There is no doubt that Nigeria is one of the richest and most blessed countries in the world. We have human, material and natural resources in abundance but the absence of sincerity of purpose, lack of vision and self-centeredness on the part of our leaders have stagnated our growth and development in decades.
In the early ’60s, we were rated alongside the Asian Tigers; Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. These economies are notable for maintaining exceptionally high growth rate of over 7 per cent a year between then to the ’90s. To those who rated Nigeria with these countries then, they saw the potentials of a great nation in us if our leaders would tap into our resources to grow the economy. Although those countries are not rich in natural resources like Nigeria, they became highly industrialized over those three decades.
The non-challant disposition of our leaders has affected us in all facets of life; economic, political and social. There is no gainsaying that sports is a unifying factor in Nigeria. It has doused a lot of tension in Nigeria and past governments have used sports as a public relations tool to reach out to Nigerians. The government of the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, used sports to play on the sentiments of Nigerians. It was during his time in office that we had our most glorious achievements in sports. The Super Eagles won the 1994 Africa Nations Cup in Tunisia, qualified for their first World Cup same year, the Nigeria U-23 team, Dream Team 1, won the football gold at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and policewoman, Chioma Ajunwa, also won an Olympic gold medal in long-jump.
Looking at our sports facilities nationwide will make one’s heart go cold. For crying out loud, this is a nation with estimated 200 million people, with almost 60 percent youth. How far have we engaged our youths in positive, productive ventures, especially in the sports sector? I have always argued that sport remains one of the biggest businesses in the world, only if we can harness it and dig deep. But where are the facilities to keep the young busy? Absolutely none. From Maiduguri to Lagos, Abuja to Port Harcourt, our sporting facilities are in a state of disrepair and government at all levels are not concerned. These facilities are being occupied by reptiles and hoodlums who harass and torment innocent Nigerians, day and night.
The pomp and pageantry that accompanies the commissioning of sporting facilities in Nigeria is massive. Government officials promise to maintain the facilities but, immediately after the commissioning, everything goes to sleep. Nigeria has the facilities to host any sporting event; the senior World Cup (we have hosted the U-17 and U-20), All Africa Games, regional competitions…name it. But how have we maintained these facilities?
Today, the National Stadium in Lagos is an eyesore right from the entrance, safe for recent renovation by the Federal Ministry of Sports. It is now the abode of street urchins and women of easy virtue, who distract our athletes from the job at hand. A multi-purpose stadium, it comprises an Olympic-sized swimming arena and a multi-purpose arena used for basketball, volleyball, table tennis, wrestling and boxing matches, with a capacity to sit more than 60, 000 people at once. It was built in 1972 and hosted the 1973 All Africa Games. It has hosted several events but, today, it has been abandoned by the government since 2004.
The Obafemi Awolowo Stadium (former Liberty Stadium Ibadan), Ahmadu Bello Stadium Kaduna and the Liberation Stadium Port Harcourt and all other sport centres are shadows of themselves. We lack the culture of maintenance in all fields of endeavour.
I continue to wonder, however, why our leaders and administrators cannot borrow a leaf from the developed countries where they like to travel to at the snap of the fingers, to attract foreign investments to Nigeria. They are only good at laundering money through their cronies.
Lack of sporting activities have been the bane of rot in our facilities, because it is at the same facilities you see religious bodies holding programmes, political rallies being organised and all sort of. The question, then, is, who will stop all these anomalies when the stakeholders are also involved?
The Obafemi Awolowo Stadium, Ibadan has not enjoyed electricity in recent years, because all the electrical appliances have been tampered with by hoodlums who terrorize people at will. I was at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium few years back for the Super Eagles/Egypt game and the story was the same. I have not been to the Godswill Akpabio Stadium Uyo in recent time, but I want to believe that there is already a gradual decline in facilities at the gigantic and world-class stadium.
Our politicians and administrators surely know how to frustrate good intentions when they know it won’t line their pockets in any way. The attempt by former Governor Akinwumi Ambode to renovate and refurbish the National Stadium in Lagos was rubbished by certain elements in the last National Assembly because of vested interests. They reckoned that if Ambode had had his way, they would not benefit from the ‘largesse’ which comes with awarding such contracts. Where has this kind of mentality led us?
It is high time the Federal and state governments involved partners to imbibe the culture of maintenance which, invariably, will arrest the restiveness of our young and engage them positively like their counterparts all over the world.
The stadia can be concessioned through a public-private-partnership (PPP) as being canvassed by the current Hon. Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare and the result will be the eruption of world-class facilities that can compete favourably with any around the globe. We don’t need rocket science to achieve this. We can maintain our facilities. We must. We don’t want to, but we have to, before we become the laughing stock of the world.