By Jacob Ajom
The rot at the Ministry of Sports is exemplified by the poor state of utilities under its care. In Lagos, for instance, the ‘abandoned’ national stadium, although still yields revenue for the ministry, is least cared for in terms of maintenance. And this is the case with all federal government-owned stadiums and other sporting facilities dotted across the country.
At the national stadium Lagos, one finds the squash racket hall, tennis courts, an Olympic size swimming pool, handball courts, boxing gym, weightlifting and para powerlifting gym, a knock up hall for table tennis, an indoor sports hall and the mainbowl of the national stadium where football and athletics take place. Most of these facilities are rotting away due to inactivity and above all, lack of maintenance. Yet funds are voted every year for their maintenance.
The money generated is sent into federation account. Any kobo required for the maintenance of the facility comes straight from Abuja. “We are not authorised to use any money we generate here,” an official at national stadium, Lagos once told this reporter. And because Abuja cares less about the stadium in Lagos (even the one housing sports federation offices in Abuja is a shadow of its former self), whatever monies approved for Lagos is always, barely enough to keep the vast arena clean and in good shape.
However, there is a quiet revolution going on at the National Stadium Lagos: the “bringing back to life” of the Olympic size swimming pool that lay fallow for close to 20 years. The best swimming pool in the country that hosted swimming events of the 1973 All Africa Games had been abandoned and left for reptiles and creeping plants. It had become an eyesore and one of the sour points at the stadium, and a constant reminder of our collective failure as a nation. Successive governments pay lip service to sports development as facilities already in place are left to rot away. But visitors to the sports arena are seeing something new. There is a massive turn-around as the swimming pool has started witnessing high traffic on a daily basis.
The turn-around did not come about by accident. There is a new management handling the swimming pool. With the approval of the ministry of sports, a private concern, Ojezz Nigeria got the nod to run the rule over the expansive swimming pool. The company has sunk in millions of naira to renovate the multi-events swimming pool. The stands also bear plastic seats and there is also a first class bar and eatery. It has become a delightful place for families, groups and even some business executives to be, “Expect more changes,” Joseph Odobeatu, chairman and CEO of Ojezz Nigeria said.
The astute businessman who was the first to establish a restaurant at the stadium, long after the folding up of the popular Caterbest Restaurant of the 1980s said the renovation of the pool has brought new life to the arena and a new alternative to those who want to relax and have fun with their families and friends.”There is a family from Lekki that comes here every morning to swim before they start their day,” he recalled, adding that he was encouraged by the support he got from some of the patrons towards the completion of the project. “Apart from the sports ministry, I was also supported by some individuals who made private donations towards the renovation. I don’t want to look at the amount, but the significance of their commitment shows that people are ready to always put their money down when things are working. A lady sent me a WhatsApp message, saying she was surprised to see the swimming pool in its present state because she never believed anything good could come out of the national stadium.”
Odobeatu said the pool has hosted some national and international events and more were still in the pipeline due to hold within the next few weeks. As president of the Nigeria Water Polo Federation, he is planning to host a tournament soon.