On Friday, January 27, the Federal Government officially transferred ownership of the Ahmadu Bello Stadium (ABS) Kaduna to the Kaduna State Goverment. The brief ceremony which ended with a novelty football match between Team el-Rufai and Team Dare on the bumpy pitch of ABS came after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two parties. While the Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, signed for the Federal Government, Governor Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai signed on behalf of the kaduna State Government.
Although details of the agreement are still unknown, what is now an open secret is that the 25,000 capacity stadium built in 1965 by the late Premier of northern region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, will henceforth be controlled and managed by the Kaduna State Government for the benefit of the 19 northern states and Nigeria in general.
It is also important to note that the edifice boasts of other sports facilities like three Olympic standard swimming pools, two indoor sports halls and other outdoor sports facilities. This means the stadium is not only about the main bowl which has hosted historic matches including the one which featured the legendary Pele of Brazil who passed away recently.
The transfer of ABS to Kaduna State is not a new development because other national edifices like the Nnamdi Azikiwe stadium and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa stadium had been handed over to Enugu State and Bauchi State respectively. Therefore, those who may be tempted to say the transfer of ABS to the Kaduna State Government is an All Progressives Congress (APC), affair should be guided.
However, in view of the fact that infrastructure is the back bone of sports development, the question we should ask is, how far with the other stadia already transferred to the state governments? It would be a fat lie, if we say that the Nnamdi Azikiwe stadium Enugu and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa stadium in Bauchi have been transformed or elevated to world class sporting facilities. These facilities are worse off and this explains why for two seasons now, Enugu Rangers are playing their home matches at neighbouring Awka City stadium in Anambra State.
This is enough for us to question the capacity of states to upgrade and manage these national assets that the present Federal Government is eager to transfer to them in line with the newly introduced National Sports Industry Policy (NSIP), which among other things, is centered on sub-national governments as well as private sector involvement in sports development in Nigeria. Already the Minister of Sports has announced that the next in line to be transferred without a ‘sign on fee’ is the Obafemi Awolowo stadium in Ibadan.
So, I am not enthusiastic about the transfer of these sporting edifices because most of the stadia that are built by the various state governments are in comatose. It is the same old story of lack of maintenance. I always wonder why we have become so used to what is now known as poor maintenance culture. Is there any state owned stadium that is well maintained? Let’s take few examples and the answer to this question will come out clearly.
Lobi Stars are not playing at the Aper Aku stadium in Makurdi because the league organizers banned the pitch and other facilities there. The same hammer fell on Lafia Township stadium owned by the Nasarawa State Government. Consequently, both Lobi Stars and Nasarawa United were playing their home matches in Jos until United suddenly opted for ABS as their new home ground. The Bako Kotangora stadium Minna is also dilapidated that is why Niger Tornadoes are playing their home matches in Kaduna. Kwara United are playing in Ibadan at the Lekan Salami stadium because the Ilorin Township stadium is in a sorry state presently. Abia Warriors and El-Kanemi Warriors will soon be sent away from their home grounds because of substandard facilities. And the biggest shame has just befallen Rivers State whose club, Rivers United, are to play their CAF Confederations Cup matches at the ‘Nest of Champions’ in Uyo because the Adokiye Amasiemaka stadium is below international standard.
These few examples are sufficient to convince us that state governments have not fared any better in sports facilities management. So, where is the belief that they would manage better the national assets being transferred to them coming from?
When ABS was handed over to the Kaduna State Government, Governor El-Rufai made a solemn pledge to modernise it to a world standard edifice suitable for everyone to watch football and other sports events. He also promised to collaborate with the private sector to ensure that all other uncompleted facilities at the stadium are completed. Of course, the Governor is not a failure. He once demonstrated his capacity to destroy illegal structures when he served as FCT a minister and he is presently building critical infrastructure for residents of Kaduna State.
However, if I were there when he took over ABS, I would have reminded him that the famous Ranchers Bees stadium is also in need of urgent attention. The Muritala Mohammed Square which houses some sports facilities is also not glittering enough. This means, no one should expect anything miraculous to happen to the newly acquired ABS anytime soon.
However, if Governor El-Rufai will prove skeptics wrong by transforming the stadium to a world class facility before his exit in May, the 19 northern states would heave a sigh of relief. Without any doubt, the north is lagging far behind in certain sports because of lack of facilities. A sport like swimming which offers so many medals at championships is not popular in the north because the region can only boost of private swimming pools. I doubt if there is a single standard and functional swimming pool in any of the stadia in the north.
Therefore, if all His Excellency, El-Rufai can do is to revive the three abandoned swimming pools inside the ABS Kaduna for use by the 19 northern states, it will be a major achievement.