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Football pitches suffer as politicians woo electorate using sporting arenas

Ahead of the 2023 general elections in Nigeria, political gladiators are currently traversing through the length and breadth of the country seeking for votes from…

Ahead of the 2023 general elections in Nigeria, political gladiators are currently traversing through the length and breadth of the country seeking for votes from the electorate.

As it is the practice, during electioneering campaigns, politicians usually gather their teeming supporters in one place at different intervals, where they woo the electorate using their party manifestos. The places often used for such political gatherings are sporting arenas, especially football stadiums.

Regardless of their sizes and sitting capacities, football stadiums appear to be the most convenient places to gather large crowds of supporters under the same roof at the same time.

Across the 36 states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), there are over 62 football stadia with sitting capacities ranging from 5,000 to 60,000. But during political rallies, these stadia’s original capacities are easily overstretched. Sadly, the lush green football pitches in the stadia are also not spared as the supporters of the candidates trample on the playing surfaces.

The truth is that almost all the stadiums in Nigeria are owned by the Federal and State governments. So, despite government funding, most of these hitherto beautiful edifices are now a shadow of themselves. Although some of the dilapidated stadia are still standing, some are in such deplorable conditions that they no longer serve the purposes for which they were built, making them readily available for use by vote-seeking political parties.

It will be recalled that during the recent inauguration of a mini stadium sited on a former dump site at Oke Aremo area of Oyo town, Oyo State, in honour of the former Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, the Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Mr Sunday Dare, had said decades of lack of maintenance of 110 sporting facilities across Nigeria made 85 per cent of them to go bad.

Sadly, going by past experiences, indications are strong that the already crumbling stadiums will suffer more abuses as the different political parties begin their hunt for votes in earnest.

In the ongoing campaigns, the ultra-modern Godswill Akpabio International stadium, also called ‘The nest of champions’ Uyo, in Akwa Ibom State, was the first to be ‘abused’ by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Since the governor of the state, Udom Emmanuel is the chairman of the Presidential Campaign Council (PCC), the Presidential candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, had to flag off his campaign in the oil rich state and the stadium was inevitably the most suitable venue. The lush green playing turf was trampled underfoot by overzealous politicians.

From Uyo, the PDP campaign train berthed at the Samuel Ogbemudia stadium in Benin City. This stadium which was renovated recently when Edo State hosted the 2020 National Sports Festival (NSF) was packed to the rafters by enthusiastic supporters.

In Lagos, supporters of the All Progressives Congress (APC), also staged a solidarity walk in support of the party’s Presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and vice presidential candidate, Senator Kashim Shettima, at the Teslim Balogun stadium, Lagos. With the renovation of the famous Onikan stadium renamed as Mobolaji Johnson Arena, Teslim Balogun stadium has not hosted any major football match but it was available for use as a campaign venue.

And in 2019, the Bauchi State government embarked on the rehabilitation and renovation of the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa stadium to fix the dilapidated structures, poor playing pitch and other facilities to return one of the best stadia in the North East region to life but less than two years after the facelift, the stadium is again in a bad condition due to the fact that it is oftentimes used for reasons other than football matches. In October, the arena was said to have hosted over 142,000 members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and other political parties who defected to the PDP.

It was the same scenario in Oyo when the PDP chieftain and Governor of the state, Seyi Makinde, received thousands of defectors from major opposition parties and other political structures at the Multipurpose Court of the Lekan Salami Sports Complex. The sports arena was recently renovated with cutting-edge structures and environment-friendly technologies. 

Without any doubt, other stadia like the Sani Abacha stadium Kano, Pillars stadium Kano, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa stadium Kaduna, Aper Aku stadium Makurdi, El-Kanemi Warriors stadium Maiduguri, Nnamdi Azikiwe International stadium Enugu, Stephen keshi stadium Asaba, Samson Siasia stadium Yenagoa, Adokiye Amiesimaka stadium Port-Harcourt, Yakubu Gowon stadium Port-Harcourt, Confluence stadium in Lokoja, New Jos Township stadium and a host of others will sooner than later, be subjected to the same treatment meted to the other stadia by vote seeking politicians.

However, it is pertinent to note that apart from abuses the sports facilities are subjected to, politicians have also been accused of using the edifices to play ‘dirty politics’.

Most times, opposition parties are allegedly denied the use of some of the stadiums by the political parties in power. Therefore, getting approval to use such facilities becomes like the proverbial journey of a camel through the eye of a needle.

In Kaduna for instance, the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC) was accused by its main rival, the PDP of denying its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, the use of the prestigious Ahmadu Bello Stadium (ABS).

It was alleged that the Federal Government through the minister of sports denied the PDP the use of the facility on the excuse that the stadium was under renovation.

It was, however, learnt that Governor Nasir El-Rufai intervened and provided an alternative venue for the PDP at Ranchers Bees stadium which has a smaller sitting capacity. 

The same scenario was witnessed in Nasarawa State where the Presidential candidate of Labour Party, Peter Obi, was given a small football field for his campaign because that was the ‘only available venue’. 

According to the state governor, Abdullahi Sule, an APC chieftain, Obi was given the smallest venue in Lafia because bigger venues were under repair.

“For your information when they asked for a venue, we gave him the smallest venue of our events in Lafia, that’s a small football field, just around the science school, not because we didn’t want to give them the stadium. Our stadium, actually there’s work going on there; not because we didn’t want to give them the Lafia square which is almost like the Eagle’s Square (in Abuja) in size,” he said on Channels TV. 

Elsewhere, the Abia State Government under the control of the PDP has banned unauthorised use of public-school facilities, stadiums and other public places in the state for campaign rallies.

A statement signed by the State commissioner for information, Eze Chikamnayo, said no politician or group would be allowed to make use of school facilities, stadiums and other public places in the state without the consent of the governor. 

The statement stressed that political parties will have to apply to use any government facilities and secure approval, adding that the users must accept responsibility for any damage to such facilities. 

And prior to the Osun State governorship elections in July, the PDP was allegedly denied the use of the Osogbo Township Stadium but the APC used the same stadium for all its rallies. 

From the foregoing, it is an open secret that some football pitches have already suffered abuses in the hands of votes-seeking politicians and more will suffer the same fate as political campaigns gather momentum ahead of the 2023 general elections.

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