THE NATIONAL STADIUM IN LAGOS

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The federal government should hand it over to the Lagos State Government that is willing to put it into productive use

Built in 1972 to host the All African Games that was held a year later, the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, promised to provide expression for the abundant energy of the nation’s youth to excel in most fields of sports. For three decades, the facility with an initial 55,000 capacity main bowl fulfilled that purpose, hosting several national and international sports competitions even as it also served as a training ground for sports men and women. Unfortunately, things began to fall apart in 2004 when the stadium started to suffer neglect, perhaps due to the construction of a new national stadium in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.

Today, all its facilities are thoroughly dilapidated. The edifice that was once a national monument has deteriorated into an eyesore to the embarrassment of a nation that is increasingly becoming incapable of maintaining its national assets. In the past one decade, the facilities have degenerated from providing skeletal sports function to a religious events centre and now, a den of social misfits called area boys, who use it as a launch-pad for attacking innocent citizens living in the vicinity.

Quite tragically, the same fate has befallen all the other national stadia, including Ibadan, Enugu, Bauchi, Kaduna and Abuja. All of them have become a huge economic waste. The situation of Abuja stadium is worse. Built in 2003 at the cost of $360million (more than N100 billion today), the 60,491 capacity edifice is one of the most expensive of such projects in the world. Renovated severally with billions of naira between 2009, when it hosted the Junior World Cup, and 2012, when it went into disuse, the stadium is now an unofficial grazing reserve for cattle.

Officials have blamed poor funding for this unfortunate state of affairs. Available records showed that the six stadia got N300 million in the 2012 budget for maintenance, increasing slightly to N400 million in 2016. With this meagre fund, it is evident that the facilities could only be what they are. But there is lifeline from the Lagos State Government, at least for the National Stadium in Lagos.

Worried by the social implications of the existence of such a huge facility abandoned in the heart of his state, Governor Mr Akinwunmi Ambode requested the federal government to hand over the National Stadium, Surulere to the state, promising to transform it to a world standard. While the Minister of Sports, Mr. Solomon Dalung, promised to give the request a favourable consideration, no concrete response has been received from the federal government.

It is unfortunate that these facilities, like many other federal assets, continue to lie waste even when they could be converted to profitable economic assets that could generate incomes for the nation. Apart from their potential positive social impacts on the youths – as sporting engagements would keep them sound and occupied – the facilities, if put into productive use, would provide jobs for a considerable number of the unemployed since sports is known to attract many adjunct economic activities.

We urge the federal government, therefore, to take quick steps to reactive these stadia. It could do this by giving them out to private investors in line with its concession policy or hand them over to states that are interested in running them. The federal government should proceed in this direction by granting the request of the Lagos State Government for the handover of the National Stadium, Lagos since they have need for the facility and the resources to run it. This should be followed up with immediate concession of the remaining five to private or public entities willing to put them into productive use.