$360 million MKO Abiola Stadium Abuja rotting away

360 million MKO Abiola Stadium Abuja rotting away

As a stadium built with the vision and strategic plans to create and organize activities that will increase the Abuja fans’ emotional demands and revenue generation for the country, the MKO Abiola Stadium has become a typical example of everything – the good, the bad, the ugly and the most beautiful, co-existing under one roof.

However, regardless of whatever perception anybody holds about the perfectly-built top notch edifices, the multi-purpose $360 million capacity stadium, partitioned into Package A and B, which lived up to the expectations upon inception in October 2003 by hosting the 8th All Africa Games (COJA), has not only now been under-utilized, but is also fast degenerating into a shadow of itself.

Rated among the 50 most expensive stadia in the world then, the MKO Abiola Stadium, Abuja, consists of the main bowl, presidential/56 corporate suites, viewing area, modern turnstiles, box office, post offices, banks and media facilities.

In fact, in every ramification, the Abuja Stadium, was a landmark beauty inside out to behold as it is strategically located upon entry into the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, perhaps and ostensibly to make a bold statement to residents and new arrivals into the nation’s capital that sports is really a source of happiness to many Nigerians.

The 60,491-seater capacity main bowl and the state-of-the-art 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 many Grade A international friendly games especially involving the Super Eagles.

Constructed by Germany construction firm, Schlaich Bergermann & Partner, the stadium, an architectural masterpiece, has facilities like; two scoreboards and floodlights, shops and snacks kiosks, standby power supply system, Helipad, 3,000 capacity indoor sports hall, 2,000 capacity gymnasium hall, 2,000 capacity swimming pool, 4,000 vehicle capacity public parking lot, 400 capacity VIP car park, artificial lake, tennis courts, 3,000 capacity hockey stadium, baseball and softball complex.

Today, however, things have fallen apart for the once beautiful sports bride of the FCT as all the world-class facilities in the stadium are now lying in ruins.

Not only that, apart from the dearth of serious sporting activities and the impossibility of hosting any major football competition even a friendly match due to facility collapse, the worrisome activities of herdsmen, miscreants, vandals, incessant robbery attacks and administrative lapses have contributed in reducing the stadium to a shadow of itself.

In reality, the lack of serious competitive sporting activities especially at the main bowl, threats of attacks from dangerous reptiles and poor maintenance culture among other hostilities equally conspired to cripple activities and reduce the national pride into national embarrassment.

Endless award of contracts to re-grass the turf now a drain pipe

The maintenance of the stadium, which never performed according to installed capacity seems to have become a cash cow to the ministry and other concerned authorities.

In 2013, when the main bowl went completely bad and was abandoned, the then National Sports Commission (NSC) awarded a maintenance contract worth over N96 million (about $600,000) just to re-grass the turf.

However, despite the humongous amount involved in the renovation, the same lack of maintenance culture reared its ugly head again, as the stadium was not even able to host an international friendly scheduled for the main bowl ahead of the Russia 2018 FIFA World due to the unplayable state of the stadium turf.

According to the then Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung, the Federal Government would need funds in the neighbourhood of N100 million to N130 million to re-grass the main bowl again just five years after completing the same project.

The endless renovation continued when in September last year, Africa richest man, Aliko Dangote, matched words with action, deploying construction equipment to yet again renovate the stadium in deplorable state as part of the ‘Adoption Policy’ of the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, in an estimated contract sum of $1 million.

Although the completion date has been subject of variations with both the contractors and the ministry, blaming factors, such as hostile weather conditions, importation hitches and other unforeseen natural elements, barring any other unforeseen circumstances, activities will finally return to the stadium next month August.

The constant re-grassing of the stadium is not the only challenge confronting the world-class edifice as creditors some years ago pounced on the ministry over debts owed them.

Specifically, in 2017, there was huge embarrassment at the stadium when three companies forcefully seized property belonging to the Ministry of Sports over a N9.9 million debt. The seized property included three 18-seater buses, one Hilux truck, two automatic changeover generators and other valuables estimated even above the amount of the debt owed them.

The companies had hinged their actions on the lukewarm attitude and lack of commitment of the ministry in responding to the order from the FCT High Court since 2010, which gave judgment that the ministry should pay them the N9.9 million debt.

Herdsmen/cattle invasion

The increasing incidents of Fulani herdsmen grazing cattle, traversing the length and breadth of the stadium facilities without restriction have assumed disturbing dimension over the years. The Package B wing of the stadium, assuming ‘grazing reserve’, has long become a nightmare even to the private security outfits, the Nigerian Legion that provide security to the stadium.

For some years now, security guards have continued to lament that their appeals and several entreaties to checkmate the disturbing influx of cows grazing inside the stadium daily have not yielded any positive response.

Blaming the invasion on the vandalised and stolen wire fences round the Package B, they lamented that herdsmen have continued to gain unrestrained access into the stadium, describing it as a national embarrassment and time bomb.

“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 activities inside the stadium, but no intervention has come. They come into the stadium every day through the vandalised and stolen wire fences 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 even guns, they are certainly more equipped than us. Instead of risking our lives challenging them, we have resigned to faith. The only good thing, however, is that they are not violent even though their continued operation is a time bomb. The only problem with them is that the cattle litter everywhere with faeces,” they complained in a chat with our correspondent.

Incessant robbery attacks and vandalising cables

Due to several years of abandonment of the facilities and the unmanned massive areas of the stadium, both sides of the edifice have continued to be under the mercies of robbers and vandals. Many of the facilities have been vandalised and stolen on many instances without any arrest.

It came to the head in 2016 and 2017 when armed robbers invaded, operated for hours and carted away television sets and other valuables inside the VIP lounge of the main bowl. Lamentably, till date, no serious attempt has been made to either arrest or prosecute anybody.

Again, sometime in March, 2017, robbers vandalized the three generating sets supplying power to the indoor sports halls at the Package B. They even audaciously return again and carted away another giant generating set inside the indoor basketball hall.

Almost throughout 2010 to 2011, the disturbing endless menacing activities of vandals at the Area One section of the stadium usually targeted and repeatedly vandalised the armoured cables supplying light to the stadium had epileptically threw the main bowl into complete darkness.

Dangerous reptiles

Another serious challenge confronting the stadium was the invasion by dangerous reptiles. It may sound unbelievable, but the reality is that snakes, crocodiles and other dangerous reptiles prowl the stadium seeking for whom to devour.

To sight snakes especially inside Package B has become a common occurrence. The artificial lake inside the stadium has continued to serve as breeding ground for all manners of dangerous reptiles and animals.

“It is naturally normal to see snakes everywhere inside the stadium. They come in deferent 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 around.

“There have been many instances we see big crocodiles and other animals come out of the lake during hot sunshine and even at night. Some of the animals we will kill, but some others are just intimidating that we cannot risk our lives confronting them. The most disturbing aspect is that the ministry has not proactively tackled the situation by fumigating the stadium,” our source said.

Ministry reacts

Although the ministry admitted to many of the challenges facing the stadium, it, however, argued that proactive measures have been put in place especially the provision of security lights and proposing budget next year to fix the compromised perimeter fence.

The Special Assistant, Project to the Minister of Sports, Arch Abiodun Owoborode, told Sunday Sun that re-erecting the fence will check the unscrupulous activities of the vandals, robbers and herdsmen, assuring that arrangements are in top gear for sporting activities to return to the stadium by August this year.

“We are looking at end of August to fix the stadium and for activities to return fully there. Yes, I can confirm to you that there was robbery incident in 2016, but it happened three years before Sunday Dare, the Honourable Minister assumed office. Therefore, I may not give you detail of what actually transpired then.

“However, from 2019 when we came on board, the Minister has put so many measures in place to avert such occurrence again. I can tell you some of the actions the Minister has taken since assumption of office. The first is the installation of external streetlights. The contract was awarded in 2019, but completed in February last year. Some of the stolen armoured cables that power the light have also been replaced.

“In 2021 budget, some funds are also appropriated for replacement and additional installation of most of the security lights and they are undergoing procurement process. You also know that some of the perimeter fences have been compromised. Like I said, some of these issues have been there before the current Minister came on board.

“The good thing, however, is that an assessment of those areas the fences are compromised has been carried out and we are also in the process of ensuring how we can get funds appropriated in the next year’s budget to take care of that breach which will ensure improvement in the security issues we are having there,” he clarified.

He also spoke on the under-utilisation of the stadium facilities, stressing: “We cannot completely divorce the location of the stadium in the complaint about the under-utilization of facilities. You cannot compare Surulere, Lagos stadium with Abuja especially in terms of population, which is four times more than Abuja.

“Secondly, you know that the greater percentage of the majority of the sporting activities nationally is in Lagos owing to issues of sponsorship and intervention from the private sectors and corporate bodies. There will certainly be more sporting activities in Lagos than in Abuja.

“However, that is not to say that it is an excuse for the Abuja stadium to actually be under-utilised. The good thing is that there are many initiatives the Minister has come up with like Adopt, especially the leg of it that deals with facilities.

“Right now, I have requests from various corporate bodies like the golfing association, hockey, among others, wanting to adopt some of these facilities. Of course, inasmuch as we want to engage the private sectors in the adopt campaign; we also want to be sure these are people who have the national interest at heart.

“By the time we are through with the evaluation processes, many of the facilities will be adopted by the prospective private sector persons. When that happens, it will attract sporting activities to drive people to the stadium,” the ministry assured.

On the activities of herdsmen invading the stadium, the Minister said: “Well, I will blame the activities of herdsmen to the problem of compromised perimeter fencing. Yes, there are times cattle are found coming in and going out of the stadium, but beyond the cattle and herdsmen, miscreants are equally a menace too.

“I have also pointed out the losses we incurred in terms of vandalized facilities. So, there is the need to ensure that the entire areas covered by the stadium are protected. And efforts are made to fix the compromised perimeter fences. The assurance is that by August, it will not be the same stadium we used to know judging by the return of activities.

“However, it is pertinent to point out that the delays in finishing the renovation are caused by natural factors. For example, when the rain started in May this year, it actually destroyed some of the planted grasses. We had to start the entire process all over again.

“Again, the sprinklers equally had problems. In fact, they have to be completely replaced. At the time Dangote agreed to finance the project, the scope of the project was determined, but there were so many other things that could not have been captured until the contractor moved to site.

“It was in the process of evacuating that they found out that some of the assumptions they made were not captured. For instance, the underground pipes were compromised. We now have a situation where the contractor has to return to the financier through the department of facilities for some variation. That also caused some delays again,” he explained.

Asked what happened to the maintenance agreement with the construction company that built the stadium, Abiodun, the S.A Project said: “Details reaching the office of the Minister confirmed that there was an agreement between Berger and the sports ministry for the maintenance of the stadium especially as the construction company built a greater part of the stadium.

“But that agreement also has various terms and conditions. One of the things we are still verifying is the claim that facility managers then owed the contractor. However, it is still under investigation and I cannot categorically tell you what transpired that led to the collapse of the service agreement.”