The first woman to represent Benue state, at the National Sports Festival, Mrs Anna Acka in a recent interview with Jack Moses Ekwe – Ekwe and Emmanuel Elijah She said her love for Tennis motivated her sponsoring Tennis championship for five years and that it was unfortunate that even the state sports body, cares only much about football and not other sports. She represented Benue state at Bendel 81, and other issues. Mrs Acka who had Admission No1 at Gindiri Girls High School, Jos, also spoke on sundry issues.
When did you start doing sports?
I began doing sports right from when I was in the primary school at the SUM primary school Aku( now NKST). During that time, every year that was a celebration tagged, ” Empire Day” and on this day, all the primary schools in Tiv land would come to Gboko which was the Headquarters of the Tiv Nation, to contest in various games during which I participated in virtually all the sporting events and of course in all the games that I competed, I came first.
You mean, your parents allowed you to do sports?
A – My parents never had any problems with my doing sports. My parents, Mr and Mrs Aboyar happened to be with the first missionaries that came to Tiv land and by their association with the missionaries, we their children were educated at that time just as they also knew the importance of sports as well. In fact, I was one of the five Tiv girls that went to secondary school at that time from 1958 to 1962 and as God would have it, all of us went to the same school, Gindiri Girls High School, Jos, where I happened to be number one. That is, holding Admission No 1. But most unfortunately, of all the five of us, only Mrs Terundu Agbo and I are still living today as we speak.
But did you continue with sports in your secondary school?
Very well. It might interest you to know that when I got to the secondary school, except the bottle and sack race, all the sporting events that I participated in during my primary school days and took first, were also practiced there in Gindiri and then I continued doing them.
Could you mention one or two of the sports that you participated in?
A – Almost all the categories of race, high jump, long jump etc. In fact, I set the record in High Jump in Gindiri Girls High School which while after many years that I had left the school, got married and bore children that it was broken.
Who was the principal of the school at that time and possibly the person that guided you through sports?
First and foremost, God was the one guiding me right from my youth to do do sports and then when I gained admission to the secondary school, the principal, Mrs Williams ( a Briton) encouraged me a lot saying I should keep it up because anytime the school went for a competition, I excelled in whatever events that I competed in.
Was there anytime you represented Benue Plateau state in the games?
At that time, all the secondary schools in the north would meet in Kaduna which was Headquarters of the Northern Region and I competed there severally and won laurels for the state and that was what made my school very proud of me too.
Did you at anytime also represent the north in any event?
Yes, I was to represent the Northern Region against the South in 220 and 440 metres, high jump and so on at a sports event slated for Lagos in 1960 but because of the Independence Day Celebration, it did not hold at that time and that was the end of my secondary school activities in sports because in 1962, I graduated.
Were you still involved in sports after you graduated from secondary school?
Because I was born into sports, as I drank, ate, thought and slept in sports, after I graduated, I thought of what sports I would continue with so I went for Tennis. I had no knowledge of Tennis at all but my intention to do a kind of sports, made me playing Tennis.
When and where was that?
When I graduated from Gindiri in 1962, I was employed with the Tiv Native Authority in Gboko and it was after some time that I began playing the Tennis. And when I started, I picked up very fast to the extent that my backhand smashes of the ball were thundering such that even when I was competing against other states, people who gathered around my opponent would be telling her not to serve the ball to my backhand because if they do I will smash them fire.. In fact I enjoyed it.
Did you eventually play for Benue state?
Very well. I played for this state for seventeen years and the last time I represented the state and last medal I won for the state was a Bronze medal in 1981 at the National Sports Festival, “Bendel 81”. And I want to tell you that for somebody to graduate from secondary school in 1962 and then to compete for for the state in 1981, is not a small thing, and by then I had had my all my children some of whom were picking the balls for me during training.
How were you identified for the state?
It was simply my winnings in all the competitions that I participated that I was picked to represent the state. When Benue state was created in 1976, the first competition we played was against Plateau in Jos and I did extremely well when the then Head coach of Tennis whose name I can’t remember now, identified me. At the state level too I was doing well for my local government in Tennis because any competition they were doing within the state, they would write to my office to release me for camping. It was from there that he saw my performance and then believed that I could compete against any other person within the nation and even beyond if need be. That was how I began representing the state in Lagos, Kaduna, Ibadan, Benin and a host of other states.
Talking about all the Tennis courts that you have played on. That is, the clay, hard etc courts, which one would you say you deem best?
My own love was for the Tennis, so whatever ground that was played on did not mean anything to me.
1981 was the last time you represented the state and possibly your last outing in playing active Tennis, was it due to age or the number of children that you had?
All of it put together. I was getting a bit tired because of the age and birth to many children and since there were younger ones coming up which I believed would fit better and faster with their counterparts elsewhere, so I had to say bye to active participation.
Why didn’t you take to coaching after retirement?
Although, I did not take to coaching but I did a lot in Tennis, by organising tournaments with the assistance of my eldest son which I tagged, ” Mama Anna Tennis Championship”. This I did consecutively for five years. In fact, I was the one that forced the Benue Cement Company BCC PLC to into organizing Tennis tournaments. During this, all the clubs like Makurdi club, Railway club, BCC club that had Tennis clubs in the state, were meeting in Katsina Ala for the championship. The championship was a closed championship for only clubs in Benue state.
Why was it a close and not open Tennis championship?
Because we learnt from experience. When we started the championship, BCC also started but tagged it an open Tennis championship and all the trophies were won by clubs that came from all other places, not even one club from Benue, smelt it so we avoided the same mistakes.
In essence, what would you say informed your decision to take to organising Tennis championship?
It was just because of the love that I had for the game and to encourage the younger ones to play Tennis.
Why did you stop organising the Tennis championship?
I stopped because I was sponsoring it single handed using my personal funds and throughout the five years that I had been sponsoring the championship, I never received any financial assistance from anywhere, not even the government.
Not even commendation from the government?
Even if they did, they never communicated to me so I wouldn’t know. But just as I told you, I loved the game and so I wanted others to also love it as well, that was why I used my meagre resources to develop it. And as you know, naira had more value at that time than it is now so I could squeeze out of my salary to do it.
How would you contrast the way Tennis was played in your days and that which is witnessed today?
When I look at the way Tennis is played now, it makes me to shake my head because if I was playing Tennis now the way I played it, I would have been a billionaire. That time when you won a medal, received it and then shook hands with the personalities, you were happy and proud of yourself and it ended like that. But today, within a week or two after winning you earn much. Now there is money and if it is now with that my backhand smashing, I will be earning so much money.
If you had your way, what advice would you give to young and aspiring players as word of encouragement?
I have noticed that even the state’s body that regulates the activities of sports, cares much more about football than other sporting events so if I am in the position to advise, I would encourage council chairmen to build Tennis court in their domains so that both the boys and girls would be encouraged to learn. Tennis is a very simple game that if you have the interest it won’t take you time before you perfect in it. But it is unfortunate that these other games are not as popular as football is. That is why with the efforts that I had put in Tennis, if it were a state that also had the interest in not just football but other games, it would have brought me in on advisory level, to see how Tennis could be developed in the state. But you can see that there is nothing like that.
Who do you admire around the world when you watch Tennis.
Tennis generally, has no different rules of playing it but it is the individuals that develop their talents and skills. Having said that, I want to say that I admire the Williams’s sisters, Serena and Venus very much.
Did any of your children take after you in playing Tennis?
Yes, my first daughter Margaret Acka did. When she was at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, she was playing for the school. She played so well and for a long that even when she graduated, they kept calling her back to compete for them each time they had competition like the NUGA games. Also my son who is the last of the boys, Engr Kelvin Acka plays golf very well.
What general advice would you have for people as regards sports?
A – On individual basis, I advise people to take sports that is, exercise seriously. I talk to youths and parents and when I am talking to them, I tell them I am 78 years of age now and most of my age mates in the villages now use walking stick that supports them when walking but I am not like that so it is one of the reasons I tell them how important it us to do sports and exercises . have always connected it with the blessings of God and sports. Although, I have not had the opportunity to be in the government to talk to people but I have been talking to parents that if they allow their children to do sports, it helps them physically and morally too.
So you mean you still do sports as in exercising yourself regularly to keep yourself fit?
I did everyday for quite some time until I was involved in an accident and had a fracture on the leg. I could walk from my house to the Airport’s Air Force checkpoint and back before others too started joining in the keep fit. I now have a cycle in my house which I ride stationary, to keep myself fit all the time and walk around my house.