BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
The compact waterfront sports stadium in Lagos, Nigeria, the Onikan Arena has been renamed after the first Lagos State Governor, retired Brig. Gen. Mobolaji Johnson who died on October 30.
The renaming was announced on Tuesday by the governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, during a ‘Day of Honour’ event organised to celebrate the exit of the pioneer governor of the state. Mobolaji Johnson became the Governor of Lagos when it was formerly proclaimed a state on May 27, 1967.
Before then, the city had existed first as a Colony of Lagos under the British and later as a federal territory before 1967.
The area is therefore having its sixth name since it was built in 1936 as the Association Ground. At the beginning in 1936, the site was fenced with raffia mats and had two gates.
One was for the important people while the other gate was for the masses. On April 12, 1952, it was renamed as King George V (KGV) to mark the coronation of England monarch. That was the first change of name for the arena.
The mats gave way to concrete walls while a small place was designated for players and officials. The stadium which was the birthplace of the first national competition, the Governor’s Cup and also the premier home ground for Nigeria’s national team.
At the time, the then Association ground was given a facelift to commensurate the new status it was to enjoy being named after the English monarch. It was later renamed as Lagos City Stadium in October 1963 when Nigeria became a republic.
The last national cup final was played at the arena on October 14, 1972 when Bendel Insurance were held to 2-2 draw by Mighty Jets. The stadium existed as Lagos City Stadium until the Government of Brig. Gen Mobolaji Johnson demolished it on June 7, 1973.
The last match at the Lagos City Stadium was a derby of Stationery Stores and NEPA, which the latter won 2-1. Skipper Okonji of NEPA scored the winning goal and very last one at the old soccer temple.
It took another nine years for the stadium to come back to life when Alhaji Lateef Jakande, the first civilian governor of Lagos State commissioned a rebuilt one on October 2, 1982. Like the demolished old edifice, it was another NEPA versus Stores local derby that featured as the first match.
Again, it was a NEPA player, Depriye Tebowei that scored the first goal in the arena that was renamed from Lagos City Stadium as Onikan Stadium.
That structure was pulled down in 2017 and the rebuilt version, which was initially renamed as Onikan Arena is now the Mobolaji Johnson Arena.