When will Nigeria’s first, Obafemi Awolowo Stadium come back to life?
THE Obafemi Awolowo Stadium, Ibadan, was the first stadium to be built in Nigeria nay Africa and was commissioned in September 1960.
The 25,000 capacity stadium was originally named the Liberty Stadium until November 10, 2010 when it was renamed after the man whose administration as the Premier of the Western Region then, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, planned and executed the project.
On the day it was commissioned in 1960, some of the foreigners in attendance in their comments described the stadium as another ‘Wembley’. It was also the first stadium in Nigeria where a football match was played under floodlights. The match between West Rovers and Portuguese Guinea which kicked off at 7:00pm had Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the special guest who also commissioned the floodlights.
On the day it was commissioned, the late matriarch of the Awolowo family, Chief (Mrs) HID Awolowo also presented the Akinwunmi Cup to the late soccer legend, Dejo Fayemi, as Footballer of the Year.
A competition known as ‘Floodlit Festival Cup’ was later introduced in 1961 by the West Nigerian Football Association for teams in Lagos, north east and western parts of the country. The trophy was donated by the Nigerian Tobacco Company (NTC).
The stadium, at inception, aside football pitch in the main bowl with floodlights, also boasted the indoor sports halls, swimming pool, courts for tennis, volleyball, handball, basketball, hockey, etc.
thestadium has hosted a number of international matches, notably some group matches of the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), including the semi-final tie between Algeria and Egypt. It also hosted the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship (WYC) group C matches. Two years earlier, thestadium had hosted the African Junior Athletics Championship where Nigeria emerged victorious.
The last international game at thestadium was on April 18, 1999 when Japan beat Mexico 2-0 in the quarter-final of the FIFA U20 World Cup.
In the 2013 Professional Football League (NPFL) season, Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC) played some of their home games at thestadium with a playable pitch then before the then National Sports Commission (NSC) resorted to give thestadium a facelift.
The Director-General of NSC then, Honourable Gbenga Elegbeleye visited thestadium, also in 2013 where he approved the regrassing of the pitch as well as the replacement of the tartan track in the main bowl, in order to bring thestadium back to life.
Ever since the project began, thestadium has become a site begging for attention.
Elegbeleye, in April 2014, also visited thestadium to inspect the progress of work, but was unable to see the project to logical conclusion before he left office.
Four years on, the edifice is in a worrisome state. The pitch in the main bowl remains a shadow of its old self, which can not be used even for a primary school soccer competition. Part of the roof at the state box has been blown off while the tartan track is yet to be replaced.
The two swimming pools have been abandoned and taken over by dirts. At present, thestadium boasts only a functional small size swimming pool which is revived and operated by a private investor mainly for kiddies.
Shop occupants at the complex are used to operating mainly on power generating sets as thestadium has not been enjoying public power supply for quite a while.
However, in terms of security, thestadium’s police post has just been upgraded to a full-fledged police station, and this has in no small measure aided effective policing of the complex.
Miscreants who have turned the swimming pool arena into their abode and weeds smoking joint have since vanished, while the fencing of the old tennis centre court has also helped in sanitising the swimming pool/tennis arena as youths who always played football there have been sent packing.
Tribunesport gathered some truants had been raped on a number of occasions by miscreants at the arena.
“thestadium management has written to some schools on the need to warn their female students especially, from coming to the complex in order to put an end to this ugly development and the school authorities have equally said students caught should be disciplined accordingly,” said a source within the complex.
However, Obafemi Awolowo Stadium has never been deserted as the arena is always full of youngsters who come on a daily basis for football training.
In fact, the arena is always a beehive of activities, especially at weekends, while adults mostly create time to keep fit in the gymnasium being run by a private investor, Kayrom Lee Gym and Fitness Centre who also runs the only functional swimming pool in the complex for now.
The tennis courts in the complex are always busy too as adults and teenagers train there virtually on a daily basis.
Also, adults, including ex-footballers, bankers, civil servants, businessmen and women, as well as students always come at weekends to keep fit at the refurbished volleyball courts around the swimming pool arena and fitness centre.
The Obafemi Awolowo stadium remains a place for relaxation, especially in the evening where bar and restaurant operators always give customers treat to make them come back. ‘Asun’, ‘suya’ fried chickens, smoked fish, ‘Efo riro’ and solid pap as well as foods are readily available at night.
The dream of Elegbeleye to see that international matches return to thestadium has yet to receive a greenlight.
“Before the end of this year  or early next year , the Super Eagles, Super Falcons and other national teams will be playing here. If the Eagles have been playing at the UJ Esuene Stadium in Calabar, why not here at the Obafemi Awolowo Stadium?
“We cannot have a structure like this here and watch it rot away. This is a stadium that has played host to international events in the past, so we decided to bring it back to life by ensuring that all the facilities in the arena are in good shape,” the Ondo State-born administrator had said during his visit to thestadium in April 2014.
Also during Elegbeleye’s tenure, three dilapidated tennis courts in the complex were refurbished with floodlights which were later commissioned in 2015 during the tenure of his successor, Alhassan Yakmut. thestadium now boasts five tennis courts which are being used and maintained, however, by the Obafemi Awolowo Tennis Club.
The arena also has a cricket pitch which is good for a national tournament, while the volleyball arena is always a place to be especially at weekends.
Tribunesport was referred to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Sports in Abuja for official comments on the state of thestadium.
“I’m not in a position to speak on this issue, please direct your enquiry to the ministry in Abuja,” an official of thestadium told Tribunesport in Ibadan.
The state of the Obafemi Awolowo Stadium has become a source of concern to many stakeholders, especially in Oyo State, and one of them is Honourable Dapo Lam-Adesina.
Lam-Adesina, a member of the House of Representatives, representing Ibadan North East/South East federal constituency in November 2016, drew the attention of the House to thestadium which he described as an eyesore.
The former Commissioner for Youth and Sports in Oyo State had moved a motion on “The Dilapidated State of the Obafemi Awolowo Stadium in Ibadan,” wherein he called for the renovation of the edifice without delay.
“This stadium being the first in Africa must not be abandoned as it is shameful and ridiculous. Provision has been made for the restructuring and renovation in the 2016 budget, yet the job has been abandoned,” the federal lawmaker had emphasised.
Interestingly, Deputy Speaker, Yusuf Lasun, who presided over the session, also from the south west zone, in his response equally advised that the amount of money meant to refurbish thestadium be recaptured in the 2017 budget.
“In fact, nobody is happy that this stadium doesn’t host international matches again and it is a wake up call to us in the south west to revive this edifice which is a pride of the Yoruba race.
“It should not be allowed to remain in this shameful position. With the move by the Lagos State to take over the National Stadium in Lagos, it is obvious that thestadium would come back to life in due course and we have to do the needful here too,” lamented a football fan, Adekunle Ajayi.
The question now is given the prevailing circumstances, will Obafemi Awolowo Stadium host an international football or athletics event again? Indeed, only time will tell.