Tuesday 26 September 2017

National Stadium Of Prostitutes, Drug Peddlers, Beer And Pepper Soup Joints

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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.

Built in 1972, the National Stadium served as a training center for Nigerian athletes, established and aspiring, but has since become a haven for prostitutes and drug peddlers, apart from serving as a food and drink joint.

A year after it was built, the National Stadium became the center of attraction as the All Africa Games came underway. For 11 days, the stadium hosted world leaders and leading sports professionals. Nigeria went on to win 63 medals, including gold in football, which pitched the country second only next to Egypt.

Aside from the All Africa Games, a number of international competitions such as the 1980 and 2000 African Cup of Nations and FIFA World Cup qualifying matches were hosted there. While the memories endure, the world class facilities that made the hosting of such competitions possible are long moribund. From the overcrowded table tennis court to the derelict all indoor games complex, further down to the main bowl, the various sections of the stadium beg for attention.

With a capacity of 45,000 seats, the National Stadium, in some other clime, could have been a source of huge revenue for the federal government. But the main bowl is constantly under lock except during football matches organized by private companies. Even then, movement within the main bowl is restricted.

A father took his four-year-old son, who had been yearning to see the race track that he had seen on television, to the stadium but the boy had to shed some tears before the guard allowed him and his father in for only 10 minutes.

“We are not allowing people into the stadium,” he told the man to the disappointment of his son. The boy began to cry, throwing tantrums and refusing to release his grip on the gate. After much begging from the father and the boy’s inconsolable cry, the guard allowed them in.

In August of this year, SaharaReporters visited the main bowl during a football boot camp organized by Cowbell, a dairy product, and observed that only one of the gates to the main bowl was opened and all the entrances to the bleachers and stands were locked. The kids, she noticed, urinated in different corners of the main bowl as there were no toilets accessible to them.

“The male toilet is always locked and that woman there [pointing at an elderly woman who kept watch of the only accessible toilet] will not allow us use the opened toilet,” one of the Cowbell participants said, after discreetly relieving himself at the corner of the track. It was later found out that people pay N50 to use the toilet. In order to avoid the fee, many defecate or urinate anywhere they consider convenient.

From Playground To Urchin Hangout

The National Stadium has become a popular hangout for young boys, many of whom run errands for older men.

“If your child is not under the care of a good coach, he is not safe in the stadium because there are plenty of bad boys all over the place,” a boxing coach told our reporter. “Some of the ‘agbayas’ also send them to buy ‘Igbo’ [marijuana],” adding that his trainees do not run such errands.

Our correspondent spoke to a man named Sniper, who appeared to be in his early 30s, who buys his marijuana from dealers loitering outside the main bowl.

He explained to our correspondent that the dealers, with bags of hemp slung over their shoulders, are careful to only sell to customers they can trust.

“They know how to sell to people,” Sniper said. “They will look at you very well. They know how to check people before they sell.”

Fun City

Although the National Stadium has long lost its shine as a sport center, it certainly does well as a social center, particularly at night. Perhaps the more flourishing businesses in the sport complex are those that offer food and drinks, with chilled beers and spicy ‘Nkwobi’ and pepper soup as main attractions. Beyond these are women who come to strut their stuff, hoping to strike a deal for the night. According to Sniper, there’s no dull moment in the stadium at night.

“Business is good here,” one of the joint owners said. “We have customers and because this place is secluded, they are free to do as they like. Some of them come in with their girls while some meet new girls here,” she said, smiling.

Little to Cheer

Undoubtedly, the stadium is an embarrassment to many Nigerians today, but Amanda and her mother are happy for the opportunity to use the stadium even in its poor state.

Six-year-old Amanda was one of the participants of the Olumide Ayodeji basketball camp.

After taking a few shots and drinking her water, she told our reporter that she loves coming to the stadium to play basketball with her friends.

“The basketball camp has helped keep the kids busy. They are on holiday, so instead of leaving them at home to watch TV all day or go for summer classes, sport is a better option,” Amanda’s mother explained.

Similarly, Laolu, a lawn tennis player, said he loves to visit the stadium.

“I like coming to the stadium, but my parents prevent me sometimes. Lawn tennis is not like other sports and this place is different from other parts of the stadium where you see rough boys. I am trying to save up so that I can buy my own racket,” he said.

More Talk, Less Action

Solomon Dalung, Minister for Youth and Sports, visited the stadium in March this year and acknowledged that it was in shambles.

“The national stadium, which was regarded as a monument of our national history, has become a national embarrassment. It is in a very sorry state, as the level of dilapidation can never be compared to our level of civilization,” Mr. Dalung said.

Prior to the minister’s visit, the Lagos State government indicated interest in acquiring the stadium, a move Mr. Dalung viewed positively.

“We can’t fold our arms and watch this monument continue to rot away. We intend to renovate the facility and bring it back to its prime position as sports city where other sports, apart from football, can also be developed. That is why I welcome the decision of the Lagos State government to step in to restore our national pride and bring it back to a state we all can be proud of.

"It is the first step and a very important step in the process of a possible takeover. This inspection has given us first hand information as to what is required to bring back the edifice to use,” assured Mr. Dalung.

He clarified, however, that taking over management of the stadium does not mean ceding ownership of it to Lagos.

Since visiting the stadium, little, if anything, has been done to improve it.

According to Deji Tinubu, the special adviser on sport to Akinwunmi Ambode, Lagos State governor, the state government is still “waiting for a positive response from the federal government.”

Mr. Tinubu, who spoke with SaharaReporters about the handover, said the Lagos State government “will be patient.” He also said Lagos State has no power over a federal government property without permission to take charge.

However, should a federal government property become a harbinger of insecurity, patience might not be the best virtue, because as it stands, no one knows for sure whether or not such patience will pay off.

But until then, urchins will continue to use the stadium to buy drugs while prostitutes flourish in the monument of shame.

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.

PHOTONEWS: National Stadium Of Prostitutes, Drugs Peddlers, Beer And Pepper Soup Joints

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