Long search for ‘true solution’ to decaying Nigerian stadia
The last time the football pitch of the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos hosted a major football match was in 2002. That was during former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
For the past 15 years, the facilities have been abandoned without proper maintenance and lack of regular sporting events.
As the situation in other sectors of the Nigerian economy, it has been series of promises by all past sports ministers, who upon resumption of office make it a point of duty to tour all facilities and stadia across the country. Such tour of facilities and sports complexes have however, yielded little or no results.
And with the National Stadium in Lagos, which used to be one of the best in Africa, so it is with other major stadia across the country.
From the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium located in the heart of Enugu State, to the Dan Anyiam Stadium in Owerri, Liberty Stadium, now the Obafemi Awolowo Stadium in Ibadan, the U.J. Esuene Stadium in Calabar, Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City, as well as the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano State, it is the cry of poor facilities all round.
The dilapidated National Stadium in Lagos is occasionally used for religious gatherings and has been taken over by area boys and squatters.
Most Nigerian sports lovers have blamed the situation on politicians, who had overseen the sector since the return of civilian government in 1999.
From the Obasanjo administration in 1999 till date, 14 politicians have been appointed to the portfolio as sports ministers. They are Damishi Sango, the late Engineer Mark Aku, Steven Ibn Akiga (also deceased), Col. Musa Mohammed (rtd.), Dr. Saidu Sambawa, Bala Ka’Oje, Abdulrahman Gimba, Sani Ndanusa, Alhaji Ibrahim Isa Bio, Prof. Taoheed Adedoja, Alhaji Yusuf Suleiman, Bolaji Abdullahi, Tamuno Danagogo and presently Solomon Dalung.
During the tenure of former President Goodluck Jonathan, the then sports Minister, Bolaji Abdullahi announced the concession of the National Stadium in Lagos to private investors, claiming that it was a move to salvage the dire state of the edifice. It turned out to be a mere political propaganda.
After Abdullahi was sacked from office, Danagogo took over and one of the first things he did was to inspect the complex. Nothing concrete came out of his visit.
The former Director-General of the then National Sports Commission (NSC), Alhassan Yakmut could not hold back his emotion when he took an inspection tour of facilities round the National Stadium in Lagos.
Yakmut, an ex-national volleyball player, took over from Gbenga Elegbeleye as the Director General of the NSC, following the removal of the latter by the Presidency.
He was in sober mood all through the inspection tour, following what he described as ‘monumental damage’ done to the facilities over the years.
“I wept on seeing the sorry state of virtually all the facilities at the stadium,” he told The Guardian.
“The facilities in the National Stadium, Lagos, have gone beyond routine maintenance to total breakdown. In short, the Stadium has to be shut down completely for repair work to be done,” Yakmut said.
The Lagos National Stadium, a multi-purpose complex, built in 1972 served as the main venue for the 1973 All-Africa Games. It also hosted the 1980 African Cup of Nations finals, a record attendance of 85,000 between Nigeria and Algeria, the 2000 African Cup of Nations finals between Nigeria and Cameroun and FIFA World Cup qualifying matches, among others.
But the complex had been left to rot away since 2001, a situation Yakmut described as great disserve to humanity and the country.
As a national volleyball player, Yakmut had his last national camp at the complex in preparation for Nairobi ’87 All African Games.
“But I feel guilty because I have been part of the system for years, though, there was nothing I could do to salvage the situation,” he said. “The swimming pool is a disaster. It has been abandoned for 14 years, which means, for three Olympics Games and two years, our youths have been denied access to the swimming pool. We visited the weightlifting gym at about 2.00 pm and none of us could see what was on the floor.
“There has been no electricity there for years. I have to attack these challenges immediately. To start, I have vowed to fix the electricity for the weightlifters within 14 days. The main bowl has a serious challenge, which I believe the government has to look into as quickly as possible,” Yakmut stated then.
And just when Yakmut was about settling down to ‘fix’ the situation, the current sports minister, Dalung scrapped the National Sports Commission and its DG was moved to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.
Like those who served before him, Dalung has since promised to ‘drastically improve’ the state of sports in Nigeria if given the opportunity to complete his four years tenure in office.
During a facility tour of the National Stadium in Lagos, he expressed deep disappointment at the dilapidated state of the nation’s sporting facilities-the Main Bowl, Swimming Pool, Tennis Court, and the National Institute for Sports.
“The Main Bowl of the National Stadium and other facilities have been in a bad state for years now. I’ve gone round and seen facilities, they are not in good condition,” he said.
Perhaps, the only major change so far was Dalung’s decision to hand over the National Stadium to the Lagos State government.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode had assured the Federal Government that his state would resuscitate the National Stadium in Surulere to ensure it plays a prominent role in the nation’s sports development.
President Mohammadu Buhari was said to have approved the handover of the Ahmadu Bello Stadium to the Kaduna State government, as it did the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium to Enugu State Government and the U.J Esuene Stadium Calabar to Cross River State Government.