National Stadium, Lagos, was the pride of the nation, which flaunted it to the world during international competitions. Apart from such major sporting events as the All Africa Games, Africa Nations Cup, FIFA World Youth Championship and other local and international competitions, the Sportscity, as the stadium was known at the height of its beauty, also hosted musical and cultural events such as the 1977 Festival of African Arts and Culture (FESTAC) and the Black Music Festival, tagged Loud in Lagos in the 1990s. CHRISTIAN OKPARA, ADEYINKA ADEDIPE and OLALEKAN OKUSAN write that the stadium is now just one huge drinking bar and an amusement park following years of neglect by the owner, the Federal Government of Nigeria.
WHEN the National Stadium was built in 1972, it had a capacity for 55,000 people. This was reduced to 45,000 in 1999. The record attendance of 85,000 was taken in the final match of the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations between Nigeria and Algeria. It also hosted the final of the 2000 Nations Cup between Nigeria and Cameroun, as well as Nigeria’s World Cup and Nations Cup qualifiers.
Aside football, the stadium was the Mecca for boxing in Africa and hosted several world title bouts in its heydays. But all that seems a distant memory. Most children born in the late 1990s do not know that the Sportscity was once the pride of Africa, which hosted some of the world’s biggest events. Now, the National Stadium is “one giant carcass” occupying prime position in the map of Lagos.
For inexplicable reasons, it has been left to rot away, with many parts of the edifice carved out and leased to hoteliers, sportswear merchants, churches and sundry other businesses. The rot began gradually shortly after Nigeria co-hosted the 2000 Nations Cup with Ghana. It was partially rehabilitated on the eve of the 2003 All Africa Games to host the women football event of the competition, but since 2004, it has not hosted any international match.
Aside the indoor sports hall rehabilitated by the Nigeria Basketball Federation for the DSTV League games, no part of the Sportscity is good enough to host any local or international event. Rather, the stadium is now a choice venue for religious gatherings and community meetings, as well as home to displaced individuals, while the main entrance to the main bowl is a drinking bar.
A source at the National Sports Commission’s (NSC) Lagos Liaison Office told The Guardian that aside the VIP lounge and the main entrance to the main bowl, other parts of the stadium have been converted to other uses. The worried source, pleading anonymity, said: “If you go to the handball pitch, you will be shocked that the place is now an amusement park.
“The dressing room at the main bowl has been partitioned into offices, while the swimming pool is now an arm of a Chinese Restaurant. The same fate has befallen the Games Village at Eric Moore. This is contrary to what the minister said when he visited Lagos on assumption of office.
“At the National Stadium, you can buy all your soup ingredients without stepping out of the premises. There is a chemist shop here now, there is also a pure water manufacturing shop here.”
He attributed the rot of the Sportscity to the failure of those charged with its upkeep to carry out their responsibility, stating: “Money is budgeted for the maintenance of the facilities every year, yet nothing is done at the stadium. I can also say without fear of contradiction that the stadium generates a lot of money daily, but nothing is ploughed back into its maintenance.
“They make as much as N300,000 from one church, which hires a section of the stadium for its events. Then, on daily basis they make a lot of money from motorists, who enter the stadium. A car pays N100 before it is allowed into the stadium. Rather than put the money back into the stadium, they have sold off most of the facilities.”
According to the source, the Games Village is about being sold to a restaurant chain: “Some parts of one of the hostels have been knocked down by a group that wants to buy it. While this is going on, the new NSC director general has been made to believe that the Games Village is being renovated for athletes’ use.
“He should go there on his own to find out the exact thing going on. He should also go to the swimming pool and see how it has been partitioned preparatory to being sold to the same restaurant chain.”
However, while dismissing the claims that NSC officials have sold parts of the stadium to private individuals, the Stadium Manager, Abolore Alanamu, disclosed that the ministry leased some of the facilities out because it has no funds to manage them.
“We have not sold any part of the stadium. In fact, we have started working on some of these facilities to put them back to shape,” he said. “The swimming pool rehabilitation contract has been awarded, but we are waiting for the funds so that the contractor can move to site. The handball court is on a short lease and I can assure you that we will take it back when we are ready to refurbish it.”
Recently, members of the House of Representatives Committee on Sports, led by Godfrey Gaiya, visited the stadium to see firsthand the state of the facility. At the end of the exercise, they promised to ensure that it is rehabilitated.
Noting that the facilities were in a serious level of decay, Gaiya said: “Obviously, I am not satisfied, and certainly, no Nigerian will come here and be happy with what is here. This should be our national edifice. This is a place one should come into and say yes, I have come to the National Stadium of Nigeria, but seeing what is on ground, certainly nobody is happy about it.
“We have seen a very serious decay. We have seen the monument that should have been the pride of this country in a very bad state. We have interacted with the management of the stadium and have heard their prayers, which they believed that if answered, this stadium could be transformed to the level we all want it to be.
“You can see that regrassing has to be done, you can see that the stands and other facilities are in a state of decay, there are leakages here and there and the tartan track is peeling off. To get it back, like we see in other countries, we must plant the grass. It means we must put new tartan tracks and provide cover in the seating arena, so that we can prevent leakages, and these I think are possible.
“As I said the other time, the Federal Government of this country should look at this sector and declare an emergency, particularly on our national stadia. If the emergency is declared with a view to presidential intervention, where all these edifices now rotting away are put in good shape before handing over for proper management, I think it is a better thing for this nation.”
Gaiya’s sentiments are not new to watchers of events at the Lagos National Stadium, where two swimming pools have been in a state of disrepair in spite of promises by past and present sports administrators to rehabilitate them.
In 2012, the House Committee on Sports visited the facilities and promised to facilitate the repairs of the pools, which dried up three years ago. In fact, Gaiya is just one of the over 20 government officials that have visited the Sportscity since 1999 and promised to see that the edifice is fixed.
Since the commencement of the current democratic dispensation in 1999, Nigeria has had 13 sports ministers, all of who virtually did nothing to give the facility a facelift. Perhaps, the construction of the Abuja National Stadium contributed to the neglect of the Sportscity, as all the ministers concentrated on the new stadium at the cost of the Lagos facility.
When Taoheed Adedoja took over the Sports Ministry, many stakeholders expected the Oyo State-born professor to make the difference since he came from the academia. But he made little or no impact on the facilities before he was replaced.
Visitors to the stadium raised the alarm penultimate week when the trees that beautified parts of the stadium were hewn down allegedly on the orders of the NSC Lagos Liaison Officer, Tayo Oreweme.
Planted near the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria and Nigeria Olympics Committee secretariats, the tress were hacked down by chainsaw-wielding workmen who, after cutting the trees, piled them in bundles for onward delivery to firewood vendors. It was the second time that trees at the stadium were cut down on the orders of Oreweme since she became the Lagos Liaison Officer.
Oreweme, who refused to comment on the state of the stadium because she was “not on duty,” was reported to have explained that she was only obeying directives from her superiors. She said: “We are chopping down the trees because they are blocking the view of the CCTV cameras installed at the stadium. The engineers have told us to cut them so that the CCTV will get a clearer view of the area of surveillance.
“I did not do it on my own volition, but just obeying directives. Other trees that did not obstruct the path of the CCTV were cut down because they were threatening to pull down the walls of the fencing. If you go round the stadium you will see that other trees not standing in the way were not touched.
“I am not averse to making the stadium beautiful. You will recall that when I first came, I cut down some of the trees. This was because they were overgrown, but they have now fully regrown and giving the stadium a level of beauty.”
Some of the trees were planted in 1973 when the stadium was commissioned for use by former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon. Lamenting the state of the stadium, a former national table tennis player, Cecilia Arinye, described the facility as a national monument among the best sports facilities in the world when it was built.
“When the stadium was commissioned in 1973, we were away in China on a six-month training exercise and when we returned, we were so excited at the facility because it was a pride for us,” Arinye said. “Most of the national and international tournaments were played at the indoor hall, which was a beauty to behold for every athlete.
“I could also remember that Nigeria hosted the second Afro-Asia Games at the stadium after Mexico hosted the maiden edition. We used the Lagos National Stadium and it was a huge pride having such an edifice that could boast of so many facilities.
“The indoor hall was our second home because we spent a lot of time there, even late into the night, as the whole area was well lit. The stadium was a Mecca for sportsmen at that time.”
Another former national table tennis player, Waheed Ekun, who was among the first set of athletes that used the hostel at the stadium, said the decency of the facilities attracted a lot of athletes to the stadium. According to him, “in 1973, during the All Africa Games in Lagos, I was a junior player and for us then, the stadium was a place to be because, before then we never had the opportunity to use such facility.
“As a table tennis player, we were used to Alakoro Sports Centre on Lagos Island, as well as Rowe Park at Yaba, but when the stadium was commissioned, we were so excited that we spent much of our time there. Entering the stadium alone made you want to remain there forever, as the whole place was neat and all facilities were in place.
“Though the knock-up hall was not there then, the indoor hall was where every player wanted to be. I was among the first set of athletes that used the stadium hostel, which now accommodates the National Institute for Sports (NIS).
“All the rooms in the hostel were fully air-conditioned, just as all the facilities were working well. The hostel hosted all athletes during the ECOWAS Games in 1977 and it was indeed a place to be for athletes across the country.”
Arinye, who is now the Director of Sports, University of Lagos, attributed the poor state of the facility to non- maintenance, as well as misplaced priority by successive sports ministers. She explained further: “I think those in charge of the stadium got their priority wrong by turning it into a trading centre where all sorts of shops are allowed to operate.
“They have also altered the initial master plan of the stadium with the construction of illegal structures within the facility. It is pathetic that the stadium that was once rated among the best in Africa is now a laughing stock to others and a shame to the nation.”
Lamenting the decay, 1985 FIFA U-17 World Cup winning coach, Sebastian Brodricks-Imasuen, who led El-Kanemi Football Club of Maiduguri to the 1991 Challenge Cup victory, said it was a pride for every coach and player to play at the stadium.
“The Lagos National Stadium was what Wembley is to the English teams now. At the Challenge Cup, it was a thing of pride for a team to play at the stadium because most of the finals were played in Lagos,” he said.
“When I coached El-Kanemi to win the trophy in 1991, we were so happy that we inscribed our name in the annals of history by playing and wining the trophy at the stadium.”
“The stadium was one of the best in Africa then and every team wanted to play there. It is sad that it has been abandoned to rot away.”
Source: The Guardian