Recently, in the build up to the just concluded Nigeria vs Ghana match, I was driving past the stadium and wondering about these issues. Why can there not be matches and other activities there weekly or once in two weeks? Why can the sports administrators not draw up a schedule for the engagement of the stadium?’ And so on, as I went to a restaurant for lunch. At the door, I saw the security man holding tickets and trying to interest customers and was being mostly ignored. I was excited and bought 20 tickets. I reckoned why not be a catalyst to the use of this stage just as I had been preaching. I posted that I had tickets on Facebook, shared some to my staff and some of my Facebook friends came forward to collect the tickets. I thought it was a great idea to bring positive attention to the stadium and support our team at the same time. I would have loved to see our boys in real life too but was certain of not being in Abuja on that day. I later went and bought 10 more. All given out. That was my contribution.
The stadium was full like never before – from what I later saw on TV. Of course, we have overturned the COVID-19 masking and spacing rubbish that was never needed in our climate anyway. Nigerians were happy to be in that stadium that had kept them out for so long.
A little bit of the history of that stadium will help. It was built by the Germans and Chinese in time for the COJA (All Africa Games) of 2003 hosted by Nigeria. At that time, there were many stories of contract inflation, mismanagement and embezzlement (not as fantastic as what we hear today though). But Nigerians were happy to see the physical manifestation of an Olympic stadium. When the game started, Nigerians hustled down to go watch them. But that was where the trouble started. There were no clearly spelled out arrangements for crowd management. People did not know where the entrance was. Direction was poor. At the end, security service personnel started beating people who tried to crawl in from any opening on the day Nigeria had a crucial meet – usually football. People will crawl under barbed wires, and jump the fence where they could, just to get in. The security services and the management of the game only had arrangements for VIPs.
Seeing Nigerians – young street urchins – start to destroy the only standard stadium in Nigeria because we lost to Ghana broke my heart. The class issue comes up again. Can a stadium be built around the well-to-do only? Should our sports ministry keep out poor folks? If not – and I think not – what should be done to keep people at bay?
This newfound manner of destroying things took root during #EndSARS and I recall warning then. Our poor people have tasted blood and will now readily get back at society for real and perceived ills done to them. Can our elites – especially the current government – see what they have done to the lives of millions of Nigerians? Can the elite see that the zombies they created are at their doors? Can the youths also see that this problem has caught up with them as it soon gets to their turns to lead and manage the country? As rich folks in government want only mismanage resources and turn a blind eye to the most vulnerable amongst us, the poor have also taken on a destructive mode as if to say we must drag ourselves down into nothingness, disintegration, even more abject poverty by all means ? Are we seeing that the rest of the world is watching us and taking notes? When will we get a good government that understands how to harness the minds of its vast majority rather than let them drift in every direction where they have become agents to the devil?
I learned that at some point the stadium gates were thrown open for all and sundry. I hope people were frisked before they got in. Why sell tickets if you knew that the stadium will be thrown open? Maybe if people pay a token they will behave better or perhaps that small payment keeps out the more aggrieved and violent sort. Was it that the marketers of the program did not do a good job? Did they give up? Why did Nigerians not buy their tickets on time? After sharing all 30 tickets that I bought, people were still calling me a day before the match; even on the match day, despite that I shared the phone number of the AIT staff who sold the tickets and I informed all that the tickets were finished. Do Nigerians want everything for free? What about the middle class? Don’t they see that the Abuja MKO Stadium is lying waste and dilapidating due to total neglect? Must they be forced to buy tickets to watch a match.
My staff who went informed me that it was street urchins who ended up in the VIP stand and the stadium was filled beyond capacity. Hope the ministry has learned. It is just so sad that the world football body has banned that stadium indefinitely because it was more than obvious that officials could not secure the pitch. Ghanaian players had to run for their lives after the match as they were being pursued by aggressive Nigerian fans. Unfortunately, in the confusion one official collapsed and died.
But I believe there are opportunities for employment creation, leadership, and many positives in these challenges. For one, Nigeria needs to become a police state to save herself. The same youths who are destroying public property must be retrained, reoriented and employed to help us arrest transgressors. We have no choice but to press our youths into service. The strategy by which a vast majority of the youths have been pointedly ignored by government is what has led to this horrible scenario. Our public goods and public infrastructure must be guaranteed and secured. We cannot destroy what is left of the country’s infrastructure, talents, reputation, values, in fits of blind rage. I hope the stark display of madness and anger is enough to let those managing resources to change their ways immediately while they still have some small opportunity. I am still in ‘sifia’ pain from the horrors I saw on TV and the rubbishing of my emotional and monetary investment in that stadium.