Purposely built by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to host the eighth All-Africa Games, Abuja 2003, also called COJA 2003, the National Stadium, Abuja, was a pride of the time it was built to host the rest of Africa’s sports fraternity. The stadium, which was constructed between September 2000 and April 2003 at the cost of $360 million, was a world-class structure delivered to Nigeria in time. It was inaugurated on April 8, 2003 by the then President Obasanjo. As of the time it was constructed, the stadium ranked among the top 50 most expensive stadiums in the world.
The stadium, built by construction giant, Julius Berger, consists of Package A and Package B. Package A comprises an all-covered main bowl with 60,491 seating capacity with other facilities like presidential suite and viewing area, 56 corporate suites, modern turnstiles, banks, media facilities, two electronic scoreboards, floodlights and a helipad. The Package A of the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, apart from having a VIP car park, public parking lot, also boasts of standard practice pitches, velodrome, shops and kiosks, generators, emergency service units, closed circuit security cameras, crowd control steel fencing, among others.
The Package B of the stadium has indoor sports hall, 2,000-gymnasium, tennis courts, handball courts, volleyball courts, baseball and soft ball complex, 3,000-hockey pitch, 2,000-capacity swimming pool, an artificial lake, fire-fighting equipment and others.
Equally built and delivered in time for COJA 2003 was a games village which housed athletes, officials and delegates from participating countries in the All-Africa Games, which Nigeria not only hosted but also beat other countries to win.
These facilities, among others, made the stadium, at the peak of its glory, a national pride. At that time, the stadium played host to some top football matches, including international friendlies between the Super Eagles and their counterparts from Brazil and Argentina. The icing on the cake for the stadium was playing host to the 2009 U-17 World Cup, an event which was accommodated by the country.
But two days ago, what was seen there was a national monument in progressive ruins.
The grass on the main bowl pitch indeed shares some similarities with make-shift pitches in villages across the country, save for the fact that instead of the yellowish green grass seen during the dry season, the rains have given it some green texture. Despite the rains, however, large patches of the pitch are sandy. The tartan track in the main bowl is in a sorry state as it has worn off to the extent that no major international athletics event will be allowed by the sport’s world body, the International Athletics Association’s Federation (IAAF), to be held there.
The Package B does not show much difference. The facilities there have also deteriorated so much with no indications of anything being about to change there. Lying fallow are fire-fighting vehicles with deflated tyres. The vehicles, as they were as of the time of Saturday Tribune’s visit, could not be useful in the event of any fire outbreak in the stadium. The seats at the swimming pool are bad.
The clamour by pro-June 12 agitators for government’s recognition of the date as Nigeria’s authentic Democracy Day as against the May 29 originally set aside for the commemoration eventually paid off last year when President Muhammadu Buhari finally acknowledged the supreme sacrifice made by business mogul, politician and sports philanthropist, Chief Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola, popularly called MKO Abiola, and declared the date the new National Democracy Day.
The President did not stop at that; he awarded the highest national honour of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), reserved for the country’s presidents, to the late Abiola, while his running mate in the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, was awarded the second highest honour, the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) equally reserved for vice-presidents.
The declaration and the awards were only a tip of the iceberg, which some doubting Thomases believed were mere political gimmicks aimed at getting votes of the people of the South-West geopolitical zone ahead of the 2019 elections. The doubt was finally put to rest when President Buhari assented to the National Public Holidays Act amended by the eighth National Assembly which cancelled May 29 as Democracy Day and replaced it with June 12.
Though President Buhari was inaugurated for a second term in office on May 29 at a low-key ceremony, the country celebrated its maiden June 12 Democracy Day on Wednesday with fanfare. The high point of President Buhari’s 2019 Democracy Day speech was the renaming of the Abuja National Stadium as Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja. The pronouncement was greeted with cheers from the crowd at the Eagle Square, venue of the ceremony.
The first match played in the main blow of the ‘world-class’ stadium was between former African champions, Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC) of Ibadan and their South-Western rivals, Sunshine Stars of Akure. The Oluyole Warriors, as players of the Ibadan-based club are fondly called, weant away with a lone-goal victory. It is on record that 3SC striker, Shakiru Lawal, was the first footballer to score a goal at the magnificent stadium on April 8 2003 in front of a large crowd of spectators, including Obasanjo.
Left to rot and decay
Unfortunately, the glory of the stadium, which was for some time a pride of sports-loving Nigerians, did not last long. Sixteen years after its completion, particularly as of June 12 when Buhari renamed the sports complex, the Abuja National Stadium was in decay. It was a shadow of its original self. The development has been described as a reflection of the poor maintenance culture or even outright lack of it in the country.
Hurriedly put in shape to host the 19th National Sports Festival, Abuja 2019, which was hosted by the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, the stadium was in a deplorable condition before December, 2018 when the sports fiesta held in Abuja. Before then, both Package A and Package B of the stadium were taken over by weed to the extent that grasses outgrown the beautiful landscaping of the stadium.
The velodrome in Package A, which was destroyed by thunderstorm a day after the closing event of COJA 2003 but was later reconstructed by the contractors who built the facility, was turned into a store. The suites are virtually unoccupied except for a few ones that are taken by some groups, including the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN), which has its national headquarters there.
Barely a year after the 19th National Sports Festival was held at the stadium, the facility has returned to its dilapidated state, a national eyesore, which a sports enthusiast, Wole Akintayo, told Saturday Tribune did not befit the status of the late Abiola, “given his giant contributions to sports development not only in Nigeria but also on the African continent.”
As of the time Saturday Tribune visited the stadium on Thursday, it was noticed that the grass in both Package A and Package B had been cut but that is probably the only good news to tell. A source said the grass was cut ahead of the sendoff held in honour of the immediate past Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung.
According to the source, who did not want to be named, being a civil servant, only one of the seven generators in the complex was functional. The said as it were, the stadium relied heavily on power supply from the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC), which once disconnected the facility due to huge indebtedness. The source added that there was water supply whenever there was power supply which enabled staff to pump water.
Although they were put in shape for the National Sports Festival, the swimming pools are another reflection of the poor maintenance culture in the country. The seven-ft pool there is clean with treated water but the same cannot be said of the 18ft pool which is not being put into use. It is an eyesore. Saturday Tribune gathered that members of a swimming club and members of the public use the facility for a fee of N500. This claim ould not be independently confirmed as of the time of this report. It was further gathered that the meager revenue generated through this means was being used to maintain and treat the water in the 7ft pool.
According to the Saturday Tribune’s source, a lot of things are wrong at the stadium and the major problem has to do with poor funding for a proper maintenance of the magnificent structure, which adds to the aesthetic of Abuja, the country’s capital. The source noted that when the Federal Government had a maintenance contract with Julius Berger, the contractors who built the stadium, the facility had no problem with maintenance as it was well maintained and promptly, too.
“The reverse of this is the case now. This is largely due to poor funding and bureaucratic bottleneck involved in getting budgetary allocations released for the ministry for the maintenance of this place,” the source said, adding that the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy of the Federal Government was equally to blame for this.
“For instance, about two years ago when the whole complex was disconnected by AEDC, the power distribution company was being owed N30 million or thereabouts. Did you know that the stadium generated close to N60 million at that time, out of which management could pay electricity bill comfortably? This could not be done because all money generated went into the TSA, which has got procedures before a withdrawal can be made.”
For Akintayo, it is not enough for Buhari to name the stadium after Abiola, the President should also, as a matter of urgency, order the rehabilitation of the stadium with a view to returning it to its glory.
“I commend President Muhammadu Buhari for not only honouring MKO Abiola by declaring June 12 National Democracy Day but also naming a national edifice, the Abuja National Stadium, after him. This is, indeed, a good gesture which I believe is a soothing balm for the soul of the departed and members of his family.
“This, however, is not enough. The President should go a step further by giving the Moshood Abiola National Stadium a complete rehabilitation to bring its glory back. As you know, none of our national football teams are playing their home matches in Abuja today as a result of the deplorable condition of the stadium. Once the President rehabilitates the stadium, the teams will return there to play, while other sporting events will be held there on a regular basis,” the sports enthusiast told Saturday Tribune.
Multiple sources in the Federal Ministry of Sports told Saturday Tribune that in order to tackle effectively, the challenge of deplorable facilities in the stadium, there was the urgent need by the executive arm of government to have an interface with the ninth National Assembly to bring about adequate budgetary provisions for the maintenance of the structure, particularly now that it has been named after MKO Abiola, who is being described as the symbol of democracy in Nigeria.
A director in the Sports Ministry, who insisted that the Permanent Secretary, Olusade Adesola, was in a better position to speak with Saturday Tribune on the state of the stadium, volunteered: “I think about N300 million was appropriated by the eighth National Assembly, out of the N1.5 billion we (Sports Ministry) proposed for maintenance of stadiums across the country in 2017. I don’t have the figure for last year right now. The question is: what can this do in terms of maintaining the Federal Government stadiums in Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja, Enugu and Kaduna?”
“We, like every other Nigerian, are very much concerned that the facilities at the renamed stadium are deteriorating. Most of the structures there need to be revamped. But the major challenge is funding. Maybe when you (media) harp on the need for proper maintenance of the facility, both the executive and legislative arms of government will do the needful in terms of funding for us to get it right,” he added.
A former Director-General of the defunct National Sports Commission (NSC), Dr Patrick Ekeji, recently told sports journalists in Abuja that the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja and other Federal Government-owned stadiums in other parts of the country were in deplorable states simply because there was lack of dedicated ways of getting funds for their maintenance and called for the setting up of a commission to be saddled with the responsibility of maintaining the sporting facilities across Nigeria.
According to the sports technocrat, “there should be a commission charged solely with the maintenance of facilities. The number of stadia and facilities is enough to create a department for maintenance. The way sports are structured now, there will never be enough money for maintenance of facilities. No money is budgeted for maintenance of facilities. We created funds for maintenance through the general overheads in the budget, which is very meager.”
For the member of the newly-inaugurated House of Representatives, representing Ilaje/Ese-Odo Federal Constituency of Ondo State, the government does not only have to adequately maintain the remanded stadium but it must also build more structures to name after the late Abiola.
“I have always loved the spirit of June 12. My only advice is for people to imbibe the spirit (of June 12) and use it as part of our lives, hoping that we invest more in the concept of rule of law and the fundamental of a free society. Democracy is part of it.
“I am concerned that if that stadium (Abuja National Stadium) were not available, what were we going to name after MKO Abiola? Let them (the government) also fight to put in place more structures that will better humanity and invest more in housing, infrastructure, roads and education so that we can have more schools to name after MKO,” the lawmaker told Saturday Tribune.