back to society also engage in the exercise.
One of those individuals is Obong Bassey Albert Akpan (OBA), the Akwa Ibom North-East Senator, whose goodwill advances society in leaps and bounds. Having touched several facets of the society spanning from education to entrepreneurial development, his latest gift to the society is a multi-purpose recreational facility at Ifa Ikot Akpan in Uyo. Strategically located in a serene environment along the Victor Attah Airport Road, the facility is one place one would call a one-stop venue for every class of people. It has a digital technology hub, a bar and restaurant, a football field, lawn tennis court, basketball court, emergency medical unit, air-tight security, green area, playground, good road network, and a 1,500-capacity events center.
Digital Technology Hub
The digital technology hub was conceptualized based on the need to promote excellence and train youths in Information Technology (IT) to prepare them for global competitiveness. Established for training and certifications, the facility can take thirty (30) trainees per session. The hub is fitted with Internet facilities that also service the entire recreational center and its environs, a 24-hour electricity supply, a solar-powered backup system, projectors, and a visual interface, among other features. According to the facility manager, Engr. Etiese Akpan, a projected 2,000 youths will benefit from the center yearly. Programmes offered at the hub include internet core competence certification (IC3), coding, software engineering, advanced systems networking, systems security, programming languages, agile framework, web design, scrum, etc.
Taking into cognizance that technology is now the key driver of the global economy, Senator Akpan conceived the idea of a technology hub that would help Akwa Ibom people develop their talents and become relevant in the market. Already, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced leaders to think about how they can midwife an IT-driven global economy. Small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) were the worst hit during the pandemic as the supply chain was put through some difficulty, while job cuts before the 4th quarter were unprecedented (approaching 70 percent). So, Senator Albert nursed the idea of a digital transformation center to facilitate the training of constituents for the post-Covid-19 economy, driven by technology. He made this known in December 2019 during an end-of-the-year party with constituents, when he reeled out plans for the year 2020, and today, that dream has materialized. For a start, 30 indigenes of the state spread across fields such as engineering, physical and applied sciences, financial management, environmental studies, etc., qualified for the foundation programme (IC3) after a benchmarking test (the IC3 is a globally acceptable prerequisite for advancement to other modern IT training).
Flagging off the training in January 2022, Senator Albert promised to equip each of the first set of trainees with a high processing capacity laptop on completion of training. A special financial package of one million naira (N1,000,000) for the best five participants, in addition to their feeding and accommodation allowances, has also been provided. The ICT Centre runs on a train-the-trainer model, where graduates of the programme will take the challenge of training the next set of beneficiaries. According to projections, no fewer than 1,000 Youths will be trained at the center annually. This can be classified as a sustainable empowerment package aimed at engaging and repackaging our Youths for the labour market.
In the area of collaboration, the center is open for partnership with MDAs, private concerns, institutions of higher learning, research centers, and IT professionals for training and certification of personnel in programmes it offers.
1,500-Capacity Events Centre
Determined to expand the existing 300-capacity events center at the Senator’s Liaison Office at Plot E7, Ewet Housing Estate, Uyo, the idea of a 1,500-capacity events center at the recreational facility was birthed. A multi-media and lighting system, world-class audio system, eight (8) conveniences, a VIP room, and a waiting hall are some of the salient features of the center, which is fitted with a state-of-the-art air conditioning system and other awe-inspiring facilities. Events such as international conferences, wedding parties, symposiums, lectures, professional pieces of training, etc., will be hosted at the venue at a very convenient fee. The proceeds will be for managing the facility.
By implication, this means that the people of Ifa Ikot Akpan and neighbouring communities have a standard events center at their doorstep where they can hold their events without going through the rigours of moving uptown for the same purpose. Thus, by giving the community a place as such, with all its urban features, Senator OBA has given the formerly unnoticed area a facelift that will in no time metamorphose into a buzz.
Before developing the multi-purpose recreational facility, the newly constructed road within the community was merely a path covered with bushes and trodden only by motorcyclists. Senator Albert thought it was befitting to give the community a reason to smile by constructing a 2km road that leads to the center and traverses Ifa Ikot Akpan community. The internal road network at the center spans 1km.
A unique feature of the multi-purpose recreational facility is its uninterrupted power supply, secured by 150KVA and 60KVA generating sets. A transformer linked to the PHED facility supplies electricity to the center and the neighbouring environment. Solar-powered systems have been installed within the center to enhance security and light up the community at night.
At the heart of the recreational center sits a football pitch of 110 meters long and 70 meters wide. The lush green grass gives a natural ambiance that presents a veritable opportunity for competition and relaxation. An estimated 1,000 persons can watch a football game comfortably from the stands. The mini-stadium comes with a floodlighting facility, which enables matches to be played at night. Youths from the community and its environs can take advantage of the facility and hone their football skills to earn a career in the future. Clubs in the professional and national leagues can adopt the facility as a campground to equip themselves for competition.
Lawn Tennis Court
The lawn tennis court at the recreational facility is of Olympic standard (24 X 8 meters) and embedded with the best of facilities. An umpire stand is affixed at the center of the court, while the service line is 6.4m from the net. The total playing area is 192 sq. meters. Games can be hosted at night because of a high-impact floodlighting system embedded within the court perimeter.
Like the lawn tennis court, the basketball court is of standard as recommended by the Federation of International Basketball Association (FIBA). The dimension is 28 x 15 meters and has a total area of 420 sq. meters. The court is fitted with state-of-the-art facilities such as floodlights. The facility will present a platform for future stars who dream of developing a career from the game.
Green Area & Playground
A clean and serene environment is key to the development of children. To this end, a green area of 45 X 30 meters has been reserved at the Centre, secured by a perimeter fence. The location serves as a playground and recreational facility for kids and can also be used for mini outdoor events such as birthday and engagement parties. Holiday adventure, picnics, and other parties can be organized at the playground by schools, churches, or organizations that desire an open space for informal gatherings.
Bar, Restaurant & Viewing Center
The multi-purpose Centre is embedded with a standard bar and restaurant for the needs of the public. It is equipped with an industrial kitchen and a VIP bar. The open bar is specially wired to take care of guests who may want to relax after engaging in sporting activities at the center. Guests will also be treated to the best of meals and drinks at a very subsidized rate. The barbeque spot features the best red meat, roasted fish, and other seafood spiced with the best of contemporary and local delicacies. The unit is also embedded with a state of ultra-smart TV, decoder, and free subscription, to give the masses the opportunity to watch the best of sporting activities including the 2022 FIFA World Cup to be hosted by Qatar. It will provide soothing relief for constituents within and beyond the location of the project.
The parking lot at the recreational facility can take up to Five Hundred (500) cars at a time due to its total area covering 6,000 sq. meters. This feature is critical for hosting top-class events where many guests would be expected to turn up. Carports are fixed in the VVIP section of the lot, making it more secure, convenient, and reserved.
Security is key to the sustenance of a facility of this magnitude. To this end, the center has two outpost security units and an exclusive apartment for personnel. To ensure maximum security and illumination at night, seventy solar-powered street lights have been installed from the entrance of the Centre to the main facility. The solar system works all through the night in conjunction with the power supplied to the center by the primary source (PHED). At the last count, no fewer than 30 youths of the community are directly and indirectly engaged at the center to provide internal security, as well as janitorial services. The number is expected to increase as the facility expands.
Community Health Unit
The Centre has an emergency medical unit fully equipped to provide quality first aid in the event of an accident or casualty. There is medical personnel on call and an out-patient unit. Even more, the health facility is equipped with medical consumables, drugs, and other relevant features to serve members of the public as well.
The multi-purpose recreational facility is undoubtedly the best of its kind in Uyo built for the generality of the public. Given its outstanding features and unique characteristics, it provides an ambiance for the leisure needs of all age grades and the development of talents for the state. This gift by Senator Akpan would remain a sure means of strengthening community relations and ties with the people of Ifa, Uyo, and Akwa Ibom State at large.
The Center is an attempt to address six critical issues embedded in the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, which targets: No Poverty (1); Good Health & Well Being (3); Quality Education (4); Affordable and Clean Energy (7); Sustainable Communities (11) and Partnership for Development (17) by the year 2030.
Senator Bassey Albert Akpan has shown enormous capacity with the conceptualization of such a unique idea and seeing through its realization. Given the opportunity in a higher capacity as Governor, there is no doubt that he does possess the requisite skills and technical depth to meet the yearnings and aspirations of Akwa Ibom people. Already, his exposure to these areas places him in an advantageous position to easily address them holistically.