COMMENT By Kunle Fayiga Follow on Twitter
The Nigeria senior national team have been bewildered with problems both on and off the pitch down the years, but one of the biggest issues has actually been finding a pitch that they can call home.
The National Stadium Lagos had been the traditional base of the national team for nearly two decades, where historic moments such as the 1980 and 2000 Africa Cup of Nations final were witnessed.
After the completion of the 2003 All Africa Games, the Super Eagles moved to the political capital and played at the Abuja National Stadium, but it was used only for a couple of years, with venues reshuffled to different cities like Kano, Kaduna, Calabar and Port Harcourt.
Since 2015, the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo has hosted the Super Eagles' home games, but their most recent match was taken to Asaba where they played Uganda at the Stephen Keshi Stadium.
Remember when I said the Uyo Stadium will inevitably end up like most of the other stadiums in Nigeria & that it was a colossal waste of money. I was insulted and called names here. I am here to report to you that the inevitable decline has started. This is the pitch. pic.twitter.com/7ZFbF7nEcR— Babanla (@biolakazeem) August 31, 2018
The constant switching of venues has not gone down with some football enthusiasts, citing the need for a permanent home as is the case with many of the world's major nations.
However, there isn't necessarily a problem with shifting venues, after all, other international giants have done without a permanent home at times in the past.
A 90,000 capacity stadium in Lagos would be filled to the rafters at least an hour before an home game, can't say for other states. Fix the national stadium and bring the super eagles back home!— jezz (@jeremy_liit) November 17, 2018
The major issue is that these stadia should be in the best possible shape, and ready to host international fixtures. However, in the case of Nigeria, the different stadia are regularly not in the best conditions heading into matchday.
Maintenance work is poorly carried out, affecting the pitch, the stands, flood lights, scoreboard and other essential facilities. Virtually all stadiums are owned by the government in Nigeria, and with only minimal efforts made from the federal down to the local tiers of government, these facilities will never be in the best shape.
The Abuja Stadium, for instance, is a fine edifice, but the lack of a visionary government to see sports as a goldmine and key catalyst for development in the country will continue to undermine these venues. Instead, we see them used for more non-sporting events such as political rallies and religious crusades.
The amount of revenue these activities bring in cannot be compared to an organised matchday experience and it’s disheartening that is the situation the country finds itself in.
The main bowl of the stadium is in very good shape. It was solidly constructed. The chairs are not broken but the grass pitch itself is poor. There are people who dutifully trim the edges of the grass daily. They only earn N20,000 per month but are still being owed salaries. pic.twitter.com/eLqG51JzZz— Dr. Joe Abah (@DrJoeAbah) June 2, 2018
After the game between the Super Eagles and the Cranes in Asaba, the Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, said that he is looking to make the Stephen Keshi Stadium the new home of the Super Eagles as the game was able to draw a packed crowd. While this might be a promising gesture, there is political undertone to these decisions.
National Elections are around the corner, and these politicians will do anything to get recognition in order to gain votes. Once they get in, they fail to deliver the promises made on the campaign trail and the stadiums become eyesores. This is currently the case with the National Stadium in Lagos and Abuja.
Bro I'm still crying over the Lagos National Stadium & the Abuja National Stadium— Hijo Perdido (@TeteBubi) November 20, 2018
Football shouldn’t be intertwined with politics especially in the Nigerian context because it hurts the growth it badly deserves.
There is nothing wrong with government owning stadiums; the majority of those in Italy including the iconic San Siro in Milan and the San Paolo in Naples, are owned by the municipal government of those cities while the club sides using them are tenants that pay annual rent.
Stadiums should simply be utilised for the purpose for which they were built, and there won’t be problem of politics being played to the detriment of the beautiful game.
Until Nigeria can have visionary leaders that see football for what it should really be and provide the necessary amenities, the Super Eagles will continue to move venues, and that will hardly be for the side's good in the long term.