By Kolapo OLAPOJU
In part two of the series highlighting corruption and mediocrity in the Nigerian sports administration, KOLAPO OLAPOJU spotlights the decay of the Abuja Stadium complex.
WHEN most people hear of the Abuja National Stadium Complex, the ‘main bowl’ is what readily comes to mind but there is more to the ultra-modern modern sports complex than the football pitch.
The stadium is divided into two sections, namely Package A and Package B. The former comprises the 60,000 capacity main bowl while the latter consists of a 3,000 capacity indoor sports hall, 2000 capacity gymnasium, 2,000 swimming pool, among others.
Built at a cost of N54 billion seventeen years ago, the stadium is now starting to look like a shadow of itself due to the badly maintained facilities and equipment. Although it was among the best of its kind when used for the first time at the 2003 All-Africa Games, these days, the facility is broken-down.
The main bowl and surroundings located in package A often appear desolate, largely because of the ongoing, but painfully slow, renovation by Dangote Ltd through the ‘adopt-a-pitch- initiative of Sunday Dare, minister of sports and youth development.
The package B area, on the other hand, is more frequently used owing to the facilities located there. Yet, the regular use of the facilities has done little to stop it from slowly becoming decrepit. The gymnasium, which appears out of use, is surrounded by overgrown weeds and human waste.
A better part of Package B axis also is taken over by bush so much that it is easy for a newcomer to miss the cricket pitch. Though, the handball and tennis courts as well as the indoor sports hall are functional, the Olympic swimming pool has been abandoned, and now derelict. Although shut down, weeds can be seen growing out of the concrete and falling into the pool which now plays host to tadpoles and mosquitoes. Seats by the stand are falling apart with their insides sticking out and much of the metal work has gone to rust.
The ICIR learnt that the much of the maintenance problems in the stadium is due to insufficient attention as only few personnel are engaged to care for the 29 hectares of land on which it is built.
Some of the stadium workers disclosed that various departments are understaffed, forcing the supervisors to prioritise the places and locations to be maintained. One of such departments is security. Out of six gates in package A, only one is in use and manned, and same for package B. One of the guards disclosed that the facility manager has written to the minister to request for more personnel.
Disused athlete’s hotel
Along the road leading to the package B axis lies a dilapidating massive building. From a distance, it appears unoccupied but on close inspection, one would discover that people reside there.
Alas, it is a 250-room hotel which was constructed and abandoned in 2003. According to people who have worked in the stadium since inception, the initial plan was to use the facility as a lodging area for athletes and national teams when in the Federal Capital Territory for sporting engagements.
It was also intended to generate revenue for the sports ministry. The idea was for it to be used commercially by members of the public – but for the past 17 years, none of those plans has come to fruition.
Several rooms in the facility are now home to the homeless and destitute while the rest are left to decay.
In the past nine years, several sports ministers have attempted to complete and furnish the facility but their efforts, but none of the succeeded.
In 2011 when Bolaji Abdullahi was sports minister, N81 million was earmarked for the completion of the facility and it was included in the budget of that year. Two years later, another N600 million was budgeted for the same purpose; ‘Completion of Athletes Hostel’.
During the tenure of Solomon Dalung as minister, N14 million and N10 million were budgeted for ‘additional access road to athletes hostel’ and ‘additional furnishing of athletes hostel’ respectively.
The ICIR sent a Freedom of Information request to the ministry of sports and youth development in December 2, asking to know the amount of capital allocation released to the ministry, the contracts approved and executed in respect of the athletes’ hotel between 2011 and 2020. Though the ministry acknowledged receipt of the letter, there’s no response till date.
Similarly, the Budget Office in clear violation of FoIA 2011 failed to respond to a request for a breakdown of the amounts released for the rehabilitation, renovation and/or completion of the athletes’ hotel between 2011 and 2020.
To stop the facility from going under, the ministry of sports has now taken steps to concession it to a private developer with “requisite technical and financial capabilities, as well as operations and management expertise”.
In a request for qualification publicised by the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, it was noted that the ministry “is desirous of transforming the Athletes’ Hostel, Abuja located in Abuja Stadium (Package B) Complex into a world-class facility to accommodate athletes and provide ancillary commercial activities during local and international competitions”.
Curious case of the high performance centre
A high-performance training program is designed to refine the skills and performance of individuals participating at a high level. The objective is to apply scientific knowledge to develop and enhance the physical capability of athletes.
A functional high performance centre must be situated in a university premises because of the presence of experts in sports medicine, nutrition, physiology, psychology and biomechanics, according to Ken Anubide, director, UNIPORT Sports Institute.
This line of reasoning was also put forward in 2014 by Solomon Ogba, former AFN president when the HPC was being built in the Abuja Stadium and sports complex. At the time, he said the decision of the National Sports Commission (NSC) to build it in the stadium would be “counterproductive to athletes’ development”.
Five years down the line, that prophecy has come to pass as the HPC in Abuja has not produced any known athlete representing Nigeria at the global stage, when compared to its counterpart in the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT).
Also established in 2014, the HPC in UNIPORT, now known as African Athletics Development Centre, has produced superstar athletes like Divine Oduduru, Tobi Amusan, Ese Brume, and Raymond Ekewo. Funded by the Confederation of African Athletes and World Athletics, it also serves athletes from other countries including Gambia and South Sudan.
“Here, we develop the physical and psychological needs of athletes,” says Anubide. “For physical training, we have equipment for strength, endurance, flexibility, speed and agility training. Once you use those equipment appropriately, you can develop the physical capacity of the athlete to any level you want. But they must be put to appropriate use.”
How Abuja got it wrong
A typical HPC is designed to be a concentration camp for athletes to train and lodge before international or national competitions – but that is not the case in Abuja.
Unlike the HPC in UNIPORT, that of Abuja lacks the required facility and equipment. Apart from a 48-room hostel and a sports medicine department, there is not much else in place. The Abuja HPC is bereft of a fully-equipped gym room, diagnosis centre, indoor training arena, beach set-up for leg muscle training, among other facilities – which can be found in UNIPORT.
An athletics coach said the Abuja centre was faulty from the beginning, particularly the decision to employ coaches without the scientific advice of experts.
“They just built a place for athletes to come and train. There is no scientific input in it. The coaches – Eric Campbell, Angie Taylor – left after some time because they were not producing athletes and were being owed salaries.”
In 2016, former minister Solomon Dalung alleged that N3bn was approved for the HPC by the Goodluck Jonathan administration. All attempts to reach Bolaji Abdullahi – who was minister at the time the funds were supposedly released – proved abortive. According to Dalung, funds which were meant for equipping the centre and paying experts ended up being diverted.
Around the time Dalung made the claims, Ogba also called for a probe into how the funds meant for equipping the Abuja HPC were diverted but till date, no investigation has been carried out by any of the anti-corruption agencies.
Notwithstanding, there seems to be a little hope for the centre at the moment, considering the positive energy of the incumbent minister, Sunday Dare.
But not many staff of the ministry are optimistic yet. “We are a long way from having a functional facility. It can’t even happen in the next 3 years,” said a doctor who works with athletes.
You can also read the first and third parts of this series: