One Year on: Appraising sports infrastructure under Tinubu’s Administration

President Bola Tinubu came to power on May 29, 2023 on the wave of ‘Renewed Hope’ agenda – a wavelength different from his predecessor’s ‘Change’ mantra.

The President inaugurated a 45-man Federal Executive Council (FEC) on Aug. 21, about 84 days after his inauguration, to tinker on promises made to the electorate which ensured his victory at the Feb. 25, 2023 elections.

Thereafter, Sen. John Owan-Enoh became the Minister of Sports Development in FEC after Sunday Dare’s tenure.

The choice of Owan-Enoh (58) – an accomplished educationist and politician – was greeted with a lot of mixed feelings by sports enthusiasts who weighed in on many grounds, especially on the background of the new minister.

Some, who saw him as someone lacking in sports administration, alleged that he had no direct or indirect technical know-how to handle a sector that many believed had suffered from several years of neglect.

They also argued that he could be another neophyte or greenhorn that, would, arguably, further slowdown the
development of sports in Nigeria.

However, some people viewed the appointment of a neutral person in the mold of the Cross River-born politician as ‘a breath of fresh air’ for Nigerian sports.

True to his calling, the University of Calabar graduate of Sociology, appraised the enormous tasks ahead of him and swung into action.

Few days after his appointment, he visited some of the national sports infrastructure including the 62-year-old national stadium, Surulere and similar facilities in Abuja and Ibadan.

Perhaps Owan-Enoh, who knew that his background included no previous expertise in active sports or sports administration, resolved to work smart by familiarising himself with the sports terrain.

Expectedly, Owan-Enoh is faced with a myriad of problems that have continually plagued the sports administration in Nigeria.

Many stakeholders regard sports administration in the country as corruption and mismanagement prone.

In their estimation, other hydra headed issues including corruption in Nigerian sport
s had indeed made it almost impossible to get the system working.

Corruption can affect private sponsorships and willingness of well-meaning investors to leverage on their financial muscle to boost sports development.

These are majorly some of the issues that Owan-Enoh needed to address to improve the performance of Nigerian athletes at the local and international levels.

Nigerian sports as it were, needed strategic plan document, identification of specific challenges, major governance and enabling environment for critical sports infrastructure to thrive.

Owan-Enoh during his visit to the National Stadium, Surulere, openly wept over the abandoned facility.

He also expressed worry on what could have been responsible for the abandonment of facilities at the once national treasure.

He also saw that the facilities there had been abandoned for periods stretching to about 20 years.

Owan-Enoh, who could not hide his emotion over the sorry state of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, said, ‘I weep for this
place, I earnestly weep.’

He went from the entrance to the main bowl, the hostel, boxing, wrestling, para sports and athletics gyms and shook his head in disapproval of the state of rottenness in the stadium.

He assured that within a short period, President Tinubu’s administration would prioritise the facelift of the iconic sports infrastructure.

‘This should not be the symbol of our sports in a city referred to as a sports city,’ he said.

He also promised to bring back the glory of the facility, once touted as the pride of Africa.

According to Owan-Enoh, the maintenance of the facilities is necessary to avoid the mistakes of the past that resulted in the decadent infrastructure.

He said, ‘We must be careful and make something happen quickly, so that the facilities we have working, don’t fall into the same sorry state of shame.’

He stressed President Tinubu’s commitments to sports development, adding that the President would continually give his support to sports, at all times.

Promises were made in t
he past to bring back the glory of the National Stadium, Surulere, but such promises did not materialize, especially with the experience from the former Sports ministers – Solomon Dalung and Sunday Dare.

Dalung, during his time, made frantic efforts at concessioning the National Stadium, Surulere when the then Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State, made efforts to get the stadium to be under the control of the state government.

While the details of the negotiations were not made public, it remained to be seen what eventually went wrong and why the deal failed to materialise after a much publicity and state visits.

After Dalung came the immediate past minister, Dare, who also assured that there would be the political will needed to fix the National Stadium, Surulere.

Dare, during his visit to Lagos then, assured that there would be a departure from the previous neglect and lack of political will to fix the abandoned National Stadium all over the country.

During his one-day working visit to the National Sta
dium, Lagos, Dare said that the stadium’s reinstatement was among his three-point agenda.

Accompanied by bigwigs in the sports circle such as the Chairman, Nigeria Women League, Aisha Falode and other directors in the ministry of sports, he decried how a space once used for 1973 All African Games was neglected for more than 16 years.

He said that the ministry’s agenda for sports development in Nigeria would be in three key areas – facilities maintenance, upgrade and management.

Dare said that his working visit to the stadium was to have a holistic assessment of the stadium with a strong political will to fix it.

‘Let me say that my coming here is not for ritual sake, I came with a renewed instruction from the President Muhammadu Buhari who gave the assignment.

‘There is political will on the part of the president this time to make sure that national monuments like this are not neglected.

‘For this, we will find out an option at which we can restore back to glory Nigeria as a football nation.

‘We should
have up to 10 or 12 international standard stadium and pitches up top FIFA standard. So, there is a renewed political will to restore the stadium,’ he said.

Dare further disclosed that a Public Private Partnership (PPP) to bring back the stadium would not be jettisoned, adding that holistic assessment would be given to the facilities.

‘My work is to inspect and provide the right advice from a professional standpoint. I will be working in conjunction with experts from the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and the youth ministry.

‘I hope that the arrangement with the Federal Government and Lagos state Government will come and we are also looking at Public Private Partnership (PPP) for a model to evolve and put the facility back,’ he said.

In spite of the promises made, no meaningful impact was made towards recreating the glory days of the National Stadium, Surulere. The decay endured.

Dare also embarked on demolishing what he referred to as shanties attached to various structures in the facility.

Traders
and hangers-on, who loiter the facility were dislodged, ostensibly to attract investors that never came.

During the back-and-forth, a major disaster occurred in the National Stadium, Surulere, which led to its closure by the minister.

Since then, things have not remained the same with the facility. However, the present sports administration under Owan-Enoh needed to go beyond mere promises.

Some stakeholders in the sports community told NAN that immediate action should be taken to revamp the moribund sport infrastructure.

Howbeit, the past administration was unable to effectively address in its two-term tenure, the resuscitation of the stadium. There is now an urgent need to put words to actions.

A significant feature of the strategic plan is to specify the magnitude of the tasks involved and face it.

Some sports enthusiasts and icons are also not impressed with the slow pace in bringing back to life the sports city in Lagos.

Some amateur boxers including the General Secretary, Nigeria Boxing Federatio
n (NBF) also called for the rehabilitation of the aging gymnasium (gym) at the stadium.

They urged the relevant authority to address the deplorable state of the 63-year-old facility being one of the oldest boxing gyms in Nigeria.

Several boxers, who competed for Nigeria at local and international levels, trained at this facility.

An on-site visitation to the weather-beaten facility showed that, apart from the blown off roof, shattered windows and a septic tank that had caved in, toilets seats at the gym were either broken or in bad shape.

Being the only gym available at the facility, the deplorable state of the boxing gym had, no doubt, affected athletes training needs.

Sunday Usman, an amateur boxer, who described the gym’s current condition as an eye sore, also alleged that it was ‘out of use for the past few years’.

Another amateur boxer, Clement Bassey, said that, notwithstanding the fact that the love for boxing had sustained him as an athlete, the present state of the gym was a discouragement.

‘T
raining under this condition is harsh and discouraging; sometimes whenever it rains, the whole gym will be flooded because the roof has been blown off.

‘Some of the boxers don’t even like coming here, except when they have an appointment with the national coach at the stadium,” he said.

The General Secretary of the NBF, Oladapo Akinyele, also appealed for an urgent fixing of the dilapidated facility.

‘Of course, this is where we train and we have to manage it. Some of the boxers who went for the Olympics qualifiers in Thailand trained here.

‘It is in a sorry state, the roof has been blown off. Many times I provided some palliatives by buying some nylon cover for the ceiling, but they are constantly blown away by winds.

‘We need to give the present government a chance to steadily address this problems because they are inherited ones. Am sure that the Minister of Sports Development will soon address the problem.

‘The Minister cares a lot about boxing especially with our good outings during the last Afric
an Games in Ghana,” he said.

A Sport journalist, Femi Adepoju, also told NAN that the long neglect remained a national tragedy, ‘It is such an embarrassment that we cannot maintain the national stadium.

‘All over the world, there are local clubsides that are maintaining bigger sports infrastructure, not to talk of a state-owned facility.

‘A certain Anfield Stadium is being maintained by Liverpool FC of England; Emirates Stadium is owned and maintained by Arsenal; Turf Moor by Burnley; Stamford Bridge by Chelsea FC and so on.

‘I don’t believe that we can’t manage those stadia, the political will is not just there.”

Having spent a year in office, the Sports circle have achieved much especially in tandem with promises made.

As we celebrate the first-year anniversary of this administration, there is need for us to remind the Sports Minister that promises made during his visit to the sports facilities in Lagos must be fulfilled.

The specifics of the decay in the national stadium is distressing, requiring
urgent reconstruction work sponsored either by private firms, consortiums or the government.

Sub-national governments own football, basketball, volleyball, handball, and hockey teams (male and female in some cases) with scarce resources.

National sports infrastructure should not be allowed to live on past glory.

Sports enthusiasts are of the opinion that if we must erect new standard facilities to promote sports, due attention must also be given to the existing ones as well.

Source: News Agency of Nigeria

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