Lagos stadium: From West Africa’s best to national shame

Once the pride of the nation and the best in West Africa, the 51-year-old National Stadium, Lagos has been left to rot away by successive administrations, writes ‘TANA AIYEJINA’

On Friday, sports minister Sunday Dare ordered the temporary closure of the dilapidated National Stadium, Lagos after the collapse of one of the giant floodlights at the arena two days before.

The floodlights pillar caved in from the middle, following a windstorm, bringing down the ramshackle floodlights.

The stadium, built in 1972, has been a disaster waiting to happen, no thanks to its abandonment by successive administrations for close to two decades.

While on an inspection of the facility following the collapsed floodlights Friday — his third inspection in one month — the outgoing minister sounded a warning that the remaining three floodlights had also been affected by “age and weather elements.”

“Based on my assessment, advice of experts and in the interest of public safety, the ministry will announce shortly the temporary closure of the stadium and surrounding facilities for proper assessment and necessary action,” Dare stated on Twitter

“We have decided to err on the side of caution, hence the decision to impose extensive restrictions around the stadium. We request the cooperation of anyone who this decision may inconvenience.”

N10bn to fix floodlights

Dare, on his penultimate inspection, had hinted that the floodlights were in bad shape, adding that the Federal Government would need at least N10bn to fix them.

“We are working on a complete fix of the electrical problem because the connection is the most important: it connects the sprinklers and the scoreboard, but we can’t go to the floodlights yet because to fix them, you need about N10bn,” Dare said.

Terrace on verge of collapse

However, the worst may not have been heard of the edifice, as Dare also stated that a large percentage of the stands were in a precarious state and could crumble as well.

“We also commissioned an expert report to check the stands and their integrity. And 40 per cent of the stands, the report said, had cracked and that we would have to knock them down completely because they are dangerous. If you fix new chairs and people sit on it, it could collapse,” Dare added.

Glory days

Built in 1972, the then 55,000-capacity National Stadium, Lagos was the best in West Africa at the time and immediately hosted the African Games the following year. It also hosted major sporting events like the 1980 and 2000 Africa Cup of Nations, the 1999 U-20 World Cup, and top continental competitions, amongst others.

The stadium took its pride of place amongst Africa’s best of the time — the 75,000-capacity Cairo International Stadium, built in 1960, the 65,000-capacity Tripoli stadium (opened 1970), the 85,000-capacity 5 July 1962 Stadium in Algiers, built in 1970, Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg (opened 1928), the 45,000-capacity Mohammed V Stadium in Casablanca (opened 1955), 43,000-capacity Al-Merrikh Stadium in Omdurman (opened 1964) and the 40,000-capacity Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo, Yaounde, opened in 1972.

The biggest stadiums in the West African region at the time — the 25,000-capacity Obafemi Awolowo Stadium, Ibadan, opened in 1960; the 50,000-capacity Stade Felix-Houphouet-Boigny in Abidjan, built in 1952; the 40,000-capacity Baba Yara Stadium, Kumasi, opened in 1959; and the 40,000-capacity Accra Sports Stadium, opened in 1961, were nowhere near Sports City, as the Lagos stadium is nicknamed, in terms of size and facilities, as well as the majestic and magical atmosphere around the arena.

The multi-purpose stadium in Surulere had an Olympic-size swimming pool and a multi-purpose arena for athletics, rugby, basketball, volleyball, table tennis, wrestling and boxing.

It was indeed a national monument and the pride of Nigerians.

Athletes and fans alike swarmed the edifice to catch a feel of a world-class sports facility. Nigerian athletes excelled in the arena from the 1970s to the 1990s. For football, Nigeria’s number one sport, the venue was a slaughter slab for visiting teams, no matter their reputation.

At the 1980 AFCON final between hosts Nigeria and Algeria, a record 85,000 trooped into the arena to watch their darling team, then known as the Green Eagles, lift the continental trophy for the very first time.

The main bowl was then reduced to 45,000 capacity in 1999, and had its last major event — the 2000 AFCON — which Nigeria co-hosted with Ghana.

Abuja the new bride

Following the opening of the 60,000-capacity Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja, which was reportedly constructed at a cost of $360m by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in 2003, all attention, including that of the government, shifted to Abuja. While the Abuja stadium hosted the 2003 African Games, the Lagos stadium was relegated to the background. Top sporting activities at the arena began to decline. The newly built Lagos state-owned Teslim Balogun Stadium, just opposite the National Stadium, became the next destination point for top sporting activities, while Sports City was relegated to a mere parking lot for fans going to Teslim Balogun Stadium.

Game reserve?

Hoodlums, street urchins and illegal occupants took advantage of the stadium’s neglect and converted it into their home. The edifice became an eyesore, as the illegal occupants defaced the arena with faeces, urine and all sorts of waste.

A large expanse of land inside the arena has been overgrown with grass as it gradually shifted from a games venue to a game reserve, where reptiles and rodents held sway.

At some point, the swimming pool, abandoned since 1999, before its renovation by O’Jez Entertainment a few years ago, became home to illegal occupants, who converted the former offices of the swimming federation to residential use.

Non-sports stadium

Following the dearth of sporting activities, the stadium also became a choice destination for all kinds of events like religious gatherings, weddings, community meetings, political rallies and music concerts.


Olympic gold medallist Chioma Ajunwa set the then-African women’s 100m record with a wind-aided 10.84secs in 1992, inside the National Stadium.

Ajunwa, a police officer, slammed the authorities for allowing the stadium to rot away.

“If Nigeria is a serious country, that stadium should have been in order before now because some time ago, I was part of the team that evacuated the people from the stadium, believing that they were going to rebuild it. And I know that some money was budgeted for it, but up till now I don’t know why work has not started there.

Former Super Eagles midfielder and 1994 AFCON winner Edema Fuludu described the stadium as Nigeria’s Wembley.

“The main bowl of the stadium was a pride of place for us; it was not just any stadium, it was where we strived to play. Then, it was when your club reached the FA Cup semi-finals that you were able to play there, or you were a national team player. If you were not any of these two, you were not sure of playing at the stadium. At the national team level, that was when you felt the biggest stage fright and the most vociferous supporters ever in Nigeria. So, for some of us, it was a pride to play there.’’

While other countries take pride in their sporting edifices, the Lagos stadium remains a reference point of how facilities and national monuments are left to decay in Nigeria. A country’s seriousness in sports development is assessed by the state of its facilities. In England and Brazil, the Wembley Stadium and the Maracana are regarded as national treasures and tourists destination.

In the West African sub-region, stadiums that were previously far behind the Lagos stadium are still very active following proper maintenance and renovation over the years.

The Stade Houphouet Boigny in Abidjan, built in 1952, is still in fantastic shape, with the edifice having undergone renovations four times — 1964, 2009, 2017 and 2020/2021 — in its 71-year history. It is one of the venues for next year’s AFCON in Ivory Coast.

The Ohene Djan Stadium in Accra and the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi, which both co-hosted the 2000 AFCON with the Lagos stadium, are still in top shape, with the latter, which had its latest renovation phase completed last November, hosting the 2022 World Cup qualifier between Nigeria and Ghana in March 2022.

Only N400m has been spent on a stadium the minister stated needed at least N21bn to bounce back to life. The lifeline is courtesy of billionaire businessman Kessington Adebutu, through the adopt-a-stadium initiative of Dare, for the renovation of the scoreboard, tartan tracks and the football pitch.

It’s obvious the minister’s hands are tied.

“You need N21bn to fix a place, you have N400m, do the maths,” he stated.

(Source: Punch)

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