Grubby and dilapidated, the National Stadium, Lagos, might in next to no time be rescued. Talks between Abuja and Alausa could translate into a new era for “Sportscity,” as the stadium in Surulere is fondly called. Essentially, the Lagos State Government is willing to negotiate a management deal with the Federal Government that will upgrade and put the stadium to optimal use. It is a shame that this national monument is lying in tatters. Therefore, it will be a shrewd move for the central government to quickly seal an agreement with Lagos to restore the stadium to its former glory.
Built in 1972, the Sportscity is an integrated complex. Though renowned for football, it also has facilities for athletics, swimming, basketball and taekwondo. Notably, it hosted the 1973 All-Africa Games, continental club competitions, FA Cup finals, World Cup qualifiers and the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championships. It holds a special place in national sports folklore after Nigeria hosted and won the 1980 African Nations Cup there. The 2000 Nations Cup final between Nigeria and Cameroon was staged in the main-bowl, which now sits 45,000 spectators, down from the original 55,000 capacity, after renovation for Nigeria ’99. Table tennis, volleyball, wrestling, boxing and other sporting disciplines flourished there up till the 1990s. That was as good as it got.
The Sportscity began its disgraceful descent shortly after the Nigerian capital moved out of Lagos in 1991. The policy that all agencies should move their operations to Abuja irretrievably damaged the stadium. Refuse and miscreants cohabit there. At night, it is usually cloaked in darkness because of electricity disconnection over unpaid bills. Reptiles have converted the swimming pool to their den; the football pitch and the athletics tracks reversed into disrepair. Basketball, table tennis and tennis struggled to survive. This is sheer thoughtlessness on the government’s part.
From 2003, when the National Stadium, Abuja, opened for the eighth AAG, Sportscity has suffered a near-total abandonment. No international match involving the Super Eagles has been staged there this decade. The folly of our sports administrators could be seen in the fact that the national team has no standard venue to play its Nations Cup and World Cup qualifiers, despite the fact that the Sportscity and Abuja are owned by the Federal Government. In contrast, Germany’s national football team has been playing at the Allianz Arena in Munich since it opened in 2005 and England at Wembley, which was rebuilt in 2007. Scotland plays at Hampden Park, Glasgow; Brazil at the Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro and France at the Stade de France, Paris.
It is worrisome, therefore, that the NFF often distracts the Super Eagles by begging state governments to host them when they have international engagements. Successive Ministers of Sports claim the government has no funds to revamp the Sportscity. That is indefensible. Like the Sportscity, the National Stadium in Abuja is similarly in ruins. But the government ought to provide social infrastructure for the development of youths and generation of employment, business and entertainment.
The deliberate mismanagement of national monuments is an affront to the country. The National Arts Theatre, the Tafawa Balewa Square and the Federal Secretariat, all national landmarks based in Lagos, are in a squalid state. Abuja has been dithering unnecessarily on whether to privatise the National Theatre or not; the situation of the TBS, which hosted Nigeria’s independence celebration, is similar; while the Federal Secretariat, which Lagos State lost controversially during an opaque sale, has been grounded.
In the light of the above, it is obvious that the Sportscity needs a fresh operational model for it to regain its stock. Fortunately, the offer from Governor Akinwunmi Ambode is capable of halting the longstanding decay. “What we ask for in Lagos is … that we need to stand up for leadership here and take over the National Stadium,” Ambode explained. So, Solomon Dalung, the Minister of Youth and Sports, should translate his excitement of “seeing that the Super Eagles will soon play again” at Sportscity after a long hiatus into reality by talking through with Lagos State.
For instance, the Brazilian authorities privatised the Maracanã in 2013, allowing a consortium to manage the hallowed ground for 35 years. In July 2016, Ghana’s sports ministry unveiled a proposal to privatise the country’s two biggest stadia in Accra and Kumasi. In November, Saudi Arabia, despite its oil wealth and statist bent, launched a three-year plan to privatise the assets of its clubs, according to an approval granted by the Council of Ministers headed by King Salman Abdulaziz. The Sportscity has wasted away for too long, a period that it could have contributed to Nigeria’s sports development. To reverse the rot, we impress it on Dalung to eschew politics in his recommendation to government.
Among its peers, Lagos has demonstrated beyond doubt that it is accomplished. With its financial muscle, it is obvious that it can turn around the Sportscity into a world-class stadium. It is auspicious then that nothing – including the subtle anti-Lagos lobby – should hold back the deal from coming to fruition. But we advocate that some clauses, including the one that will guarantee that the national teams play their international games there without fuss, be inserted in the agreement.