By NBF News
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Nigeria's prestigious sporting arena, the National Stadium, Abuja, is gradually withering away like a dry grass. The stadium, which was purposely built for the 2003 All Africa Games that was held in the capital city, is fast losing its beauty and would require an urgent and adequate attention to regain its beauty.

Abuja, which became Nigeria's capital city in 1991, is dotted with the state-of-the-art architectural edifices that leave visitors to the city impressed with what they see. As a well-planned city, it enjoys all the paraphernalia that befits its status, housing federal government agencies and big corporations like the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Headquarters and Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) among others.

While government agencies from the old capital city, Lagos were being moved to the new capital, in its due time, the National Sports Commission (NSC), under the supervision of the Sports Ministry, was also shifted to Abuja. And one of the biggest attractions to the sporting family was the provision of the National Stadium in the capital city, which is an ultra-modern sports facility with a capacity of 60,491. The stadium was completed in 2003 at the cost of $360million. It ranks among the best in the world, as it boasts of numerous world-class infrastructures within it.

The joy and frenzy that greeted the commissioning of the Abuja Stadium, in line with the 2003 COJA Games for which purpose it was built, was to say the least, electrifying. Probably for its effect, Nigeria, for the first time in the history of All Africa Games, finished tops on the log at the 2003 event ahead of Egypt and South Africa to the delight of Nigerian administrators and athletes alike.

Meanwhile, there existed a common feature that marked out both the National Stadium, Lagos, which was built for the 2nd All Africa Games in 1973, and the National Stadium, Abuja, and that mark was their striking beauty. But regrettably, the sporting arena in Abuja has become a weather-beaten, decrepit site, which is an evidence of an edifice that suffers total neglect and lack of maintenance.

Like Lagos like Abuja
'To establish a technically efficient institution, equipped with the desired professional manpower, resources, right equipment and well maintained facilities for sports development and participation' is the inscription that first confronts a visitor to the office of Chief Patrick Ekeji, the director general of NSC. But it looks like the mission statement is only a mere decoration to beautify the office complex as nothing really shows that the commission is thinking in line of living its mission, especially in the area of facility maintenance. On the contrary, the National Stadium, Abuja is fast towing the line of its Lagos counterpart, which was first put into use in 1973.

For those who witnessed the commissioning of the Lagos Stadium in 1973, it was an edifice to behold. Esther Aiyelabola, who was just joining the national team ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand, said the edifice was one that made every Nigerian proud of the then Gen. Yakubu Gowon administration. She recalled that what Nigerians now see of the National Stadium, Lagos, is a far cry from what it was at its point of commissioning.

She explained that the decadence, which the Lagos complex has suffered in the last 30 years, paints a pathetic structure that could make any patriotic citizen of the country to weep for Nigeria. Proverbially, she said the cane with which the first wife was beaten would also be used on the second wife.

The truth is that the decadence, which swayed the National Stadium, Lagos is fast creeping into the Abuja complex. The National Stadium, Abuja is fast becoming a shame of the nation.

Worse still, is the fact that most federations are busy taking their events to other parts of the country in an effort to get crowd participation. The Super Eagles for instance, having played most of its matches in front of sparse spectators in Abuja, is beginning to take its matches elsewhere, as the corporate world doesn't seem to be getting enough mileage for its products when events are organised at the stadium in Abuja.

A visit by Daily Sunsports last week to the National Stadium, Abuja, was revealing. At the Package B of the complex, one is greeted with bushy outlay that leaves one wondering if the entrance is a disused village path. As if that was not enough, the two Indoor Sports Halls of the stadium have not witnessed any competition that could attract just more than the participating athletes and their officials in a long while. The recently concluded badminton championship that was held at the complex was more like a club activity than a national event it was supposed to be.

The surrounding of the complex is overgrown with weeds and a corner of the entrance now serves as a waste dumpsite, a situation that has turn that section of the complex into a health hazard zone. Daily experience of workers in the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) and the Nigeria Volleyball Federation (NVF), whose offices are situated at the Indoor Hall, is better imagined.

Further down the trail, is the Olympic-sized swimming pool, which has become a home for toads and frogs. A staffer at the complex, when asked why the pool was left unattended, jokingly said that the pool was only fit for a 'point and kill' fish farm. Another staffer, who would not want to be quoted, however, added that the water in the pool was not dirty, but that it was the basement of the pool that had accumulated much dirt, which left the pool polluted.

'The pool is being maintained by the federation that has not got subvention for a long time now. However, what you see now will soon be a thing of the past, as the pools are being worked on. The machines that pump water into it are being serviced and where necessary, are being replaced,' he said.

'The painting of the structure will commence soon. Cleaning the swimming pools and its diving slabs may cost nothing less than half a million naira and the cleaning exercise has to be done on a regular basis, but the funds are not there.

It is for this reason that we are calling on members of the public to come and patronise the facility so that we can have returns to maintain the place. The Sports Ministry is not always forthcoming when it comes to releasing funds for facility maintenance,' the staffer added.

The engine room to the pools are equally not an encouraging site. Meanwhile, down the same route are the Tennis Courts for the Nigeria Tennis Federation (NTF). There, the canopies covering the seating areas of the centre courts have been uprooted. Although more courts have been added to the ones that were used for the All Africa Games back in 2003, most of the new ones are already showing signs of disrepair. Some parts of the arena are being threatened by erosion. The fence around the courts towards the generating room is crumbled, such that it could be hazardous going after any ball that strays out of the playing area towards the fence.

The outdoor courts for basketball are far from being encouraging, as most of the backboards are in bad state. The rims in some of them are hanging precariously, ready to fall any moment. Moreover, that area is also overgrown with weeds, even as a part of the area has been converted to farmland.

In fact, Daily Sunsports met a woman and her child harvesting millet on the 'farmland'. And when she was confronted by Daily Sunsports, the woman said: 'My husband works here (at the stadium) as a security man and since we are here with him, we farm here to grow what we eat. The land is fertile.'

At the far end of the Package B, is the National Institute for Sports (NIS), which has to itself a large expanse of land. Most of the activities of the institute are carried out in Lagos, where the students and lecturers of the institute reside.

There was a ministerial order that every activity of the institute, including its students and lecturers, should be relocated to Abuja. But unfortunately, the NIS hostels, which are supposed to quarter both the students and lecturers, are still under construction and work was not going on at the site at the time of this visit. An inside source blamed the abandonment of work at the site on lack of funds.

The Astroturf for hockey within the Package B remains one of the best on the African continent, but the problem of under utilisation is telling on it. Again, the scorching heat of the sun, which beats it regularly, is fast changing its colour.

It was difficult to have a good look at the scoreboard in this section because the board is partially covered by overgrown weeds, just as some areas around the artificial turfs have different shades of shrubs creeping into the area. Meanwhile, cricketers in Abuja, who see no reason why they should waste a valuable space, have converted the arena that was used by the Baseball Federation during the 2003 All Africa Games to a cricket pitch.

The adjourning area for softball, which before now was like forest, was only recently set ablaze with the purpose of making it look better. However, the fire would have caused severe damages to the electrical installations within the arena if not that it was quickly put off after it had started ravaging the facility, an observer said.

The most painful site at the Abuja Stadium complex is the main bowl area that also houses the cycling velodrome. Currently, the Nigeria Cycling Federation (NCF), which used to operate from there, has been sent packing and made to carry out its business from the Package B area. A look around the velodrome leaves one totally dejected, as the facility has been turned into a glorified carpenter's workshop.

A board with the inscription: 'Nigeria's 50th Anniversary Celebration', is displayed in one part of the arena that hosted the cycling event of the All Africa Games in Abuja. The sight of the place was one beautiful architectural masterpiece that left many who attended the Games with an impression that Nigeria was synonymous with perfection. Driving from the Berger area towards the airport or even from Area 11 axis, the facility cannot escape any person's sight, as it is sited in such a conspicuous position that even a 'blind' man would see it.

However, taking a look inside the complex leaves one wondering if the velodrome would ever come alive again. Investigations have it that it has in the past been put to use for exhibitions, concerts and all manner of events such that the real purpose for which it was constructed is far from being achieved. Planks of various sizes are littered all over the racing tracks as well as around the seating area. There were woods everywhere, but no furniture maker in sight.

On security outlay, the Package B arena is almost a free zone to walk into. Aside the security men at the main entrance, who check vehicles as they drive out, there was no sign of security inside the arena. For the two occasions Daily Sunsports were at the Package B, despite arriving the arena in the early hours of the morning and staying till late afternoon, nobody acted as a security man in that area of the stadium complex.

Poor funding, our bane – Director of
When Daily Sunsports contacted the NSC Director of Facilities, David Jime to speak on the decaying state of the facilities, he rose stoutly in defence of his commission and blamed lack of finance for the poor maintenance of the National Stadium in Abuja.

While in his office at the Federal Secretariat, Abuja, Daily Sunsports realised that Jime seemed to be on the move always, probably because he is part of the presidential campaign train, as he ensures that stadia are made available anywhere the train goes. He, however, explained that poor funding has been a major problem facing the NSC in meeting its numerous challenges.

'The Abuja Stadium complex, especially its Package B is under renovation. The swimming pool for instance, is currently being renovated and that explains what you saw of the pool,' Mr Jime began.

'As regards the dilapidating tennis courts, the truth is that some of the courts were constructed for the African Juniors Championship, but when we could not complete the payment for the job that was being done due to lack of funds, the job was abandoned.

Also, lack of funds is the reason erosion is threatening a section of the court arena and yet we can't do much to save the situation. However, we believe that we would get some money very soon to take care of that. 'Bush is taking over the arena because we don't have the funds to embark on regular clearing of the stadium. There is absolutely nothing we can do about it.'

Jime also revealed that the Commission is indebted to the Power Holding Corporation of Nigeria (PHCN) to the tune of over N2.4million and there's no hope of paying the debt. 'It is so bad that PHCN has cut off the stadium complex from power supply. The complex enjoys power now at the discretion of PHCN.

'A large chunk of the money that was budgeted for NSC last year has not been released, so from where do we get the money to meet our numerous demands? People usually make assumptions that we are doing nothing to keep the stadium facility in good shape, but how could we maintain the edifice without getting the needed funds? It is very disturbing that you have a job to do but you cannot do it because your hands are tied.'