The Nigerian Government Persisted In Sports’ Underdevelopment

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The furore over a N21 billion rehabilitation plan for the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, was enough evidence that like his predecessors, the President, Muhammadu Buhari, has bungled sport administration. 

The pushback by the Minister of Youth and Sports, Sunday Dare, to the decay at the complex is a belated one.

Nor is the situation at the other sport centres owned by the Federal Government any better.

In the interest of the country’s sport development, this ought to change.

Built for N12 million and opened in 1972 by the Yakubu Gowon regime, the decaying stadium mirrors the central government’s voracious appetite for acquiring what it cannot manage. Stadiums constructed by the defunct regional governments in Ibadan, Kaduna and Enugu were all appropriated by the Federal Government. The outcome is that Abuja lacks the resources and acumen to maintain them.

Successive governments seem to have been oblivious of the weighty role sport plays in a country’s socioeconomic life.

This is evident in the appointment of non-sporting personnel appointed as sport ministers by successive presidents since 1999. 

Currently, the media has exposed the decay at the Surulere edifice, which was once the pride of all Nigerians.

With the Buhari regime on its way out, the incoming administration must make sport development and reinvention of facilities a core undertaking.

The specifics of the decay, as unearthed by a national newspaper report, are distressing. It detailed how a three-pronged reconstruction work sponsored by a private individual has gone awry three years after it began in 2020.

Originally scheduled to last six months, the reconstruction, costing $1 million, is for the football pitch, tracks, and scoreboard.

On Wednesday, the newspaper reported that one of the giant floodlights collapsed shortly after a morning downpour.

The ministry cannot afford to wait until a costlier disaster happens in Surulere and other arenas before doing the right thing.

Dare, on Friday, ordered its temporary closure.

However, like most things Nigerian, the renewal missed the deadline, and other depth of dereliction was further unveiled.

The elements have torn off the roof of the covered stands, the seats broken, the dressing rooms in tatters, the turnstiles, and toilets non functional. 

It has been like this for decades. 

The swimming pool, the indoor and knockdown halls, the tennis courts, and the practice pitch give only a glimpse of their former glory.

During a visit there, current Minister of Sports, Dare laid the blame at the feet of his predecessors stating that all federal administrations since 1999 had abandoned the edifice. 

This excuse is a weak one given that he and Buhari have had four and eight years respectively to do better than their predecessors and fix the problem.

Dare said N21 billion is needed to restore the stadium fully. He needs to provide the public with specifics of this.

On electricity, the Surulere stadium and the Obafemi Awolowo Stadium in Ibadan, Oyo State, are said to owe the utility companies about N950 million. 

Ministries, departments, and agencies at the federal, state, and local levels are notorious for owing utility companies.

Reputable facilities are at the heart of sport development. Without them, Nigeria cannot expect to be a major global force in sport. Currently, facilities are either non-existent or are weather-beaten. Up-and-coming athletes struggle to find training facilities.

The neglect, poor administration and woeful facilities have reflected on the country’s performance on the field. Although the Super Eagles qualified for the World Cup 2018 in Russia, their listless outing saw them bundled out in the first round. The Eagles fell to Ghana’s Black Stars in the final qualification hurdle for the World Cup 2022 in Qatar. 

Nigeria also loses because sport is a major economic booster elsewhere. 

Statista reported that the global sports market grew from $486.61 billion in 2022 to $512.14 billion in 2023.

According to the BBC, in the 2019/2020 season, Premier League football contributed £7.6 billion to the UK economy. That year, the Premier League and its clubs generated a total tax contribution of £3.6 billion to the UK Exchequer, £1.4 billion of which was from the players.

Sport thrives better as a private enterprise. Therefore, the government should relinquish its grip on sport associations. This is the way to attract mega sponsorship deals from multinationals. In Europe, most associations are privately run with the government giving them annual grants to participate in international competitions.

Nigeria’s federal and state governments should do likewise.

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