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FG to restore lost glory of Obafemi Awolowo Stadium

Obafemi Awolowo Stadium formerly christened during its commissioning in 1960 as: the Liberty Stadium, located at Oke Ado area of Ibadan in Oyo State, had played host to many international tournaments just as many international footballers, athletes and sports enthusiasts had trained at the various training grounds within the expansive premises.

 

March past events which were usually celebrated on October 1 of every year to mark the Independence Day of the country from the Colonial Administrators, was until a few years ago, held at the stadium, where students converged to outwit one another in kinetic and acrobatic displays by the various schools.

 

The stadium, which was inaugurated with pomp and pageantry as one of the monumental infrastructures established then in the Western Region of Nigeria, got birthed during the tenure of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was then serving as the Premier of the Western Region at the time.

 

The stadium was a beehive of activities in 1999 when it played host to the FIFA World Youth Championship as one of the host venues in the country.

 

The teams that participated in the tournament at the Obafemi Awolowo Stadium included: those from Mexico, Republic of Ireland, Australia and Saudi Arabia to the delight of football crazy Ibadan fans. Very functional then were the two big hostels that could house hundreds of athletes and sports lovers, the football pitch with bahama grass, the beautiful tracks with eight lanes which went round the main bowl, and the flood lights, as well as, the electronic scoreboard adorning the illuminated array of well-arranged seats.

 

Sadly over the last 22 years, however, the alluring glory of the Obafemi Awolowo Stadium had considerably declined. Successive Federal Governments through the Ministry of Sports had reduced the level of commitment and funding for the stadium, thereby leaving it and its facilities in a parlous state of existence.

 

Weather has beaten the roof of the stadium such that recently it has been leaking whenever it rained; the  grasses on the pitch have become tattered, dry and bald, just as the pristine tartan tracks have now become mere tar and unfit for track events.

 

A visit to the Stadium premises a few days ago by New Telegraph revealed a sordid spectacle of the on time crowd-pulling infrastructure. The hostel, which is located directly behind the main bowl, is currently in a dilapidated and desolate condition.

 

The facia board of the roof was an eye sore as it has been removed; the glass door leading to the hostel has been damaged such that anybody can enter unhindered.

 

The fallow right part of the premises has been converted to a farm as cassava plants now flourish on it. There are about 60 rooms on the square-shaped two floors beside the basement where a makeshift poultry now thrives. Two young men were seen behind the hostel that had straw weeds overgrown round it.

 

One of them, who spoke with New Telegraph on a condition of anonymity, claimed that they were camping in the hostel. Asked to comment on the state of the infrastructural facility, he said: “Sometimes, people come here for training and they camp in this hostel. There is no power supply here except that the management puts on the generator at times when there are events. This place is usually dark in the evening. We do move out to go and charge our phones because there is no power supply here. Water supply is also through the deep well existing here. We draw water from it to flush our waste anytime we use the toilets.

 

To prevent mosquito bites, each person provides a mosquito net of his own because many of the safety nets on the windows have been damaged over time. “Some of the staff of this stadium used to come and sleep in the hostel sometimes. The poultry in the basement is being kept by someone who oversees monitoring of the facility.

 

There is security here as we have a policeman that stays and sleeps here for protection purposes,” the resident said. As part of the security lapses noticed in the stadium, the pedestrian part of the gate beside the main hostel that leads to the Ososami area, though it had an iron bar across it, was left open. People were seen moving in and out of the gate from the Ososami area.

 

The experience showed laxity and porosity of the stadium in terms of security. The main gate that opens to Oke Ado was, however, secured as security men were there lifting the bar for motorists to enter and exit, just as pedestrians’ missions were demanded before allowing them in.

 

The main bowl of the stadium is now a shadow of its old self. The facial board of the roof is worn, revealing the tattered roof top. The floodlights are in decrepit state, while the electronic score board only stands skeletally with the perforated iron bars housing the lights standing abandoned.

 

The grass on the field of the main bowl has become so weather-beaten that most of it revealed bare sands bereft of grass protection. The tracks where athletes used to run on  have become so bare that only the tar remains. In short, the main bowl is not fit presently for any sporting event.

 

A walk round the surrounding premises of the stadium also showed the volleyball court completely abandoned with dark mucus on the floor, interspaced by weeds. The court is completely disused and non-functional.

 

The building for indoor games and sporting activities situated close to the second hostel was locked up and deserted when New Telegraph visited. A training pitch beside Kayrom Lee Gym Centre was, however, functional. It was smoothly mowed and the green grass was lush and full.

 

It was discovered that the pitch was rehabilitated a few years ago and appears to be taken care of by a private organisation. The concrete floor of the basketball pitch beside the second hostel has gone cracked with the barbed wire perimeter fence gone. The surroundings have been taken over by weeds.

 

Two men were seen training on the pitch where the basket stand has lost the accompanying net. At the swimming pool section, there are three swimming pools with water in them.

 

However, it is the only one that remains functional as at the time it was visited last week. The last one at the rear is of Olympic size while the one in the middle, as well as, that in the front are of normal size.

 

The first two are disused and abandoned. It is only the first one that is functional. It was even being attended to by a staffer who was cleaning the water using a generator to power the hose.

 

Apparently, the swimming pool was still functional as its water was very clean and transparent unlike the other two. When asked to comment on the state of things, particularly, the infrastructural facilities in the stadium, the Stadium Manager, Mr. Fatai Odunlami said he could not grant any press interview as he was not directed by the Minister for Sports, Mr Sunday Dare, to do so. “Whoever that is directed and is saying ‘I’m directed’, cannot talk to the Press. It is only if the Minister directs me to talk that I can talk.

 

You know I am a civil servant. So, I cannot comment on any of the questions you have asked me, please,” Odunlami said. Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Sports has taken steps to revive the old glory of the Obafemi Awolowo Stadium with the recent  visit of members of the House of Representatives Committee on Youths and Sports Development on an assessment of the facilities in the stadium.

 

Representing the minister on the assessment trip was the Director of Procurement for the Ministry, Mr. Segun Oke, who conducted the committee members round the stadium on Sunday, October 24, 2021.

 

The House Committee was led by the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Sports, Hon. Olalekan Rasheed Afolabi and was accompanied by other members including: Hon. Taiwo Adewale who is representing Ibarapa East /Ido federal constituency, and Hon. Ogene Egoh, from Amuwo Odofin federal constituency, Lagos.

 

Oke on behalf of the minister identified the roof and the main bowl of the stadium as areas begging for urgent attention in terms of repairs. He noted that the repair work was already captured in the 2021 budget, while assuring Nigerians that the process would begin this month.

 

He stressed that the budget would not be rolled over, and that after the completion of the items in the budget, the next phase of work at the stadium would be captured in the next budgets, thus making the stadium to wear a new look befitting of a standard sporting arena.

 

While addressing journalists on behalf of the minister, Oke said: “I can assure that what is budgeted for the stadium in the 2021 budget will not be rolled over. We are completing the process next week.

 

After the completion of the process, the contractor will move to the site immediately. The way we are moving, as I am speaking with you now, my staff are going to sleep in the office throughout this weekend because we want to make sure we complete the process next week.

 

“I am giving Nigerians the assurance that we are completing the process next week by the grace of God.

 

We are assuring the National Assembly and the whole nation that this place will wear a new look with the roof repaired and the main bowl rehabilitated.”

 

The Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Sports, Hon. Afolabi, later told journalists that the committee members came to the stadium to see things for themselves, stressing that: “We are here to inspect the state of the Liberty Stadium, to see if any job has commenced or not, because we have appropriated money for the replacement of the roof which was in the 2021 budget.

 

“We came here physically to see things for ourselves and get the assurance from those who are in charge of the Ministry of Sports Development as regards the starting of the renovation of the roof and grassing of the main bowl. By now, we expected the contractor to be on site.

 

So, we are here to see what is happening and ask some questions from the head of the team in the Ministry of Youths and Sports to tell us the position of things as regards the renovation.

 

“The Director of Procurement has given us the assurance that the contracting process will be completed within the next one week and will ensure that the contractor moves to the site immediately and will be mobilized.

 

They have promised us that the roofing of this shed will be completed by the end of this year. We are looking at between November and December which is a cycle of two months, and this place will wear a new look.

 

“This is one of the heritages of sports in this country. We know very soon, things will change for better. We are working assiduously at the National Assembly to ensure that adequate provision is made in the budget for sports infrastructure and to engage the youth to curb restiveness among them,” he said.

 

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