July 10, 2020

Will sporting excellence return to Lagos National Stadium?

January 3, 2018
National Stadium, Lagos
The state of turf at the national stadium, Lagos.

For over two decades, the main bowl of the National Stadium, Lagos was the Mecca of Nigerian football where every aspiring player dreamed to play.

The stadium was built at the cost of N12million and commissioned by the Yakubu Gowon administration in 1972 in readiness to host the second All Africa Games in 1973.

The first scorer at the National Stadium, Lagos, was the late Yakubu Mabo as Nigeria spanked Mali 3-0 in a ceremonial match to commission the stadium on December 4, 1972. The two other goals were scored by Mohammed Sanni and Kenneth Olayombo.

A correspondent of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), who came to cover the 2nd All Africa Games was amazed when he entered the stadium described it as a Sports City.

Today, the once beloved National Stadium, Lagos has become a monument in a shambles.

A visit to the stadium would further confirm lack of maintenance culture as one of the problems that Nigeria must overcome to attain greater heights.

For years now, the Sports City has not played host to any top-flight football match whether local or international – due to the dilapidated state of the stadium.

Since 1973, the stadium with superb floodlights and sitting capacity of 55,000 but later reduced to 45,000 in 1999, has served as the home ground of the Super Eagles and other national teams.

It also served as the home ground of clubs playing in continental championships as a result of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) conditions then, such as Enugu Rangers, Shooting Stars, Water Corporation of Ibadan FC, Bendel Insurance of Benin, NNB FC of Benin, Abiola Babes, Leventis United of Ibadan, BCC Lions of Gboko.

Some of the unforgettable matches at the stadium include the 1980 triumph of Nigeria in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) over Algeria; the 0-2 home defeat suffered by Nigeria at the hands of Algeria in 1981; the 1-2 loss by Stationery Stores to Union Douala of Cameroon in the 1981 African Winners Cup final and the ‘Balubalu ntafin’ episode of 1984, when IICC Shooting Stars lost to Zamalek of Egypt in the second leg final of the then Champions League through an own goal; the 1999 FIFA U-20 World Cup final between Spain and Japan, as well as the 2000 AFCON final match which Nigeria lost to Cameroon via penalties.

For about 17 years, the swimming pool was abandoned and became dilapidated until in October 2017 when it was renovated and even hosted the third African junior swimming championship.

The main bowl too has been in a terrible state for over a decade now. The last time an international game took place at the stadium was on April 30, 2004 when the Super Eagles lost 0-1 to the Teranga Lions of Senegal in the final of the LG Cup, two days after Nigeria had beaten Jordan 2-0 through the goals from Emeka Akueme and Chukwudi Nwogu.

Top flight match can’t take place in the stadium at least for now because of the poor state of the turf. The electronic scoreboard has gone moribund while many plastic seats at the terraces need to be replaced. Part of the roofs at the covered side of the stadium have been blown off by windstorm.

The tartan track at the stadium which used to be one of the best on the continent can only be used for a local competition, if at all, as it has a lot of damaged spots. The dressing rooms and other facilities for conveniences are equally in bad shape since the facilities have not been in use for a long time.

Findings also revealed that some facilities that ought to have been in place to make the Brai Ayonote Boxing Gymnasium (situated within the complex) a place to be for boxers are also unavailable, though boxing tournaments are periodically staged there to keep the arena alive.

In 2012, the management began the installation of anti-bomb devices in order to beef up security owing to the increasing rate of vandalisation of items in the complex mostly caused by darkness.

“Unlike in the past when public power supply used to be disconnected, there has been tremendous improvement in power supply in the complex for some time now. It has also helped business to thrive, but there are shop occupants who rely mostly on generating sets because of the nature of their business,” one of the shop owners at the stadium told Tribunesport.

The management as part of measures to boost revenue drive in 2012 introduced toll fee of N100 for every motorist at the entry gate and the motorist is equally mandated to open the booth of his vehicle for check before leaving the stadium complex.

“The mainbowl is open to athletes for training and the rules are clearly displayed at the entrance of the stadium for anybody to see,” said a staff of the Lagos Liason office of the Ministry of Sports.

However, among the shop occupants within the complex are artisans such as mechanics, panel beaters and welders.

The stadium is also the place to be at night for relaxation where snail, fish, meat pepper soups, nkwobi are available with chilled soft and hard drinks.

The indoor sports remains functional as GOtv Boxing Night, Milo basketball and some other sporting events are held there occasionally.  Also, the stadium is the place to be, especially on Saturdays and Sundays as many adults always come to take part in their preferred sports such as tennis and soccer to keep fit.

Kiddies too usually come around for training in combat sports like karate and taekwondo while some do engage in skating.

Restaurant operators within the complex usually have a field day, especially on Saturdays as ‘weekend footballers/athletes’ would end training with both soft and hard drinks.

The stadium arena is also used for religious activities and weddings, especially on Saturdays, just as some other social events are usually held within the complex at times during the week.

In the past, federal lawmakers from the house committee on sports in the Senate and House of Representatives had made efforts to bring the stadium back to life but without any success.

In fact, when the Federal Goverment in September 2012 established the Public Private Partnership (PPP) which came up with the idea to concession the stadium to pave the way for private investors to take over its running, many stakeholders thought it would breathe life into the edifice but five years on, nothing has changed.

Then a committee was set up to look into the mode of the maintenance of federal stadia and to develop a sustainable funding framework for sports in general.

The committee which later set up a technical sub-committee which would in collaboration with the Bureau of Public and Enterprise (BPE), and Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), recommended the involvement of the private sector in the management and operations of the six federal stadia in the country with concession as the most sustainable approach.

The technical sub-committee then recommended that the concession of the federal stadia should start with the National Stadium in Lagos.

During the reign of Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi as sports minister, he expressed worry over the state of the edifice.

In 2014, Abdullahi said: “A lot has been invested in the National Stadium, Lagos, but it has been wasting over the years and we should not allow that to continue. The target is to complete the process {concession} within the next six months.”

Since January 2014 when the idea to concession the federal stadia was approved by the presidency, nothing has changed, save for the bid by the Lagos State government in March last year.

Governor Akinwunmi Ambode after an extensive inspection tour of the stadium facilities alongside the Minister of Youth and Sports, Barrister Solomon Dalung and the president of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Mr Amaju Pinnick, announced the bid to take over the stadium.

“With the state of affairs here, we cannot fold our arms and just leave this monument to just waste away. The last match that was played here was about 15 years ago, but the truth is this, the inner key to youth empowerment and youth employment is actually in re-establishing this edifice to its real world-class standard,” Ambode had said after the visit

Also, Dalung in his remarks, decried the state of the 45-year-old stadium, just as he expressed confidence in the ability of Lagos State to transform the edifice.

“We have gone round and we have seen the edifice in a sorry state. Whatever we can do to arrest the situation, we must do it. In my village, there is an adage, which says once there is fire disaster, there is no choice of liquid and any liquid that can contribute to extinguish the fire must be mobilised, including liquor. Today, we have a disaster and we must do everything possible to extinguish it.

“I want to thank the governor [Ambode] for finding time to come. I have received what I can call football gossip from football federation, that if the stadium is handed over to Lagos and renovated in six months, the next match of Nigeria against Zambia (2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier) will be played here,” Dalung had said.

A week after the declaration of Lagos State to bid for the stadium, some “powerful interests” were believed to have lobbied some National Assembly members to abort the Federal Government’s plan to hand over the stadium to Lagos.

Mr Deji Tinubu, special adviser on Sports to governor Ambode a few days ago said, “Lagos State is waiting for a positive response from the Federal Government [on the bid]” adding that, “the state will be patient”.

Perhaps to stakeholders who believe in privatisation of public facilities for efficiency, they won’t but continue to ask when will Lagos State take over the sports city?

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