Monuments of waste: Nigeria’s white elephant stadiums



Main bowl of Abuja National Stadium in 2012

ARUKAINO UMUKORO writes that Nigeria spends billions building stadiums but hardly puts them to use

Lukman Lawal prefers to train in a private gym in Ogun State, rather than the one at the 45,000-capacity National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos. Lawal, who won silver at the 10th All Africa Games, Maputo, Mozambique, in 2011, and also represented Nigeria at the boxing competition of the London 2012 Summer Olympics, is one of the many boxers that shun the stadium because of the poor state of facilities there.

“The private gym has better facilities than the one at the stadium. We don’t have enough competition for boxers in the country because of the facilities. I’ve participated in only two competitions in 2014,” Lawal told our correspondent.

Another athlete, Kazeem Adeyemi, who also represented Nigeria at the 2007 All Africa Games, lamented the poor state of facilities in the stadium that was once the venue of major national and international competitions.

Lawal said, “When I went to Cuba to prepare for the All African Games, I saw better gym facilities than the one here in National Stadium, Surulere. If Blessing Okagbare didn’t go to the US to train with better facilities and good coaching, she would not be able to run as well as she does today, and she would not have won gold at the Commonwealth Games. We need better facilities to become world class athletes. But, our stadiums don’t have it.”

There are at least 30 stadia (state and federal) in Nigeria. Only a few host any form of sporting event regularly. Some do not have events all year round, as their facilities are left to rot away.

As a result, the growth and development of many athletes who cannot afford to go abroad for training have been scuttled and their future left in jeopardy.

White elephant projects?

Eight stadiums hosted matches during the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, Nigeria 2009. Built with billions of naira, they have a combined seating capacity of about 200,000. At full capacity, for a gate ticket of N200 ($1.19) for popular side (tickets for the VIP Section usually go for about N3,000 [$18]), all the eight stadia (Abuja National Stadium; Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos; Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu; Gateway Stadium, Ogun; Sani Abacha Stadium, Kano; U.J. Esuene Stadium, Cross River; Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna; and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Stadium, Bauchi) can generate about N40m ($239,000) from hosting eight football matches. This is aside from other money-making opportunities during such events.

Sadly, not one of these stadiums can boast of such figures due to lack of sporting and non-sporting events. Also, the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East of the country has drastically reduced the chances of hosting any major sporting event in the region. The last sports festival hosted in the region was held in Kaduna State in 2009.

One of the most recently built is the National Stadium, Abuja. Built in 2003 at the cost of N54bn (about $321m), it is one of the costliest in the world.

However, in the midst of illustrious company, which includes the iconic Allianz Arena – home of former European champions Bayern Munich – at €340 million (about N71bn), and Arsenal football club Emirates stadium that cost about £390 million (about N102bn), the Abuja National Stadium sticks out like a sore thumb.

Shunned by national teams, the stadium that once played host to the All Africa Games in 2003 and the 2008 Mobil Track and Field National Championships could be likened to a rich man stripped of his wealth and deserted by friends, as it no longer plays host to any major competition or even football matches of the national team, the Super Eagles. The last major match it hosted was the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier match between Nigeria and Sudan in October, three years after it last hosted a major match – a 2-2 draw with Guinea on October 8, 2011.

In 2012, after an exclusive report by The PUNCH, the federal government ordered an immediate refurbishment of the stadium that was overgown with weeds. Not much has changed since then.

The National Stadium, Surulere, is in a worse state. Built in 1972, the stadium has played host to several national, continental and international competitions, including the Africa Cup of Nations in 1980, and the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in 1999.

However, its main bowl is now a footballer’s nightmare, with dead electronic scoreboards, non-functioning floodlights and pitch in total disrepair.

The last major competition that was held there was the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, which was jointly hosted by Nigeria and Ghana, in 2000. A rusty billboard advertising a television station as the host broadcaster of the Ghana-Nigeria 2000 Africa Cup of Nations is still seen in the premises of the stadium as a testament of its neglect. The last football competition of any kind that was played in the main bowl was 10 years ago, in 2004 (LG Cup).

Today, it is more famous for its beer joints and restaurants rather than its sporting activities. At nights, under the cover of darkness, without functioning floodlights, it becomes home to shady characters who loiter around its premises to carry out nefarious activities.

Its other indoor sporting facilities are not any better; from the dirty, algae-infested swimming pool which hasn’t been used for years, the worn-out tartan tracks, to the boxing gym, all are in need of urgent renovation.

Once an iconic stadium and national pride, the National Stadium, Surulere, now serves as a parking lot for the smaller Teslim Balogun Stadium, which is located opposite it.

Similarly, the Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, Oyo State, and the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu, which used to have lush green pitch that were comparable to other stadiums in the world, are also in poor shape despite the billions of naira spent to build them. When contacted, the stadium managers of the Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, and National Stadium, Surulere, refused to speak with our correspondent.

President of the Nigeria Track and Field Coaches Association and member, Technical Committee, Athletics Federation of Nigeria, Gabriel Okon, decried the neglect of Nigeria’s stadiums.

According to him, the standard of the stadiums in the country is a reflection of the sports industry.

Okon said, “I remember my school days when we used to have competitions where we represented our local government areas. From then, it moved to the state, regional and national levels. We have to create tournaments, sporting events and activities to keep our sportsmen and women busy and productive in these stadia. Such competitions would make the stadiums fully utilised; we don’t have to keep waiting for national/federal competition.”

Economic loss

Monuments of waste1.gif

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Asides from the lack of development of sporting talents in the country, pundits say lack of use of the stadiums built with billions of taxpayers’ money also means the loss of economic revenue for the country.

Okon added that when competitions take place, they create job opportunities for thousands of Nigerians. According to him, during the 2003 All Africa Games, which was hosted in Abuja, over 3,000 jobs were generated.

A former President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Kojo Williams, agreed with Okon. He noted that the use of these stadiums would give jobs to the over 20 million unemployed youths in the country.

He said, “A lot of Nigerians, from the athletes to the ordinary man on the street, would have benefitted from the proper utilisation of these neglected stadiums as it would create employment for them. Sadly, the national stadium has become a market place where people go to and run around without any direction, that’s not what it is meant for.

“If those stadiums are built with national funds and you’re not investing further to sustain it, then you’re running at a loss. There are so many consequences of this neglect: our children are not being developed and there is no proper league structure in the country that can generate money for Nigerians.

“These stadiums are built to generate funds so that they can be maintained but how can they be maintained when they don’t generate funds?

“In my time, I told them that all the league matches should be played in all the top stadiums in the country. I set up a committee to go round and give approval to those stadia that the teams would use. I also suggested that they should commercialise the stadiums, lease it out to the private sector and have a legal and binding agreement with them on what they should be returning to the ministry and should be getting from playing games there. We worked out something but it never saw the light of day.”

Williams also noted that the stadiums could generate revenue through sporting and non-sporting activities. The main source of revenue is gate fees for different events hosted in the stadium.

For example, Wembley Stadium, London — which could be said to be England’s national stadium as it plays host to all the home matches of England football national teams — was rebuilt for over £750m (N197bn) and re-opened in 2007, generates huge revenue from hosting sporting activities such as football events, other sports (rugby, boxing, athletics etc). It also generates revenue from broadcasting, sponsorship and licencing, grants income, merchandise, etc; and also plays hosts to non-sporting activities such as major music concerts. In 2012 alone, Wembley played host to over two million people with 29 separate events, including nine games staged at the stadium during the London 2012 Olympics. Not only that, in 2011, Wembley was said to have an annual operating profit of between £40m (N10.5bn) and £50m (N13bn).

However, the case is different in Nigeria where the country’s national football teams do not have a specific sports venue to call home. In the last two decades, the major fixtures of the Super Eagles have been rotated across at least six different stadiums in the country due to several factors, chiefly the poor state of the pitches. Also, unlike what obtains in other football-crazy countries, the Super Eagles have also had to play some of their Grade A friendlies in foreign countries such as the UK. Millions of Nigerian fans are therefore denied the opportunity of seeing their foreign-based stars in action on home soil.

“I remember when I used to come to the National Stadium, Surulere to watch matches in those days. It was fun. We came to watch local league matches at 8pm or 9pm in the evening and the stadium was filled to capacity. All that excitement is gone today. We lack maintenance culture in this country,” said Mr. Ola Olatunji, who has been visiting the Surulere stadium for over two decades.

Also, most of the matches played in the Nigerian Premier League and other local league divisions are played in near-empty stadiums, even the most competitive fixtures barely attract up to five thousand. In most cases, where there are crowds in their thousands — especially during FA Cup final matches — it’s because the entrance is free or the gate fees were flung open after fans did not show up.

Ex-captain of the senior national team, Segun Odegbami, blamed lack of management and maintenance for empty and unused stadiums across the country. “The economic loss to the country from lack of use or under-utilisation of stadiums is huge, especially as sports is part of the larger entertainment business, which is the fourth largest industry in the world today. We have wasted opportunities and squandered human and natural resources that God has given us,” he told SUNDAY PUNCH.

He also blamed successive governments for underestimating the power of sports to generate employment and national revenue.

Odegbami said, “There was a time was when you went to the Nnamdi Azikiwe stadium, Enugu, Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, or National Stadium, Lagos, in the evening, and different sports had their different audiences in terms of sportsmen and spectators. They made use of these facilities. Empty stadiums are because the different sports are not well-run and the administrators are powerless because there is no funding.”

Odegbami noted also that until the country had leaders who understood the power of sports, as not just a social contributor, but also an economic contributor, the rot will continue.

Sports, he noted, would also take idle youths off the streets, give them a productive means of livelihood and therefore reduce the crime rate in the country.

The neglect of sports complexes in the country also throws up other health and economic indices. Experts are of the view that the billions would have been used to build other facilities that would be used daily for the benefit of the population.

In February, 2011, vaccine cold-chain stores that can serve up to three million children and pregnant women were inaugurated by the Lagos State Ministry of Health, the Embassy of Japan in Nigeria and UNICEF. The total cost for the five rooms of the storage facilities commissioned which will serve Lagos and the South-West states, was put at N34.5 million.

Also, last year, Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, was reported as planning to build a 1,000-bed hospital in Kano via his Dangote Foundation. To be constructed within the Murtala Muhammad Specialist Hospital in Kano, the facility was reported to cost about N2billion to build.

Thus, at N54bn, the cost of the now neglected Abuja National Stadium, twenty-seven (27) of such hospitals would have been built. While N54bn would have built about 1,600 of such storage facilities that would not only serve Nigeria, but the rest of Africa, as billions of children and pregnant women would benefit from it.

Similarly, the amount could build thousands of classroom blocks and kilometres of road.

A professor of Economics, Department of Economics at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, Dr. Muttaka Usman, said the generation of internal revenue for the state and federal governments, as well as employment for many Nigerians from the stadium construction process and their proper utilisation, would contribute to the country’s economic development.

However Usman emphasised the need to prioritise such capital intensive projects. According to him, Nigeria is losing billions of naira as a result of ‘improper selections or prioritisation of projects.’

He said, “For instance if you consider the amount that was used to build the Akwa Ibom International Stadium, that amount of money could also have been invested in the health sector or education and make a difference. It is what economists call the opportunity cost of doing one project over the other.

“So, what is the opportunity cost of constructing a stadium? Therefore, it is for the authorities, policy makers and government to look at what projects are more important and beneficial to a larger population of society at a particular point in time. They need to make that prioritisiation.”

Conduit for corruption

“Corruption is not only in sports; it’s a common thing in the country. The cost of building public schools in the country is also highly inflated. Now, they would rather build a top quality stadium rather than build proper classrooms for pupils. But, these stadiums are not properly utilised for what it’s meant for in the first place,” Williams noted.

In most cases, the exact cost of building the stadium is not given by the authorities. Williams noted that the cost of building stadiums in the country is highly inflated, unlike in other parts of the world.

“A football-only stadium, with pitch, tartan track, tribune and all that, shouldn’t cost more than $20m to $40m (N3.4bn to N6.8bn). While a stadium, complete with other indoor sports facilities, shouldn’t be more than $100m to $150m (about N17bn to N25bn),” he argued.

His position was corroborated by an architect, Hassan Anifowoshe, who said, “The average cost of building a standard football stadium is approximately $160m (N29bn), while a football and other sports stadium could be higher; the cost really depends on design and contract tender.”

Athletics coach, Brown Ebewele, said the non-use of stadiums in the country was endemic because of the lack of continuity in the system.

He said, “The National Stadium, Surulere, is now obsolete. Whoever is in charge should be pressured to ensure these facilities are being used. As a former coach, I know what I had to go through to find facilities; my athlete had to progress and it was my responsibility. So, I looked for any stadium no matter how rickety that stadium was.”

The National wheelchair tennis coach, Frank Tarmena, also said there is the need for accountability in the running of sports.

“I have seen several instances where the funds meant for athletes development and welfare were diverted or not properly expended,” he stated.

In the same vein, another coach and former Technical Director, NFF, Kashimawo Laloko, said the non-use of sporting complexes in the country negatively affects the development of grassroots sports.

“School competitions can be held in these stadiums regularly to utilise them and it would help sports development in the country. For example, there are three stadiums in Ogun State, but not all are being used on a regular basis.

“If these facilities are not put in use, obviously the country’s athletes would not have a place to develop themselves. And no matter how talented they are, without these facilities, they cannot grow,” Ebewele added.

About two months ago, the newly built Akwa Ibom International Stadium, joined the league of stadiums in the country. It was described as a ‘world-class’ stadium.

The new 30,000-capacity stadium is said to cost about N39bn. It is also expected to provide jobs for about 5,000 people.

Williams thinks otherwise, since there are no reported events planned to be hosted in the stadium until March, 29, 2015, when the Super Eagles are billed to play Brazil in a high-profile friendly match.

He said, “Give it another five to 10 years and the (new) Uyo stadium would deteriorate like other stadiums, because it is not going to be maintained.”

Since 1999, government officials, including members of the House Committee on Sports, have paid several visits to the National Stadium in Surulere, and promised to ensure the complex was wholly renovated, but nothing has been done.

The Special Assistant, Media, to the Minister of Sports, Patrick Omorodion, told Sunday PUNCH that the sports ministry has plans to ensure the proper utilisation of these stadiums.

“I know the Abuja National Stadium is now in good shape because the Super Eagles last played a match there against Sudan. Also, there are plans by the sports ministry to approve the concession of some of these stadiums to private bodies,” he said.

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  • North/West Allies

    Liberty stadium is dead ask Amaechi why

    • New 9ja

      Is Liberty stadium state stadium or Federal own?

      • temple

        State owned

      • Life is Good

        Liberty Stadium is Federal owned. Adamasingba is State Owned

      • North/West Allies

        It is state a stadium my friend, and why did Amaechi abandoned it to build the ugly 40,000 capacity, maybe he should learn from Godswill Akwabio how to build a 21 century stadium

  • achieben

    concession is the only way out

  • babatope

    These jonathanians can be very funny, liberty stadium in Ibadan is not amechi’s issue. Very uneducated GEJITES just like fake phd GEJ himself.

  • sunday322

    This why Nigeria urgently needs devolution of power to prevent all these utter neglect of national facilities and infrastructure
    Those controlling the government at the centre are never sincere with there halfhearted effort to restructure this failed nation,just for their greed and avarice for oil money
    Jonathan only convened a national conference at the eve of the 2015 election to hoodwinck Nigerians into voting him in again,to continue in his miserable misrule
    Ironically there no is sign at the moment of any concerted effort to implement the resolutions at this confab
    I just hope it does not die a natural death like other ones before it
    Time will tell

  • Ayelala

    A country without electricity ,roads ,jobs and good education facilities has no business building stadium .
    The derelict national stadium in surulere should be handed over to the LASG , so that the mainbowl can be bulldozed and turned into a green park like the beautiful agodi botanical garden

  • Dejandon

    just visit Akwa Ibom stadium in 5 years time, it will be in similar sorry state. why the proliferation of stadia but for corruption.