BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
The National Stadium in Lagos, once a pride to Nigeria, clocks 46 years this Tuesday from the date it was inaugurated by General Yakubu Gowon in 1972.
Now in complete state of repairs, the arena that hosted the 2nd All Africa Games and the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations as well as some of the matches, including the final of the 2000 edition has long seen its better days.
Yet it sits at the centre of the metropolitan Lagos mainland and remains a reference point in any discourse of how facilities and national monuments disintegrate in Nigeria.
The sports standard of a region is most times, a product of the facilities it offers. Hence, the level of success is linked with the amount of resources committed to sports.
Such resources are more visible in the magnitude of stadiums available. Brazil for instance, boasts of imposing stadiums like Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Magalhaes Pinto in Balo Horizonte, Morunbi in Sao Paulo and Arrudao in Recife.
The trend is worldwide. The football strongholds of Europe and South America boast of magnificent sports edifices, which command attention in size and architecture.
Some of these great football grounds are time-honoured. Their histories date back to 1920s. Yet through maintenance and constant updating, they still meet the demands of present time
What is the situation at the Lagos National Stadium? In the bowels of the partly covered arena, the seats, which were fixed while the nation was crazy to host in 1995, what has become the FIFA U-20 World Cup, have become relics.
The electronic scoreboard merely stands as a huge black carcass atop the eastern semi-circular end. When Nigeria’s Flying Eagles hosted their Ethiopian counterparts at the stadium in one of the qualifying matches for the 1987 FIFA World Youth Championships, the Ethiopians described the National Stadium pitch as merely good for horse races. It has since gone from bad to worse as the initial lush green grass has gone from yellow to brown.
Relics of the scoreboard at the stadium
Even though the arena was opened on December 4, 1972 at a ceremony in which Nigeria beat Mali 3-0, its origin dates back to the 1951 when the site was acquired.
Then, the Nigeria National Stadium Board of Management had one Mr. C E Newham as chairman. The stadium was built in two stages. Phase one was a pre-fabricated timber terrace supported by scaffolding built in 1960 for the independence celebrations and the West African Games.
The remains of the once upon a time national pride
The arena was demolished in 1962 when a new design was adopted. Messrs Mence, Moore Mort Architects, prepared it. But work did not begin until the laying of foundation stone by Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, on March 14, 1970.
Owing to the eight-year delay in the reconstruction of the arena, some of the materials designed for use in the works were not available during construction period.
Substitution had to be made. One of such was the use of twisted bars in place of tentor bars as high tensile steel reinforcement.
Also many products such as reinforced rods and electrical cables were only available in metric sizes as opposed to imperial units used in the design. Instead of proposed cinder track, synthetic materials were used.
Also, introducing intermediate support reduced the length of cantilever, the pillars supporting the roof at the covered stands from 23.77 metres to about 15.84 metres.
Messrs. Ove Arup and Partner Consulting Engineers carried out the engineering work of the project.
The consulting electrical engineers were Messrs Ademola Fowora and Associates. The project was that of Ministry of Labour.
In view of the fact that it was a major civil engineering project, Federal Government directed that the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing should carry supervision of the construction, so that the Director of Federal Public Works was the engineer for the project.
The contractors, Messrs. Cappa and D’Alberto took possession of the site in October 1969. After clearing the site of the temporary structures, the setting out for the frames of stands was carried out.
One problem area was the floodlights towers, which stand at 62.18 metres. There was the problem of reaching the top of the four towers by crane.
Then, the tallest crane in Lagos was 38.1 metres. Trial concrete mixes were carried out for the various types of concrete to be used for the construction works.
Suitable mixes were obtained and work progressed until there was shortage of steel reinforcement. Modifications were made and work ended early in January 1973 just in time for the 2nd All Africa Games, which acted as a catalyst for speeding up the beginning and completion of the project.
The result is a saucer-shaped main bowl. It is served by 12 ramps leading to main bowl and the stands have 72 exit points. The stadium could hold about 50,000 spectators. Two thousand of these occupied the standing terraces until the sections were phased out during the renovation of the stadium.
As part of preparations to host the World Youth Championship in 1995, the stadium’s concrete slabs were replaced with seats for individuals thus reducing the stadium’s capacity from 50,000 to 39,858.
The once glamorous arena no longer holds sports meets, but has turned into social hangout place and occasional used for religious gatherings and a haven for street urchins.
It last hosted the national football team on April 30, 2004 when a second tier Nigerian team lost 0-1 to Senegal in a trade-missioned LG sponsored competition.