Ben Ezechime, Enugu
The Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium Enugu, popularly called “the Cathedral,” has been under reconstruction since 2021 by the Enugu State Government under the leadership of Gov. Ifeanyichukwu Lawrence Ugwuanyi.
The 22, 000 capacity stadium which was built in 1959 as Enugu Township Stadium, had gone through a lot of metamorphosis including total reconstruction by the former administration of Jim Nwobodo between 1979-1983.
It was after the reconstruction by the Nwobodo-led administration that the governor renamed it, Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium.
The stadium is home to the once famous Rangers International Football Club, the pride of the Eastern Region.
The stadium had hosted many high grade CAF and FIFA approved matches.
The Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium was one of the pitches used for the U-20 FIFA World Cup Nigeria ’99 games.
However, following the return of democracy in 1999, politics took the center stage and everything in Enugu just like other states were bastardised by politicians, who cared less about prudent use of public facilities.
Politicians and their political parties decided to use the stadium for purposes other than sports development for which it was meant to serve. Political rallies, campaigns, primary elections and so on were held at the main bowl of the ‘Cathedral.’
This led to damages to the pitch and other facilities which made playing smooth football on the turf difficult, and thus attracted the attention of soccer lovers and football governing authorities.
In the light of the poor standard of the pitch for CAF organised competitions, both the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) and the Confederation of African Football (CAF)’s inspection team declared the stadium unfit to host football competitions unless certain works were done.
So, in 2021, the Ugwuanyi-led administration awarded the contract for the upgrade of the stadium’s pitch with the installation of state-of-the-art turf in line with the requirements of the CAF and NFF Licensing Regulation on sports infrastructure and facilities.
The contract was awarded to Reforms Sports West African Limited, which specialises in development of sports facilities with vast experience.
Meanwhile, while stakeholders continued to wait for the completion of the cathedral, the state government and the contractors have not given any satisfactory reasons on why the stadium has continued to remain under lock and key two years after.
The maintenance is taking a great toll on the performance of the Flying Antelopes, who are currently battling relegation for the first time in their history.
Since the renovation works began in 2021, Rangers have been prosecuting their home games at Awka township stadium, Anambra State, which is home away from home.
Meanwhile, speaking to Sports Writers on the situation of the stadium recently, the Enugu State Commissioner for Youths and Sports, Hon. Manfred Nzekwe, explained that the state government had done everything it could to see that sports activities resumed at the cathedral but to no avail.
Nzekwe accused the contractors handling the project of being responsible for the delay in the return of sporting activities in the stadium.
According to him, the state government had met the financial obligations concerning the procurement of the artificial tuft to enable football games take place in the Stadium.
He further disclosed that not less than 90 per cent of the repair work has been completed remaining the tuft which Reforms Group was yet to provide, adding that the state government, as well as the citizens were worried that the Stadium has remained closed to sports users.
“The state government is more worried than the citizens and this is why we deemed it fit to inform the public that it is not the problem of the government but that of the company handling the job,” Nzekwe said.
The commissioner, however, said that the government would do everything humanly possible to ensure that the Stadium was put to full use before handing over to the next administration in the state.
He said: “It will not be an abandoned project.We have plans to ensure that the next administration will not inherit the uncompleted renovation.
“We are hoping that the abridged match will be played here, even if it’s two matches. It will be on use soon.”
On his own part the Chief Executive Officer of Reforms Sports, Mike Adamu, in August last year boasted that “the facility will be ready for use for the forthcoming 2022/23 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).”
Adamu told newsmen then that the renovation and reconstruction works at the stadium was 80 per cent completed with just the laying of the grass left, adding that the construction firm encountered several challenges at the sea port.
In the same vein the Project Manager, Arch. Sani Mohammed had explained that the delay in completion of the project was due to technical and logistical issues.
He described as unfortunate the delay in the ongoing remodeling of the Stadium but blamed the delay on technical and logistical issues.
“We encountered technical and logistical issues along the line and we appealed to the Enugu State Government for extension of time, which they graciously granted.”
Interestingly the cathedral has become a shadow of itself as it has been turned to a shopping mall where all manner of business activities take place.
As the blame game between the state government and the Reform Sports continue, one thing is obvious that sports lovers in Enugu State will never forget and forgive the governor as he leaves office on May 29.