Drenched in rain and shivering from cold, young Ikechukwu Agu looked up in surprise as this reporter approached him from a small shed beside the uncompleted Arochukwu Stadium stand in Abia State.
He was angry that the stadium has been abandoned for many years, but shocked to realise later that funds for the construction of the stadium had been released.
“We are our problem in this country,” he mumbled, shaking his head.
Millions spent, yet no result
Stories of abandoned constituency projects are rife across Nigeria, especially in rural communities in the Southeast geo-political zone where funds budgeted for grassroots development rarely touch the lives of citizens.
In 2015, following his appointment as the Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung, laid out a vision which included a short term sports development plan focused on infrastructure, athlete’s welfare, grassroots games and sports as a viable business. Like his predecessors, Dalung reaffirmed that grassroots sports development remains the only route to rebuilding the country’s sports and empowering talented youths to manifest their talents and compete at the global stage.
True to his words, the ministry embarked on several projects targeted at providing adequate infrastructure at local levels and reviving secondary school sports by providing sporting materials to selected schools.
But most of the projects initiated by the Dalung-led administration, which should be due for completion by now, are yet to be executed while others are abandoned since 2017 and 2018 when they were awarded via Zonal Intervention Funds. This happened despite the policy of the Buhari administration to cash-back all awarded contracts.
According to procurement data from the Nigerian Open Contracting Portal (NOCOPO) on contracts awarded by the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports Development, about N120 billion was budgeted for Zonal Intervention Projects in the Southeast between 2017 and 2018. Figures from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, showed that N3,877,621,811 and N2,560,000,000 were released in 2017 and 2018 respectively to the Ministry exclusive of other agencies under it.
From this amount, N5,925,061,227 was utilized, with over N1 billion supposedly spent on the construction of mini-stadiums/mini-sports centers and supply of sporting kits to schools in selected communities within that period in the Southeast Zone.
Out of these projects initiated in the Southeast, six locations for the construction of the mini-stadiums were mapped out and visited by this reporter to ascertain their status. But not one project has been completely executed. Three out of the six projects were non-existent, one is a shadow of a stadium, and the other is still at 30 percent completion level with just one out of the lot at 60 percent near completion.
Talents with no standard field
The mini-stadium project site at Obinkita in Arochukwu Local Government Area, Abia State, is a stone’s throw from the home of Nigeria’s football legend, Kanu Nwankwo, which is a bee-hive of talents as most youths who want to attain success like Papilo, as Nwankwo is popularly called, are usually seen training daily at various secondary school fields in the community.
The level of work done at the site was nothing to write home about since its foundation laying ceremony in 2018 by Mao Ohabunwa, senator representing Abia North Senatorial District. The only visible structure is the uncompleted stand. Freshly moulded blocks were seen at the site which indicated that work was still ongoing but at a very slow pace. The contract was awarded at the cost of N173,112,629 million to Bee-Harris Investment Limited, a company registered with CAC 20 years ago.
“Please help us tell the world what these people are doing to us, December is around the corner and we can’t even play football on this ground. The little thing meant for the youths they will still pocket it,” Kalu Okolo, a 28-year-old motorcyclist said.
He expressed surprise when he learned that contrary to general knowledge in the community that the stadium was being built by Ohabunwa as his contribution to youth development in Obinkita, it was, in reality, a zonal intervention project by the federal government.
Another resident of the town, Emmanuel Ogbonnaya, a cab driver whose dream is to become a professional footballer, said Obinkita is not the only community crawling with talents, but the entire Arochukwu.
“Scouts usually come and most times they pick people, we have players in this town o,” he enthused. Ogbonanya’s major fear is simple; no mechanism is in place to harness these talents by the government apart from individual efforts.
The contractor for the project Uzochukwu Aliebo when contacted blamed the slow pace of work on the delay in the release of fund and bad road.
“The road to Arochukwu is a death trap, our trucks have broken down severally. We get chippings from Calabar and most times these people release the money in small amounts, so we are trying our best, but before the end of the year, the stadium will be ready for use,” Aliebo stated. A promise which sounded impossible and more like a political statement from a Real Estate investment company as the exact amount released so far for the project which could have justified the level of work done could not be confirmed from the Ministry.
Youths of Ikeduru, Imo requested for stadium, they got a volleyball and basketball courts instead
The Amaimo mini-stadium project in Ikeduru Local Government Area of Imo State was awarded to Naz Davision Ltd, a company with no presence on the CAC website, at the cost of N173,112,629. The project site is about five poles away from the home of Senator Samuel Anyanwu, senator representing Imo East, aka Sam Daddy. It is another project awarded to help develop grassroots sports but it has been abandoned like others.
Most villagers were surprised to learn that instead of a standard mini-stadium, all they got was a poorly constructed Lawn Tennis and basketball court alongside an empty hall overgrown with weeds erected at the community primary school by Sam Daddy as his constituency project.
Since there was no signpost to confirm that the site was indeed the location of the project, this reporter visited the palace of His Royal Majesty, Eze Godwin Ehirim Nwaebo, Duru II of Amaimo Ancient Kingdom. Though the traditional ruler was not at home, his wife Ugoeze Apolonia confirmed that the structure at the primary school is what they all know as the stadium in the community.
This was corroborated by one of the youth leaders in the village, Boniface Ugochukwu, who further confirmed that the project was complete and waiting to be commissioned.
When asked why the structures on the ground were no way close to a mini-stadium, he stated that it was a matter of choice. Unlike other states or regions, they had to make do with the land available to them, thus the reason why they decided to have volleyball and basketball courts instead.
“Football is one sports that bring youths in Amaimo together especially during festive periods, it creates unity among us. If such an amount was released and all we have is that structure in the school, then it’s really bad, there is no motivation for us the youth” Igwe Anyanwu a 19-year old student from Umueze village told this reporter.
Nkalagu, Ishielu, Ebonyi State
Two projects were awarded by the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports Development to be executed at the limestone-rich town of Nkalagu. One was the supply of sporting materials to two community secondary schools located at Iyonu and Umuhuali at the cost of N9,985,750 awarded to Randburg Nigeria Limited and the latter a mini-sports stadium at Nkalagu awarded to De-Donex Integrated Global Ltd at N173, 112,629.
A visit to both schools confirmed that no single equipment or material was delivered to them. At Iyonu, the councillor, Ugah Polycarp, whom this reporter met at a burial ceremony during the visit since the school was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, revealed that apart from being a community leader, as a member of the school’s Parents Teachers Association, PTA, he alongside others were unaware of the fact that over N9 million was earmarked for the supply of sporting kits to the community-based schools.
“Our students are lacking sports facilities. If those things were here our students would have been using them, which is why we are lagging behind in sports,” said the Junior Principal, Igwe Uchechukwu, who has been in the school since 2016.
This was the same case in Umuhuali where then Principal, Mrs. Louisa Ajah, in a phone conversation stated that while she was in charge no such items were ever presented to the school despite their outstanding performance in state sporting events.
“The students cannot go for any competition outside Ebonyi, it is obvious they don’t have any standard facility to train with so they will definitely not perform well. You learn these skills from a young age so it’s best to start training them in time. Practice makes perfect but are they going to be kicking stones while practicing?” lamented Ifeanyi Aleke, a resident of the community, whose siblings attend the school.
However, the construction of the mini-sports center at Nkalagu is near completion as at the time of this investigation on October 2nd 2020. The contractor promised that by the end of the year, the stadium should be in full use. The pitch and the entrance were still under construction, workers were seen on site finishing the drainage around the pitch with the stands fully completed and painted. The two buildings at the far side of the large expanse of land housing the toilets were complete.
The project is the only one with evidence of N173 million approved for construction of several mini stadium in the state.
“The contractors are trying but they can do more, once they finish it will attract a lot of business that’s why they are also building a flyover at the highway. The town will be bubbling with activities by then” Nwaeze Jude who is anticipating to test his boots on the pitch someday during the community tournament said.
Arriving in Anambra State, one notable thing was people’s love of sports, especially football, which is visible in every corner as a large number of youths were seen at most playgrounds scattered across the state capital, Awka.
The one-hour journey to the proposed site for the construction of the mini-stadium at Nsugbe, approved by the federal government at N173,112,629 was a smooth one, unlike previous states, because of good internal roads.
At a motor park adjacent to the second gate of Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe, this reporter sought to find out the location of the stadium from the locals.
“Stadium? Here in Nsugbe? By Federal Government? Do you mean the stadium inside the school?”
These questions came in torrents as answers to the reporter’s question because the stadium, which was to be sited at the pavilion inside the school, was non existent. After the foundation laying ceremony by Senator Stella Oduah in 2017, this reporter learned, no work was done at the site.
“Senator Stella came and they laid those stones, I thought they wanted to fence our pitch and I was wondering why; I didn’t know it was a stadium,” said Uche Okechukwu, one of the boys who usually come to train at the small field beside the school’s main pitch.
The contractor for the project, Wilangy Nig. Ltd, however, disclosed that it was only given a certificate of award for the project and since then no money has been released for construction of the stadium.
The last in the lot for investigation was the construction of a mini-stadium at Ikwo, in Ebonyi Central Senatorial District awarded to Pro-Logistics International Limited for the sum of N173,076,661.75, which regrettably was also non-existent.
The immediate past local government chairman, Orogwu Joseph, disclosed in a telephone conversation with this reporter that the town boasts of a completed mini-stadium, which was commissioned by the state governor, David Umahi. However, the feat was solely a local government executed project. The present chairman, Stephen Orogwu, confirmed this.
Nobody want to be accountable for failed projects
Since most of the projects were awarded when Solomon Dalung was Minister of Youths and Sports Development, this reporter decided to reach out to him for his response.
“You can only confirm this with the office of DFA (Director, Finance and Administration) in the ministry which is responsible for releases. They are constituency projects, so also check with members of the National Assembly from the areas. Thank you.” he replied via Sms.
When contacted on why the mini-stadium project in Ikwo has not been executed the senator representing Ebonyi Central Senatorial district, Ogba Joseph, revealed that no fund has been released by the ministry for the project.
“The truth is that they have not released one kobo, there was money there in 2018 but it was not funded. In 2019 it did not appear in the budget at all. Then in 2020 it appeared because I insisted but as I am talking to you now they have not released one kobo to the contractor,” the senator said.
He further disclosed that though the Minister of Sports told him that 50 percent of the funds had been received, it has not been released to the contractors.
Though the Minister of Youths and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, did not answer his calls when contacted by this reporter to confirm if funds were fully released for the projects and to also comment about the state of the abandoned mini-stadiums, his personal assistant Tunde Akpeji, after requesting for the questions to be sent via sms, directed this reporter to contact the Director of Press, Mrs Lere-Adams as she is the right person to handle the enquiry as it concerns the ministry.
Mrs Lere-Adams in turn, directed that a letter of request be sent to the email address on the official website of the Ministry. However, no response was received from the Ministry as at the time of filing this report.
It is undoubted that Nigerian sports now wallow in mediocre performances. For the past five years, Nigerian home-based athletes have not won any medals at the global stage. The country now depends on athletes in Diaspora to compete in global tournaments.
In the current rating of African clubs by the Confederation of African Football, CAF, no Nigerian football club side made it to the Top 20 ranking. Nigeria’s female and male football teams were all knocked out of the African qualifying series for the 2020 Japan Olympics, now shifted to 2021. And in the world Under 17 and Under 20 male football competitions where Nigeria excelled in the past, the national team did not qualify for the finals in the past two editions.
Odegbami laments the dearth of quality and poor commitment to Nigeria
“These are very dreary times for Nigerian sports. For those of us that have been a part of several generations, the pain is deep. I was an active participant at the highest level from the mid-1970s when Nigerian sports were on a global ascendancy when Nigeria started an authentic dominance of Africa in Track and Field, table tennis, (lawn) tennis, boxing, weightlifting, wrestling and joined the elite forces in African football at the African Cup of Nations. It is very painful to wake up every week these days to the reality of the horror that has become the present state of Nigerian sports…
“From 1976 to 2006, a period of some 30 years and eight different Olympics, Nigeria presented some athletes that were either winning medals or had the capability to do so. From 1984 Nigeria actually started to win Olympic medals. In 1996 it won an unprecedented number including its first two gold medals. Since then her fortune in medals has been dwindling. For those of us that have been a part of the history of Nigerian sports since 1976 the present times are undoubtedly worst in our country’s history with stories so ugly they benumb the mind,” Odegbami lamented.
*This investigative report was supported by McArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR.