Nigeria remains a basket case in the management and sustenance of human and material resources especially in the sports arena
The main bowl of the Abuja National Stadium finally got a hasty shave on Saturday, September 15. Even at that, it will still need a total excavation of stubborn roots and replanting of the grass before a football game could take place in the nine-year-old once magnificent N54 billion stadium. It took a public exposure in the media to draw the attention of President Goodluck Jonathan to visit the stadium on September 12 when the Super Eagles were training for their Nations Cup qualifier game with Liberia at the practice pitch.
Like everything Nigeria, Bolaji Abdullahi, minister of sports, “swung” into action to punish scapegoats and save his job. Abdullahi, who appeared oblivious of the state of the stadium until the President’s visit, hurriedly directed Patrick Ekeji, director general of the National Sports Commission, to query Abubakar Mogaji, director of facilities, a day after Jonathan’s visit. The next victim was the stadium manager, Dungse, an architect, who has been redeployed out of Abuja to a zonal office. Dungse was redeployed because the powers that be in the ministry felt he was the one who brought in the press to expose the state of the facilities.
On a visit to the complex last week, it was observed that the main bowl, despite the cutting of grass, was still a piteous spectacle. No game could take place on the natural grass pitch as it is now riddled with sharp studs jutting everywhere without a total excavation and redressing of the pitch. The costly grass which has been crowded out by the weeds and plants was imported from Germany. Some lazy minds at the ministry of sports are mooting a replacement with synthetic pitch, which Nigerian professionals do not like. Most of them had voiced preference for the natural grass pitches in Nigeria.
Apart from the pitch of the main bowl, other facilities have suffered corresponding decay. The hitherto red tartan tracks have turned black with grasses growing on it and lost its elasticity, necessary for athletes to gather momentum. The two long jump pads were covered with torn tarpaulins with overlays with rainwater and grasses stubbornly jutting out by the sides. All the over 60,000 seats have not been dusted for nearly one year. Consequently, the white seats were looking like abandoned tombstones; the red seats are now brown; and the blue ones are equally weather-beaten. It also appeared that the seating areas have not been swept for nearly one year. Plastic bottles, sachets of water, fruit drinks and other edibles left by fans from the last match played by the Super Eagles against Guinea on October 9, 2011 still littered the aisles. Lizards, rats, geckoes and other animals now find the main bowl a great shelter under the heavy rains and sudden harsh Abuja sunshine.
Outside the main bowl, it was a complete forest of flowers. The two lone men mowing the lawns with hand-held machines were having a torrid time attacking the overgrown grasses with the small machines. Ideally, the motorised mowers would have been perfect, but the carcass of the only one available was discarded outside the entrance to the main bowl. The practice pitches were overgrown with weeds and plants. The flowers and ornamental grasses have all gone wild and untamed. The car parks were littered with year-long debris and seasonal decay.
The 60,491-seater ultramodern multipurpose sports complex Abuja National Stadium serves as a home to the Nigerian national football teams and other sporting associations. Its contract was awarded on July 18, 2000 to host the 8th All-Africa Games which took place in October, 2003.
All the workers at the stadium complex declined to speak on the issue, as they claimed that they did not have the competence to speak to the press. The only assurance they gave was that “soon” sporting activities would resume at the stadium. However, their body language indicated that they were not given the necessary imprest to maintain the facilities. At the ministry of sports, all the officers declined to speak on the issue which they described as “too hot for now.”
Sources, however, revealed that the problem of the complex was compounded when the armoured electricity cables that supplied light to the complex were vandalised and stolen, throwing the place into darkness. Consequently, the workers could not water the pitch. Those in charge allegedly raised a bill of N100 million for the replacement and this was not approved. It was gathered that about seven memos had been raised on the state of the stadium to the ministry of sports but they were all allegedly ignored yet the ministry queried some hapless workers for negligence.
As it is in Abuja, so it is in Lagos. The Lagos National Stadium, another multi-purpose stadium which would have hosted national team matches, is also in deplorable condition. It hosted several international competitions, including the 2000 African Cup of Nations final and World Cup qualifying matches. It also served as the main stadium for the 1973 All-Africa Games. Built in 1972 it had an initial capacity of 45,000, which was expanded to 55,000 in 1999. It hosted its last match in 2004, though it started dilapidating since 2002.
Taheed Adedoja, then minister of sports, inspected the stadium on January 8, 2011 and was appalled at the rot of the facilities. He promised that the federal government would restore the edifice to its former glory. According to him, “We visited the main bowl where we are supposed to be having top flight football competitions but which had been last used nine years ago by the Super Eagles in a city like Lagos where you have the largest number of football fans. There is no doubt that the main bowl is in bad shape.” He then promised that government would endeavour to bring back its former glory.
Nineteen months after this visit, this promise has not been kept. Since he became sports minister, Abdullahi is believed not to have inspected the Abuja National Stadium, let alone the Lagos National Stadium and other national stadia in the states. On June 13 when Adam Gumba, chairman, Senate Committee on Sports and Social Development, and two other committee members visited the Lagos National Stadium, they expressed shock at the state of disrepair and dilapidation of the facilities. “A lot of repair works need to be done to bring the existing facilities back to shape for use in the next 20 to 40 years,” he admonished.
Because of the state of the facilities, sports competitions that are supposed to take place in the National Stadium, Lagos, are now hosted by the Lagos State-owned Teslim Balogum Stadium. A recent case is the Federation Cup, which was won by Heartland Football Club of Owerri. The Super Eagles and the underage male teams now play their home games at the U. J. Esuene Stadium Calabar, while the female teams play their games at the Gateway Stadium, Ogun State.
Unable to fulfil its primary functions due to the dysfunctional facilities, businessmen and women have made the National Stadium, Lagos, a commercial city instead of the sports city it was initially classified. Nowadays, those who live around Surulere and its environs are finding multiple uses for the sprawling edifice. On Fridays, Muslim faithful use some parts for worship. On Saturdays, some parts are useful by joggers, better-health devotees and private sports clubs for training, while on Sundays, Christians conduct both morning and evening services there. The stadium managers used to make good money renting out the main bowl for crusades until it was stopped due to public outcry.
Perhaps to assert Nigeria’s secularity, fun-seekers also troop to the stadium on weekends for cheap entertainment and socials. This has quietly displaced the sports business. In this regard, OJEZ Club, an entertainment and social hangout, appears the biggest private investor at the stadium. Other entertainment hotspots are Old Skool, Madam SWAN and Co-operative Joint. If not for the light provided by these private businesses to power their operations, the Lagos National Stadium, like that of Abuja, would be in total darkness at night.
A presidential committee has been set up to restore the Abuja National Stadium to its former glory. However, the predominant view is that there are too many presidential committees and these, as some people observe, are signs of a dysfunctional system.