By Ben Efe
Rot and decay have finally teamed up to grind the National Stadium Surulere, Lagos into desolation 18 months after it was closed down for renovation.
A committee set up by the Sports Ministry had sent business owners and keep fit enterprises packing. All illegal structures were pulled down, and the concession of the main bowl to Mr Kessington Adebutu “Baba Ijebu ” for re-grassing, replacement of running tracks and general refurbishment of the edifice.
But a visit to the National Stadium Thursday revealed that all construction work is at a standstill, the entrance to the main bowl was under lock and key, and the security men at the gate kept a sealed lip on the state of activities, they were stone-faced when inquiries were made.
It was gathered from reliable sources that major differences have arisen between the sports ministry and the concessionaire. And until those issues are ironed out, the ‘Sportscity’ will remain a ghost town. Meanwhile, business owners ejected from the premises are still counting their losses.
“I used to have three shops inside the stadium, but now there is nothing left than to sell my goods from the boot of my car,” said a sports shop owner who was seen displaying his wares under the flyover bridge adjacent to the Stadium.
“What is the essence of giving us quit notice when they are not going to go through with the work they promised to carry out? People have lost their jobs, business owners have incurred losses and the government itself is losing revenue.”
Sportsmen and women are also feeling the pinch, they include skateboarders who use to practice their sport within the premises. According to one of them, Blessing Ewona, most of the platforms they erected were demolished now they have to make do with what they can find.
“Skateboarding is now an Olympic sport. Personally, I was energised seeing a 13-year-old school girl winning gold for Japan at the last Olympics.
“How do we catch up with them when we have no facilities to practice? We just hope that this place is functioning again soon,” said Ewona, a teenage skateboarder.
Former Olympian Jerry Okorodudu was more concerned about the state of the boxing gyms: “We have been unable to use the gym for about a week now. The Stadium manager told us it is because of COVID-19 it was locked up.
“But it is regrettable that the National Stadium, which was a commercial hub, is now left to rot. There is no standard Stadium you will go to anywhere in the world where you will not see merchandise being sold in one form or the other.
“We need the place to be functioning because we have sportsmen and women training here every day and they cannot have access to the gyms or running tracks, the Olympics is just three years away.” Former amateur boxer and now promoter Henry Zini also chipped in: “ When you go to the Brai Ayonote boxing gym all you see is broken floor, sagged punching bags, dilapidated rings and leaking roofs.
“At the last Olympics, we didn’t feature any boxer. This is the time we need to start work for the next Olympics, but how are we supposed to be training in those run-down gyms”
However, former Nigerian athletics great Yusuf Alli stated that the Sports Ministry, under Mr Sunday Dare has a great vision for the National Stadium. He urged stakeholders to have some understanding of the issues at stake.
“In the long run, we are sure to have a decent Stadium. There is no stadium in the world where you have pubs dotting the premises.
“On match day, however, drinks are made available for fans who are coming to watch the game.
“I support the Sports minister in his quest to bring some level of orderliness to the stadium.”
Also, a sports ministry official who was patrolling the premises of the demolished “Old School ” Pub inside the Brai Ayonote boxing village stated that though the National Stadium is meant to be a public recreational venue, that does not mean business owners should erect illegal structures all over the place.
“The Sports Minister is trying to put things in order. When he is done, everything will fall in line. When you want a drink, you know where to go and get it, when you want equipment you know where to go and buy.”