The Lost World of Surulere National Stadium

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Reviving the once cherished and adorned Surulere National Stadium in the heart of Lagos maybe a huge task as far as reshaping and refurbishing the dilapidated facilities are concerned.

Just like the Maracanã Stadium, home to the Brazilian national team, the Surulere Stadium was a fortress for the Super Eagles and their age grade teams against any opponents in any international matches.

When the stadium was built in 1972, it had a capacity of 55,000. The capacity was then reduced to 45,000 in 1999. The record attendance is 85,000 and was taken in the final match of the African Cup of Nations in 1980 between Nigeria and Algeria.

It hosted several international competitions including the 1980 African Cup of Nations final, the 2000 African Cup of Nations final, and FIFA World Cup qualifying matches. It also served as the main stadium for the 1973 All-Africa Games.

For unknown reasons, the National Stadium has been left dilapidated since 2002. It last hosted a national team game in 2004.

In the past few years, the stadium has been known for hosting religious events, parties and various frivolous activities, which has left it to a state of eyesore.

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The swimming pool has become a house for maggots and earthworms to sleep rather than its purpose which it was created for. The gym house and tennis court are few of the many facilities that are still functioning, a situation which explains the state of the main bowl.

However, going by the strong words from the current Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung to fix the entire main bowl, there may be an element of hope for the future.

Having pointed out that the movement of the seat of power to Abuja was not enough reason for the abandonment of facilities in Lagos or any other part of the country, for that matter, he however, revealed that the stadium may take a new look under his own dispensation.

“I have been told stories about the abandonment of sports facilities in Lagos but I didn’t consider the situation as serious and embarrassing as I found out. It is a sad story,” Dalung said at a post-tour briefing at the National Stadium.

“The idea of concentrating on Abuja and neglecting other areas will not promote national unity, national cohesion and national development. We must take critical decisions on what to do with our facilities. They belong to all Nigerians,” he said.

“Lack of stable leadership in the ministry is a major cause. A situation where you find a minister lasting less than one year in office is not good enough for consistent policy implementation. Some of the decisions on facilities are so critical that cannot be reached in six months,” he said, adding that poor maintenance culture in Nigeria was another factor.

Despite identifying instability in the leadership of the supervisory ministry and the attitude of those who are supposed to take care of the facilities as reason for the poor state of the facilities, it is however, not enough to largely assume that as the brain behind the negligence of the main bowl; considering the fact that politicking and other forms of corruption is one of the major setbacks that has hindered the reformation of the stadium.

It is also appalling to know that government interests in hosting international matches in their own state venue in a bid to increase their popularity and attract a level of acceptability in their states have deprived the main bowl of its pride, which was the talk of the whole federation.

In Nigeria, corruption has been the biggest bane that has reduced the level of development and maintenance of facilities at the Surulere National Stadium. Everybody wants to enrich their personal pockets at any slight opportunity that comes their way; something which ought not to be, in the normal sense.

Consequently, over-dependence on government for funds when the private sectors can take some of the huge responsibility if approached has made it look as if nothing can be done without government interference.

By and large, it will be ideal if all hands are on deck regardless of the Sports Minister’s commitment to rebuild and bring back the glory days of the Surulere National Stadium. Words and money alone may not be enough but action through proper monitoring and financial appropriation in building a sustainable home for all could be a step in the right direction.