It is like a routine. Every sports minister gets appointed and sworn-in in Abuja. Barely one week after assuming official duties, the minister heads for Lagos to inspect the National Stadium.
Upon getting into the stadium, he is taken on a facility tour of the complex. Soon after the tour, he addresses the sporting media; whereupon he laments “how bad” the stadium has become and then pledges that Federal Government will “look into it”.
He is applauded by his audience and as he leaves the stadium on his way back to Abuja, he feels fulfilled that he has “started well” and the sporting media as well as other stakeholders look forward to renovation of the 46-year-old stadium.
At the last count, not less than six ministers have in succession “inspected’ the stadium and promised to upgrade it “soonest”. When the incumbent Sports Minister, Mr. Solomon Dalung, assumed office in December 2015, many thought it was only a matter of time before he fulfilled the routine inspection.
He did not disappoint. As he carried out the inspection, he did not also fail to lament the rot while promising to “leave no stone unturned” to bring the stadium back to its enviable past.
Fifteen months have passed since Dalung made his pledge. Nothing has happened by way of giving the stadium a face-lift, let alone a massive renovation. Suddenly, it emerged that the Sports Ministry had handed refurbishing and maintenance of the National Stadium to the Lagos State Government.
It was an elaborate event that first saw Dalung pay a courtesy visit to the Lagos State Governor Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode at the Lagos House, Alausa before the duo consummated the “deal” at the stadium on the same day.
Akinwunmi was also taken on a tour of the fast-decaying facility, after which he said the state would “turn around” the stadium in six months. An elated Dalung had expressed a wish that the stadium “could be ready to host a World Cup 2018 qualifier between Super Eagles and Indomitable Lions of Cameroon” billed for August, to which Ambode agreed, even though on principle.
Was this wholesale ceding or collaboration? Silence! At least, what was clear was the sports ministry’s penchant for relinquishing statutory responsibility at will, as well as Ambode’s renowned acumen to turn virtually everything to profit-making in line with his calling as an accountant.
But, was the sports minister not aware that the impending Eagles versus Lions clash had long been scheduled to hold at the usual Akwa Ibom International Sports Stadium, Uyo? No matter?
Early last week, however, exactly five days after the “stadium handing over” ceremony, it emerged that Dalung might not have consulted widely before tasking the Lagos Government with the National Stadium renewal.
Reports said some legislators at the House of Representatives had weighed the event and ruled it as “not proper” and had begun moves to raise the matter on the floor of the House “soonest”.
In a veiled reaction, an aide of Ambode had not actually rubbished the move by the legislators. But he said: “It is not worth troubling ourselves over. When we get to the bridge, we will know how to cross it.”
Perhaps, Dalung also felt a bit jolted that he might have overreached himself. He kicked against the reported lawmakers’ move, saying it was “politically motivated”. How so, it could be asked. After all, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) which controls the centre is the same that controls Lagos State. Where then is the conflict of interest?
The minister seemed to have made up his mind on the stadium hand-over. Hear him: “Our (the sports ministry’s) action is not a mistake. Lagos is strategic for Nigeria and we believe the state government will prove capable in turning around the stadium.”
In case there are doubts as to Dalung’s resolve, hear him again: “I will resist all attempts by any person or group of persons to stop our plan to return the National Stadium to its glorious past. No matter what, politics will not be allowed to have its way on this matter.”
The foregoing begets the following question in view of the stumbling block that looks likely to ambush realisation of the “new” National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos: For whom is this “renewal” and what for? Did Dalung also foresee the lawmakers’ opposition or any opposition whatsoever from any quarters?
We can only wait as the days and weeks ahead unfold.