Perhaps, in consideration of its importance as an instrument of unity and symbol of peaceful co-existence in Nigeria, city planners strategically located the Abuja National Stadium at the entrance of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
It was designed to make a statement that sports was really a source of happiness to many Nigerians.
The multi-purpose $360 million stadium, partitioned into Package A and B, has lived up to expectations since it was unveiled in October 2003 to host the eighth All-Africa Games.
Rated among the 50 most expensive in the world then, the Abuja National Stadium consists of main bowl, presidential/56 corporate suites, viewing area, modern turnstiles, box office, post office, banks and media facilities.
The main bowl and the indoor games facilities at the Package B axis have successfully hosted national and international sporting events, including the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup and some Grade A international friendly games.
Constructed by Schlaich Bergermann & Partner, Germany, the stadium is an architectural masterpiece with facilities like two scoreboards and floodlights, shops and snack kiosks, a standby power supply system, helipad, 3,000-capacity indoor sports hall, 2,000-capacity gymnasium hall, 2,000-capacity swimming arena and pools, 4,000-vehicle public parking lot, 400-capacity VIP car park, an artificial lake, tennis courts, 3,000-capacity hockey stadium, baseball and softball complex.
However, the reality now is that, despite all these facilities, the stadium has gone to ruins. It cannot conveniently host any competition, even an football match, due to the collapse of facilities, the activities of herdsmen, vandals, incessant robbery and administrative lapses.
In fact, dearth of competitive sporting activities, the threat of dangerous reptiles and other hostilities have conspired to cripple the national pride and turn it to a national embarrassment.
The increasing spate of Fulani herdsmen grazing cattle, traversing the length and breadth of the stadium without restriction has assumed disturbing dimensions. The B wing of the stadium, now assuming a “grazing reserve” status, has become a nightmare to the guards, private security outfits, the Nigerian Legion.
A security guard at the stadium, who pleaded anonymity, told Daily Sun that they have made several entreaties to the Ministry of Sports and Youth Development to intervene in checking the influx of cattle grazing inside the stadium daily.
Blaming the invasion on the vandalised and stolen wire fences around Package B, he lamented that herdsmen now have unrestrained access into the stadium.
He described it as a national embarrassment and time bomb, emphasising: “We have done everything within our capacity to stop the herdsmen from coming into the stadium.
“We have repeatedly complained to the Ministry of Sports to find a solution to the menace of herdsmen at the stadium, but no intervention has come. They come into the stadium every day through the vandalised wire fence almost all round the stadium.
“As it is now, we can no longer stop them; we are helpless and even afraid to confront them with our bare hands because, with their machetes and guns, they are certainly more equipped than us.
“Instead of risking our lives challenging them, we have resigned to fate. The only good thing, however, is that they are not violent even though I see the situation as a time bomb. The only problem with them is that the cattle litter everywhere with faeces.”
Cattle invasion is not the only thing tormenting the stadium guards daily. It sounds unbelievable but snakes, crocodiles, monkeys and other reptiles prowl the stadium seeking something to devour.
To see snakes especially inside Package B has become a common occurrence. The artificial lake inside the stadium serves as breeding ground and watering hole for all manner of reptiles and animals.
The guard told Daily Sun, “It has become normal to see snakes everywhere inside the stadium. They come in different sizes. We don’t have problems during the day, but at night, it would be as if they empty into the roads. On flashing our torchlights they would disappear into the bushes.
“There have been many instances when we saw big crocodiles and other animals come out of the lake due to the heat of the sun and at night. The most disturbing aspect is that the ministry has not proactively tackled the situation by even ordinary fumigations.”
Robbery and mismanagement
Both sides of the stadium have been at the mercy of robbers. The facilities have been vandalised and stolen on many instances without any arrest. Last year, robbers operated for hours and carted away several television sets and other valuables inside the VIP lounge of the main bowl. No serious attempt was made to prosecute anybody.
Only last month, robbers vandalised the three huge generators supplying power to the indoor sports halls at the Package B. They audaciously made a comeback again and carted away a giant generator in the indoor basketball hall.
Moreover, the fact that the locks were not tampered with fuelled speculations that the robbery was an inside job. There has been no love lost and trading of blames between groups of personnel working at the stadium.
While the police personnel blamed the private security guards, the staff of the outfit blamed the ministry staff, arguing that it was practically impossible to vandalise or cart away the generators with the locks and keys intact.
“Only the ministry staff can give reliable explanations of what happened to the generators,” a staff of the security outfit alleged, adding: “We know the ones robbers from outside can do. We have continued to have it rough with the iron scrap collectors (baban bola) that always gain entrance through the Area One axis of the stadium to vandalise disused cars.
“Their activities have become a source of concern to us because they seem to be working with the police. On several instances we have disarmed, arrested and handed them to the Wuye Police Division, but they would release a them few days later, only for them to return and threaten to cut our throats if we disturb them again.
Total facility collapse
“Maintenance” of the stadium has become a cash cow for some staff of the sports ministry. Only recently, Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung, had cancelled the proposed Super Eagles international friendly match billed for the main bowl ahead of the Russia 2018 FIFA World due to the unserviceable state of the stadium, particularly the turf.
Dalung had disclosed that government was currently shopping for funds within the neighbourhood of N130 million to re-grass the stadium. Yet, in 2013, the National Sports Commission, under the supervision of then Minister of Sports, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, told the House of Representatives Committee on Sports that it spent N96.9 million to re-grass the stadium.
Creditors impound vehicles over N9.9m debt
Last year, three companies seized property belonging to the Ministry of Sports over a N9.9 million debt. The property include three 18-seater buses, one Hilux truck, two automatic changeover generators and other valuables estimated above the amount of the debt owed the companies.
The firms hinged their actions on the lukewarm attitude of the ministry in responding to the order from the FCT High Court in 2010, which passed judgment that the ministry should pay the debt.