By Chioma Onuegbu
UYO—President Muhammadu Buhari will not be allowed to use Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, Uyo, for his campaign next Friday, the state government has said.
The president is scheduled to visit Akwa Ibom on Friday to flag off his re-election campaign in the state.
His party, All Progressives Congress, APC, requested the use of the stadium for the campaign but the state government directed the President and the APC to make use of another stadium – the Uyo Township Stadium – which accommodates a far lesser number of people compared to the 30,000-capacity Godswill Akpabio stadium.
A statement by state Commissioner for Sports, Monday Uko, weekend, in Uyo, said:“The next season of the Nigeria Premier Football League, NPFL, is scheduled to begin on January 13, 2018. In view of this and the fixtures of home matches for Akwa United FC, it will be practically impossible to ‘regrass’ the stadium for pre-fixed matches, if used for non-sports activities, because of the nature of pressure that such events bring on the pitch.
“Additionally, the maintenance contractor (Julius Berger) had also advised that the present atmospheric conditions being very hostile to the pitch, the facility should not be used for non-sport activities during this harmattan period, so as to avoid inflicting long-term or irreversible damage to the grass on the football pitch.”
Uko said the explanation became necessary because “political actors and commentators” in the state were trying to use the issue to pit the state government against President Buhari.
He stated further that the annual state-sponsored Christmas Carol night in Uyo took place in the Uyo Township Stadium, instead of the earlier proposed Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, because of the same reason. The Christmas Carol night was held on Friday.
The commissioner added: “The stadium from its inception has been under a maintenance contract with Julius Berger Construction Company. They operate all the sensitive and non-sensitive components of the facility.
“They had closed for the year and proceeded on vacation (as it has been their usual practice) and are due to resume on January 7, 2019. The implication of this is that the technical capacity required to activate the venue is currently unavailable, and this is not within our control.
“The ministry has, however, approved, in the alternative, the use of the Uyo Township Stadium for the event. We guarantee that the approved venue is in perfect condition.’’
The APC chairman in the state, Ini Okopido, did not respond to calls and text message from our reporter at press time.
Meanwhile, the Ifim Ibom Ibibio (the Supreme Council of Ibibio Traditional Rulers) has shifted the date for the coronation of its new leader because the initial date for the ceremony coincides with President Buhari’s planned visit to the state for political campaign.
The coronation ceremony would now hold on December 28, the Ifim Ibom Ibibio said in a statement.
“The Ifim Ibom Ibibio took the decision to change the date as a mark of honour for Mr. President and in keeping with the overriding protocol usually accorded the office of Mr President,” the statement said.