By Ikem Okuhu
Following the announcement by the Enugu State Government of plans to build two stadiums in the state, there have been wide-ranging reactions from “concerned” members of the public, many of which bother on the priority or otherwise of such a project. Many of those that have taken time to weigh in on the announcement by the government, especially the legion of social media players give the impression that the state does not need new stadiums and should instead, have directed attention to building more roads and, some also added, hospitals.
It is understandable when people exhibit such sentiments, given the generally minimalist expectations of people from their government. I have often said that Nigerians do not really expect so much from their leaders. For most people, government is all about road construction and a few other things and because of this, it is often hard to convince the people of the existence of deeper, equally critical imperatives to life and living outside of this narrow confine.
While I agree and support the views of those pushing for more roads and adequate healthcare delivery in the state, it is equally important to appreciate the need for other critical infrastructure challenges, especially given the rash of projects the Enugu State Government had already undertaken in the areas of road construction and healthcare delivery. I am not one of those that would dismiss what appear to be genuine concerns of people towards government policies and actions by labelling them the expected aftermaths of electoral misfortunes. I must add that it is however easy and convenient to think this way, given the bad blood that attended the recently concluded elections in Nigeria. What is of interest to me is to situate the current rhetoric against the projected stadium construction in the nobler context of the overall integrity of a more holistic development of a people and their environments.
In doing this, I will draw effusively from a well-known 21st century management concept, known as the ‘Balanced Scorecard’. Made popular in 1992 by two business strategists, David Norton and Robert Kaplan, the ‘Balanced Scorecard’ is a performance metric that is used in strategic management to identify and improve the various functions of a business and their outcomes. In a nutshell, it is used to provide feedback to organisations on the overall health of their businesses. It became important for businesses because of the need to manage the business processes, handle employee training and growth within the organization, take care of customers and also protect the finances of the business.
Most hasty readers may not agree with use of the ‘Balanced Scorecard’ as analogy in an article like this, but I am also sure that same group of people will readily notice how important it is for business to attach as much importance to its finances, bottomline, employee welfare and the very processes that make the business a business. Much the same way, any government that has the welfare of the people at heart must also find ways to approach governance in such a way as to ensure there is value to everyone, including the very silent minority whose need for protection are often drowned in the din generated by the vocal mass.
The truth is that even the most strident critics of the Enugu State Government reluctantly admit that the governor, His Excellency, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has creditably discharged his office in delivering infrastructure to the people of the state. In his first term, which is about to end this May, he channelled a lot of energy in opening up the rural areas, constructing roads that ensured communities were connected. His “One Community, One Project” initiative was deliberately conceptualized to bring practically every corner of the State no matter how remote, into the safety net of development. The fact that his was an unfortunate administration whose early days were welcomed into a season of sliding oil prices, economic recession and consequent dip in revenue did not slow him. Prudent resource management enabled the state to pay salaries, even when many other states struggled. Although he is still working at it, schools in the state have had major rehabilitations, the first time such elaborate makeover happened in the state, probably since when Enugu was still in the old Anambra State and Senator Jim Nwobodo was in charge. Across the state, hospitals, and I mean standard hospitals have either been commissioned or are at advanced stages of completion.
It is against this background that I insist that those kicking against the plans to build stadiums by the Enugu State Government are unfair. If I am permitted, I would even add that they just might be selfish too. And I am going to provide reasons for this position.
First, I will remind them of a popular Christian praise and worship song that says, “Aru m nile buru so onu, o zughi inye gi ekele.” In English, this loosely translates to, “Were all parts of my body to become organs for speech, they would be insufficient to give you praises.” This is a song people use to thank God nearly every time.
This article is however not about praise and worship. But I am not sure it is possible to imagine a state where everyone aspires to become Civil Servants or doctors or lawyers. Some of us dream of becoming successful footballers and sprinters. They dream of becoming champions in many other sporting activities. For a State that gave Nigeria its Jay Jay Okocha, Osmond and Davidson Ezinwa, Christian Chukwu and a host of other successful sportsmen and women, the least any government can do is to create the enablers for those who are growing up with similar dreams to have facilities that would make actualization as possible as they would proximal.
I am not sure that the stadiums being envisioned in Enugu State will be the size of the Egg Nest Stadium in Akwa Ibom State, as many people have erroneously and ignorantly suggested. But it is important to situate this within the economic value of sports. Besides the businesses that sports centres incubate locally, talents so harvested have been known to also earn money that support families, especially if such is developed to the level where they become international talents.
Just ask yourself this question: If there is a Lionel Messi or Christiano Ronaldo or even another Jay Jay in any remote part of the state, wouldn’t a stadium help in sharpening such talent that could one day make Nigeria and Enugu State proud? I recall that Senator Godswill Akpabio was also criticized heavily for embarking on the stadium project he built in Uyo, capital of Akwa Ibom State, when he did. But Nigerians can bear witness that many of Super Eagles remarkable international matches have been played in that stadium, much to the pride and joy of every one, his (former) critics inclusive.
Secondly, Nigeria is in need of more recreational facilities. It seems that today, the only form of recreation that is available to almost everyone is Social Media. This has become the virtual playground for many of us. A recreational facility is as important as factory buildings and schools. We need them. Our lives have to have vents to enable us let off the steam we accumulate from the toils and labours of life.
Thirdly, and here I would wish to remind people of the avowed commitment of the current administration in Enugu State to create two additional urban centres in addition to the capital city of Enugu. Governor Ugwuanyi has said it a number of times and everyone agrees that a single-city state is not good enough for the overall development of the people and their environment. It was in keeping with this that he recently announced the relocation of the Enugu State College of Education (Technical) from the capital city to Awgu.
Finally, I do not know if those complaining about the importance or otherwise of this stadium project are aware that the state government sometime last year undertook to continue the development of the Enugu State International Conference Centre, a gigantic project initiated by former Governor Sullivan Chime. In case they do, how does this project appear “important,” especially considering what constitutes a priority in their largely narrow perspective? Should the funds for this project not be re-appropriated for even more roads? Is it not clear from this that this government is taking very hard and long looks down the road and is working towards a much more balanced, economically and socially diverse state?
You cannot have an urban centre without having facilities for recreation. Delta State has a stadium in Asaba. They have another one in Warri and yet another in Oghara. Rivers State has two. Oyo State has two standard stadiums. Abia has two in Aba and Umuahia. If you add the National Stadium, Lagos State has about four. So what is wrong in Enugu building additional stadiums for its people, even if it is a 5,000 or 10,000 capacity stadium?
I think what should be uppermost in the minds of people is how to maintain these facilities and how we can maximise their values profitably and I believe that if we demand for their maintenance and value maximization as strongly as we are advocating for them to not be built, successive governments that will eventually inherit them will not only put them to good use but will also be made to ensure that significantly measurable social and economic values are extracted from these very worthy projects.
Ikem Okuhu, a media strategist writes from Enugu.