• Holes on the pitch, broken tracks, home to rodents, snakes
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
A visit to the National Stadium, Abuja, last week, showed a sorry state of the facility nearly two months after its renaming after Chief MKO Abiola by President Muhammadu Buhari to mark the anniversary of the June 12, 1993 annulled presidential election won by the late business mogul and politician.
He might be deceased but his name still resonates. Of course, he made significant impacts on society. For many people, death signals an infinite end to their very existence but this is not so for him. The more he continues to rest, the more talked-about he is.
While he lived, his hobbies found enviable trappings in business, media industry, philanthropy, sports and politics.
21 years after his exit, he has, in death, redefined Nigeria’s political calendar, stirring virtually no dissensions just like it was on June 12, 1993 when the majority of the electorate queued behind him in an electoral safari.
That was Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola famously called MKO Abiola, the winner of the June 12, 1993, annulled presidential election who, unfortunately, breathed his last on July 7, 1998.
Abiola contested the 1993 presidential election that was adjudged the freest and fairest in Nigerian history.
The results showed that he even defeated his opponent, Bashir Tofa, in his northern enclave.
But there was no official announcement of the poll results to eventually declare him winner by then-electoral umpire.
Then-election was instead annulled by the military regime which oversaw the conduct of the exercise.
In 1994, Abiola declared himself the winner of the election in Lagos and the move angered the military junta headed by the late Gen. Sani Abacha.
The presidential hopeful was later incarcerated for 4 years mostly in solitary confinement and just on the day, July 7, 2008, he was due for release, he died.
Since his death, there had been deliberate moves by the political class to placate the family and the region he hailed from, South-West.
One of such moves was the election, in 1999, of President Olusegun Obasanjo who, like Abiola, is a native of Ogun State.
Unfortunately, Obasanjo, throughout his eight years in power, failed to redress the injustice of the annulled election despite the strident calls to do from the various segments of the society.
Meanwhile, former President Goodluck Jonathan, on May 29, 2012 during then-Democracy Day anniversary, renamed the prestigious University of Lagos, UNILAG after Abiola.
But the gesture generated a negative reaction from the university stakeholders, forcing Jonathan to withdraw the renaming.
Last year, President Muhammadu Buhari fully recognized Abiola’s victory in the 1993 election.
He gave the highest national honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR, to the deceased politician.
Only Nigerian Presidents receive this honour and the move was generally interpreted that Abiola had been made made a former President, posthumously.
Buhari didn’t stop there. He changed May 29 as Democracy Day in Nigeria to June 12 in recognition of the annulled election.
On the first anniversary of the recognition (June 12, 2019), the President renamed the National Stadium, Abuja to MKO Abiola National Stadium.
In an address, Buhari said: “As we all know, correcting injustice is a pre-requisite for peace and unity. As part of the process of healing and reconciliation, I approved the recognition of June 12 as Democracy Day and invested the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola and Babagana Kingibe with National Honours, as I did with the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi. The purpose was to partially atone for the previous damage done in annulling the Presidential elections of that year.
“Today, I propose the re-naming of the Abuja National Stadium. Henceforth it will be called Moshood Abiola National Stadium.”
Stadium two months after
One would have thought that nearly two months after the presidential declaration, the apparently abandoned stadium would have changed to befit Abiola’s heroic status.
But a fact-finding visit to the facility by Sunday Vanguard showed that nothing has changed.
Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja is a facility with the capacity for 60,000 spectators. It was built by the government of former President Obasanjo in 2003.
The stadium is divided into two sections called Package A and Package B.
Package A has the main bowl, football training pitches, Velodrome and offices.
Velodrome is for track cycling and it is also used as a multipurpose hall.
Package B has an indoor sports hall. Indoor games hold here. These include handball, basketball, wrestling, Takwando and Karate.
There are also other appurtenances such as a standard swimming pool, squash hall, tennis court and cocky stadium, and FIFA Goal Project.
FIFA Goal Project comprises of offices and a football field.
There is also a Sunday Dankoro House. This is the building of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, commissioned four years ago by former Vice President Namadi Sambo about one week before the Jonathan elapsed. The Sunday Dakoro House is yet to be put to use.
The stadium was chiefly built for the 2003 All African Games (AAG).
The stadium has since played host to several competitions including the 2009 FIFA U17 World Cup.
However, today, Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja has suffered abject neglect.
It is has been literally abandoned.
As a result, it is looking unkempt. Except for a few areas paved with concrete as roads and walkways, every other part has been over taken by grasses.
The main bowl housing the football pitch is in dilapidated state. It is scarcely grassy.
Except for the spectators’ seats that dotted the edifice itself, there is no convincing evidence that big football events once held there.
The field, Sunday Vanguard learnt, only came alive because we are in the rainy season.
It was said to have been completely sandy and baldy before now.
The toilets and conveniences were not looking any better.
With broken doors and windows of the toilets and conveniences and overgrown grasses around, some staff members who spoke to us said they had been encountering reptiles like snakes and rodents.
Enquiries indicated that the contractor, engaged for the maintenance of the entire facility, whose name could not be ascertained as of the time of filing this report, has since left because of the non-payment of his fees.
The only alternative to now cut the overgrown grasses within the complex is the one-off engagement of labourers by the Ministry of Sports through the Federal Capital Development Administration, FCDA, whenever they deem it necessary.
One of such youths encountered by Sunday Vanguard at the Package B of the stadium during the visit, last week, told Sunday Vanguard that they were instructed to first cut down the overgrown grasses before weeding it out.
Such is now the practice.
Sunday Vanguard’s camera lens of couldn’t zoom beyond the periphery of the swimming pool which was under lock and key.
And there were no officials on hand to open it.
For the stadium to be renamed by a sitting President in honour of a hero like Abiola, to many people, means that government still remembers that it owns an edifice such as that.
It is simply a shame to let such a sprawling facility with of all its appurtenances rot away.
But now that Buhari has finally remembered it, it is the expectation of everyone especially that of all lovers of sports that the government would fix the broken infrastructures and put the stadium to good use.
It is nearly two months since the renaming, efforts should be made to revive the facility.
This is another way to make Abiola’s soul rest in peace.