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 Monuments of waste: Nigeria’s white elephant stadiums

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PostSubject: Monuments of waste: Nigeria’s white elephant stadiums   2014-12-28, 06:46

Nigeria spends billions building
stadiums but hardly puts them to
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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’
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
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
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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