Abuja National Stadium
By Tunde Sulaiman
In just over three weeks time the Super Eagles will resume their quest to make next year’s Nations Cup finals in South Africa and also kick off their dreams of taking part in Brazil 2014 at the UJ Esuene Stadium in Calabar.
In fact until last week the nation was in the dark as to where the Eagles will execute these important football matches primarily because of the deplorable state of the National Stadium, Abuja.
Built at huge expense less than 10 years ago, for the 8th All Africa Games, which Abuja hosted, the 60,000-seater sports complex like virtually everything owned by government in Nigeria has gone to waste.
Once the pride of the nation with its lush green turf and state of the art facilities, the National Stadium, Abuja has played host to a number of high profile teams including Brazil, Argentina and Manchester United. Over the summer the stadium is also expected to also play host to London Premier League side, Arsenal.
Nigerian football fans (including my humble self) were delighted that they had a stadium comparable to any other in the world to watch such big quality matches.
However, right now it can’t even play host to our own dear Super Eagles or even Flamingos!
Incidentally, the slide of the truly magnificent edifice did not just begin now – it started as soon as the maintenance contract with the stadium builders, Julius Berger was cancelled in 2008.
Of course government’s argument was that it did not have the funds to continue servicing the contract. But then those who took the decision conveniently forgot the adage: ‘a stitch in time saves nine!”
It is because of that decision that the government is spending money to restore the pitch to the lush green surface which we cherished some years ago; but perhaps more importantly, it has not only made us a laughing stock (although I’m sure we don’t surprise anybody any more!) but has also meant that the Eagles have had to look for another venue to play her South Africa 2013 and Brazil 2014 qualifiers next month after security concerns made Kaduna unattractive.
While I agree to a certain extent with Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) President Alhaji Aminu Maigari’s assertion that they want to take “all our national teams around the country so that they can feel the teams”, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the country still needs a ‘home of football’ where the national teams can play when security or otherwise prevents the federation from securing another venue.
But for the poor state of the Abuja Stadium I’m very sure Calabar would not have been chosen for the crunch June ties.
Sadly this is how the ‘original’ National Stadium, Lagos also became a ‘wasteland’.
Built for the 2nd All Africa Games in 1973, the 45, 000-seater stadium, was commissioned in late 1972 and was the most modern multi-sport venue on the African continent.
It was there that 60, 000 delirious fans (this was the capacity before FIFA requirements brought it down) went stratospheric when Nigeria lifted her first major continental trophy, the African Cup of Nations, in 1980 courtesy of Eagles 3-0 victory over the Desert Warriors of Algeria.
Then the stadium was still the ‘Mecca of football’ in the country, hosting all matches involving the national teams because the edifice was still kept in good condition barely eight years after it was built.
But by the time the nation hosted the 2000 Nations Cup with Ghana the glory days of the venue had started to evaporate so much so that Nigeria was only able to host the African event because of the renovation that had taken place in order to the host the FIFA U20 World Cup a year earlier.
And after the 2000 Nations Cup the rot finally set in so much so that there is nothing to remind one that the National Stadium, Lagos was once an edifice to be proud off.
Incidentally, the same problem that a former Director General of the National Sports Commission (NSC) had complained about some years ago, funding, is the same affliction the Abuja Stadium is also facing!
But then come to think about it is it only sports that maintenance culture does not exist?
I remember when I was at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and could take trips to see my friends at the Obafemi University, Ife easily without adversely affecting my academics, because of the Benin-Sagamu Expressway - now the expressway is no more. Also ‘gone’ are the Enugu – Onitsha Expressway, Enugu – Port Harcourt Expressway to mention but a few.
Unfortunately, building and letting it to waste is the ‘Niger way’ and is unlikely to stop, which means that there is every likelihood that after the latest renovation work has been completed on the Abuja National Stadium, the stadium will still go bad in future!
Of course the simple solution would be for government to regularly vote money for maintenance of these stadia so that they will always be in pristine shape ready to be used.
But will this happen? Your guess is as good as mine!