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MKO Abiola National Stadium: Home for destitute, den for villains, grazing ground for cows
L-R: Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Youths and Sports Development, Gabriel Aduda; FCT Minister, Mohammed Bello; Mr Kola Abiola; Minister of State for Labour and Productivity Barr. Festus Keyamo; Minister of Youths and Sports Development, Sunday Dare; Deputy chairman, House Committee on Sports, Lekan Afolabi and Minister of Trade and Investment Adeniyi Adebayo.

MKO Abiola National Stadium: Home for destitute, den for villains, grazing ground for cows

In 1930, the first stadium, the 10,000 sitting capacity Onikan Stadium, now known as Mobolaji Olufunso Johnson Stadium which was built by the Lagos State government set the pace for the building of 53 other stadia across the nation, the sportsbay.com reports. 

Out of the 54 stadia, four (National Stadium, Lagos; Obafemi Awolowo Stadium, Ibadan; MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja and Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna) are owned by the Federal Government, while the state governments own the rest.

With the focus on the federal government-owned stadia because of their multi-purpose uses compared to state-owned stadia which are mostly for football, several reports over the years have revealed the dilapidating progressions taking place gradually.

At the MKO Abiola National Stadium which was commissioned in 2003 after $360m was spent by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, which makes it one of the 50 most expensive stadia in the world, has over the years been beset by lack of maintenance.

The stadium which hosted the largest ever All Africa Games in 2003 has several facilities such as 60,491 capacity covered main bowl, 3000 capacity indoor sports hall, 2000 capacity gymnasium, 2000 capacity swimming pool amongst others.

Over the years, the stadium witnessed tremendous negative changes as it became the home for the homeless, den for criminally minded individuals (there had been prior reports of carjacking within the stadium vicinity) as well as a fertile ground for grazing by herdsmen.

The facilities were not spared as the main bowl was overgrown with weed, electrical wirings for cameras were disconnected, and the roofs of some of the buildings were leaking amongst other dysfunctionalities.

However, the decision of the Minister of Youth and Sports, Mr. Sunday Dare to make use of the stadium as his office in September 2019 set the stadium on a right path.

The relocation of his office to a large extent ‘opened his eyes’ to witness the varying degrees of dilapidation in the stadium and thus necessitating the process of revival to reclaim the lost glory of the magnificent national edifice.

Prior to his relocation and till the time of writing this piece, the stadium was gradually being compared to the former home of the Super Eagles, the National Stadium, Lagos which had some sections being converted to residential apartments by some people.

One of the facilities in these stadia are the provision of kiosks which were converted to rooms by the sellers thus creating a safe haven for persons having accommodation problems and men/ women of questionable character in recent times.

After years of disrepair, hope for the restoration of the Lagos Stadium was revived recently, with the inauguration of a task force that would midwife the process by the sports ministry and the same has been extended to the Abuja stadium.

On an inspection tour of the stadium, the minister on June 20, 2020, had given 25 days ultimatum for illegal occupants of Moshood Abiola Stadium to vacate the facilities for proper rehabilitation to commence. The ultimatum ends on July 15, 2020.

According to the Special Adviser on Media to the Sports Minister in a statement, John Joshua Akanji, “a number of evidence now exist to confirm these developments. The stadium velodrome, the white shaped architectural piece has been fully restored to a 100 per cent functionality.

“Prior to the Minister’s coming to the Stadium, that velodrome roof had holes while rodents had made the place their abode. Presently, it has been certified to host any continental and international event.

“Recently, the African Cycling Federation held its continental championships there,” observed the ministerial aide.

Akanji also revealed that new barricade had been installed with new markings to make the place ready to host more sporting activities.

“The Rotunda Indoor Sports Hall which had a part of its roof completely blown off was fixed late last year and is now delightful to see children and young gymnasts practice there and also host competitions.

“The multi-purpose indoor sports hall where basketball, badminton and other sports are played is also fully functional.

“Also, about four Tennis courts are functional while the ministry is concluding plans with a private organization that has agreed to restore all the tennis courts at the Moshood Abiola Stadium,” he noted.

A visit to the sprawling complex, our correspondent saw an uncompleted hotel at the Package B which is being occupied by some Nigerians illegally.

Our correspondent saw piles of washed clothes spread outside while some children were playing while some women were gisting and cooking under the tree.

Speaking with the only man met on ground, Emmanuel Adamu, he said no official of the stadium or ministry has come to tell them about the evacuation order which they only heard about it through the news.

“Till now, we have not seen the stadium manager or a government official coming to tell us to prepare to leave here. I have been living here for almost 7 years with my family.

We are all family people here. There is no unmarried one here except for our children. Most of us came here after being displaced by the insurgency in Maiduguri and Adamawa,” he said.

Emmanuel who is a farmer within the stadium said he came to live through a friend who knew about his predicament in Adamawa and he has never paid rent to anybody.

“You know how we are in Nigeria where one person will see his friend in need and will ask him to come over. That is how most of us began to live here and we have not paid rent to anybody. We have been living with snakes which we kill on a regular basis here. We have never had light here but some of us use generators.

“As I speak to you right now, I don’t have any money on me that I can use for transport to Nyanya let alone get an apartment. I can trek to Area 1 from here but I can’t with my family. If we are ejected from here, we simply don’t know where to live with our family,” he lamented.

Speaking with a group of women who declined to mention their names, they collaborated with Emmanuel that they had not received any quit notice from the government.

In unison, the women numbering about five said they are bothered about how they would live if ejected.

“We will simply go and live under the bridge and see how we can pick our lives gradually. We all came here from Kaduna, Adamawa, Maiduguri while escaping from the Boko Haram attacks, religious crisis. We have lived here between 5 to 7 years here,” they said.

However, one of the women said she will be happy if the government chase them away as she was tired of living in the stadium without light for seven years.

According to her, as a dutiful wife, she has been living here because of her husband who had gone to work outside the stadium when our correspondent visited.

While still jubilating that she may finally leave the stadium complex anytime soon, she proceeded to kill a chicken in celebration.

It is no longer news that sports help to spur the economy of a nation and this has formed the basis for ministry in pushing to make sports a viable business.

According to a Forbes estimate, the industry was worth $145.3 billion in 2015. Eric Falt, United Nations Director of Communications, said in 2004 that sport “is an industry with unparalleled global reach and power.

Globally, sport-related turnover amounts to three per cent of world total economic activity.

Through taxes, the UK Treasury earned £3.3 billion from the English Premier League in 2016-17, Ernst & Young stated. In all, the PL alone contributed £7.6 billion to the UK economy that season.

For Nigeria, all this is lost because sport is still largely for relaxation, operating at the behest of the government.

It will be recalled that the  Minister of Youth and Sports and FCT Minister carried out a joint inspection of the entire stadium with their permanent secretaries and their teams to explore areas of collaboration last November, plans are ongoing on how to complete some of the abandoned projects such as the mall and hotel.

“Plans are afoot to jointly restore to full functionality the car pack within the stadium premises and also complete the bridge that connects the stadium to the road in the CBD axis.

“Also, the plan to have a five-star hotel and mall in the stadium ground fully funded by private organizations is being discussed by the FCT.”

The Moshood Abiola Stadium in Abuja was one of the football pitches to benefit from the “Adopt Initiative” of the Ministry with Dangote Group agreeing to fix the football pitch, the tracts, the floodlights and the scoreboard.

“The water supply is back. Power from the national grid is back. Two of the generators down have been fixed and working. The security lights in the perimeter of the Stadium are now functional since February,” Akanji stressed.

Despite this paucity of funds, the sports minister insisted recently that gone were the era when national facilities were left to waste away.

“These facilities have been abandoned for years, so no magic can fix them in eight months. However, since we came into office, we have initiated multiple processes both public and private to get the stadiums fixed.

“Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El Rufai, has committed to fixing the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna while the National Stadium in Lagos is to be concessioned. Even the Obafemi Awolowo Stadium in Ibadan will soon be on the path to a concession.

“So we want to restore their lost glory for the benefit of our athletes and all Nigerians. The long years of neglect cannot be corrected overnight,” Dare had declared.

While applauding the ministry under Sunday Dare for the bold steps to see that sports contribute heavily to Nigeria’s overall growth, the planned ejection is definitely a right step which was surprisingly applauded by the illegal occupants, their relocation to an internally displaced person camp should be considered by the government.

 

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