Sports

National Stadium update: Its sorrow, tears, blood

…as illegal structures’ owners groan after demolition

One of the popular songs of the late Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, is ‘Sorrow, Tears and Blood’, that’s the situation at the moment with the occupants of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos after they were all sent packing from the complex.

On June 9, 2020, the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Mr. Sunday Dare, via a Webinar online conference, inaugurated a 13-man Ministerial Task Force to look at the tenanted facilities at the National Stadium and after submitting a Comprehensive Audit Report, the minister on August 10, however, inaugurated another committee to see to the implementation of the Task Force.

The Implementation Committee was headed by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Youth and Sports, Gabriel Aduda, while a former Technical Director of the Athletic Federation of Nigeria, Navy Commodore Omatseye Nesiama (rtd), was asked to serve as the co-chairman. Speaking at the occasion, Dare announced Federal Government’s plans to return the National Stadium to its original blueprint as he blamed the previous administrations for abandoning the national asset to rot for two decades.

He noted that the move is necessary in order to create room for individuals interested in concessioning the stadium. Speaking after inauguration, the co-chairman said the committee would definitely step on toes as they are not going to leave any stone unturned to achieve their target. Nesiama told SaturdayTelegraph that: “The Task Force already submitted their reports and we are going to be looking at that to prepare ourselves for what to do. “It is not going to be easy but if stepping on toes will help us return the place to its lost glory, then we are ready to do that.

“There are some people occupying the place illegally while some legal people are drifting towards illegalities. We are going to put everything straight and chart a new way forward. “We have started our work immediately and the key thing for us is to prepare the place for any investors coming and hopefully we will achieve that.” Immediately after the inauguration, the committee swung into work as they issued the occupants a seven-day ultimatum with an additional seven days, just to drive the message that they would begin demolition by September 1.

It is believed that the Stadium facility hosts about 200 businesses with over 3,000 employees, but unfortunately, with the government’s recent action, the businesses will now have to find a new address, with some of the employees looking for a new job.

The most affected were the owners of the major businesses, popular O’jez which operates behind covered stand of the swimming pool area of the stadium and Old Skool located inside the Ayonate Boxing gym. The duo are said to have invested hundreds of millions into the venture in the last couple of years.

However, the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) and the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN), Lagos State chapter were spared in the exercise mainly because they are partners in sports development according to the report of the committee.

Efforts by our correspondent to get the reaction of the owners of the two ventures proved abortive as their numbers were not accessible especially who failed to pick his calls while not responding to messages. Another stakeholder at the complex, Paul Maduakor, the owner of Zennith Sports and Haggai Creations, said he had taken the situation in good faith.

Nigeria Gymnasts to the last Africa Games in Rabat, Morocco were kitted in Haggai Apparels as the organisation continuesΔ to support sports in the country. When contacted, Maduakor said it was not easy as he was asked to depart the complex within two weeks.

He, however, said the situation won’t stop him and his company from investing in sports in the country as he seeks for compensation from the government. He said: “We used our money to build all the structures we are using at the moment and it is normal to seek for compensation from government.

“Apart from the Gymnastic Federation, we have supported so many organizations and individuals especially the media. “I could recall that we have been the one providing kits for some of the media outlets during the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, Lagos State Chapters week.

“I heard there will be a new shopping complex later, but how are we so sure we are going to get shops there and when will they complete the project. “We are all counting our losses at the moment and just trying to find a way forward because we never expected this to happen so soon.” On their part, most of the affected shop owners claimed that they were not treated fairly as they lamented the loss that befell them. Saturday Telegraph’s visit to the stadium a week after the demolition work started, saw some of the shop owners removing the leftover of what used to be their shops while some who their structures were yet to be demolished moving their goods.

“I really don’t know what to say right now, I’m just dazed and the whole thing is in a confused state right now. You can see that I now display my sports wares at the entrance gate,” said Stanley Eze, who runs a sports shop in the stadium. Speaking with our correspondent, although on anonymity, some other businessmen lamented bitterly.

“What do you want me to say? When we asked you people to come to our aid, you didn’t do that,” the owner of one of the shops, Ceejay Sports, who claimed to have been at the stadium for 25 years said. “This is frustrating, they didn’t treat us fairly and I wonder if we really have a voice in this country.

They locked down everywhere since early March, we were not doing anything and suddenly you gave us just seven to 14 days to pack. This is not fair at all and no matter what we say now, the deed has been done. “I don’t even have a place to put my goods because I have both my warehouse and shops right inside the stadium, at the moment I am trying to move my goods to a friend’s warehouse but the place is already filled up too.

“Where do I start from, even if I am going to get a shop now, where will that be and how do I get the rent. “The most annoying thing now is the fact that you cannot open a sports shop anywhere within the town; it must be very close to where a sporting activities is going on and where can I get that at the moment?”

The owner of another shop next to Ceejay Sports, the Zicotex Sports Plaza, stated categorically that he won’t say a word as he is currently frustrated. Speaking further, some of the shop owners in anguish informed Saturday Telegraph that the government should have given them at least till the end of the year knowing full well they had not been doing anything since the general lockdown caused by the outbreak of the novel COVID- 19 Pandemic across the world. It was the same lamentation from another woman who revealed to Saturday Telegraph that herself alongside few of her siblings were operating about seven sports shop within the stadium. When asked to give her name for record purpose, she only pointed to the name on one of the shops which reads SO and Bros Trading Company. Sitting right in front of the shop wearing a long face, the woman said at times she feels people taking decisions affecting the populace do not have blood flowing through their veins.

She added: “How could you wake up and give people just seven to 14 days to leave where they are running their businesses without any consideration. “Alongside my brothers and sisters, we have about seven shops here within the complex and suddenly they asked us to leave. “We have been here for the last 15 years and just last my brother who own Filmo Sports Limited renovated his shop and gave it a new look. “We did not even hear any rumour about the impending demolition job; they just gave us letter and asked us to remove our things within two weeks. “Nobody is against their decision to renovate the stadium; it belongs to the federal government, but they should also consider us because we are not here illegally. We actually applied and space was allocated to us while we decided to put up the structure on the space allocated to us. “Apart from the fact that we went through due process, we are tenants and courtesy demand that they treat us well rather than the way we were treated.

“The owner of Gate Bolt Sports Shop just constructed his shop last year and now they are asking him to destroy the place, I really love what he told them, he asked them to do whatever they like with it as he cannot use his own hand to destroy what he built.” One of his brothers who was sitting right besides her added that because of their situation, house owners close to the stadium already increased their rent so as to cash in on their situation. He added that to get a shop now at places like Ojuelegba, Yaba and the environ, they will have to pay through their nose. When reminded that the committee already promised the construction of a shopping mall at the stadium, the shop owners said they will have to wait and see. Earlier, the co-Chairman of the committee, Nesiama had informed our correspondent that the government was already planning to construct a shopping mall at the complex to cater for the displaced individuals.

However, the shop owners said they don’t trust the government again and will only wait to see what will happen at the stadium. “The committee told us about the shopping mall, but we don’t even believe them. “How soon and when will the complex come up, what will happen to us between now and then? We are not happy because most of us have dependants and how do we cater for our family after this?” another shop owner, said. In a quick reaction, the committee revealed that they gave the occupants enough time as the current exercise started since last year. “We gave every affected individual proper notification which is a normal thing between landlord and tenants and in this case there was even an extension of the process so that nothing is lost aside losing rented apartment. “It is interesting to note that we have two categories of occupants namely illegal ones with little or no case for their predicament and the legal ones operating illegally on government property. “After engaging all of them individually and collectively last year, we had resolved that all those with evidence of legality will not renew their tenancy at the end of December last year and same thing applied to the other set who are here illegally. “The committee was working with a timeline to go ahead with the exercise in the first quarter of this year but COVID-19 which led to the lockdown slowed down the process.

“On a personal note, I sympathy with all those affected but it is one action that will benefit the sport sector in the long run,” he explained. Oni Afolabi, a Lagos-based journalist, shares the pain of the affected business owners being forcefully evicted from the national stadium. For him, the eviction of ordinary citizens, who are grappling with harsh economic realities occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic, is not well thought out and is also ill-timed. He said: “I think the Minister of Sports should seriously reconsider the eviction notice given to business owners within the premises of the National Stadium in Lagos because of its economic implications. “With over 3,000 people directly and indirectly affected by this, the economic implication at this crucial period cannot be quantified. “Most governments around the world have devised means to cushion the effect of the global lockdown on their citizens, here in Nigeria, we have only introduced taxes and destroyed businesses. “Nobody is kicking against this good idea of renovating the stadium, which is one of our national heritage, but there is a need to be strategic. “At the Abuja stadium where a similar renovation is taking place, Dangote Group is only renovating the main bowl and fixing the light while we wait for other investors to key in and fix other facilities. “The same format is expected when and if Baba Ijebu (Kensington Adebutu), takes over the National Stadium in Lagos. “So, the total eviction of business within the national stadium, which has no direct effect on the proposed renovation of the main bowl, is in bad faith and has left much to be desired.” He, however, called on the minister to investigate the huge monies that the stadium would have generated in past years. Since 2004, the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos, has been desolate with virtually all aspects of the complex, including the seats, tartan tracks, turf and the media centre in bad state. All the stalls under the ramps leading to the main bowl of the complex have been demolished while offices in the areas harbouring some national sports associations were also not spared.

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