Amidst rusty facilities inside the National Stadium, Lagos, athletes, business-oriented people and fun-seekers have kept the Sports City going, reports Idris Adesina
It is no longer news that the National Stadium, Lagos, is in a state of disrepair and suffers from lack of maintenance but the stadium amazingly still serves the interests of many.
Recently, the place witnessed some positive changes. For instance, the abandoned swimming pool complex, is wearing a new look and is close to completion while the completed Brai Ayonote Boxing Hostel, now serves as a camp for the country’s boxers ahead of major events.
The hostel was refurbished in 2015 after several years in ruins and serving as home to hoodlums.
Despite the decay evident inside the stadium, the arena has managed to stay alive courtesy of activities of individuals during the day and at night.
During the day, athletes and people seeking to keep fit use the various facilities left inside the place for their exercises but at night, the stadium is the exact opposite. Fun-seekers, prostitutes, hoodlums and homeless people throng into the complex for their various activities.
Activities inside the Sports City revolve around two major people; the athletes – who the place primarily serves – and business people (both legal and illegal). However, during the weekends and public holidays, the open spaces in the stadium are home to social and religious events.
As early as 6am, life begins at the stadium as athletes embark on their different trainings there. Some train inside the rusty main bowl of the stadium early in the morning while others use the gym at the National Institute for Sport building. Others like the basketballers and table tennis players train inside their indoor complexes.
For these set of individuals, the decrepit state of the stadium is a thing of worry as it affects their output.
Wheelchair basketballer, Remi Basanya, wants the basketball courts to wear a new look.
She said, “We train here every day and the facilities we use are getting weaker by the day.
“We want the minister to do something about the courts. We want a cover for the courts as we usually train in the sun. I know it is an outdoor court but one of them can have a cover. The basket stands and the rims need to be changed too. It will help those of us, who are always at the stadium for most parts of the day, in our training activities.”
While the athletes are busy with their tasks, businesses are also going on. The ‘businessmen and women’ litter the stadium and according to them, they pay for their use of the various shops or stands. They are mostly found under the terraces of the main bowl and places close to the NIS. Generating sets noisily calling the attention of customers announce that they offer services such as computer typesetting and photocopy to willing customers.
“I am here every day of the week except Sundays. We record varying patronage here. Sometimes we make good sales in a day and at other times we don’t record good sales for a week. But when the people at NIS have things to do, we surely have good sales,” one of the traders, who sells under one of the terraces, said.
Food selling also booms inside the arena. The food vendors popularly known as mama put offer a variety of cheap delicacies for the athletes who need to be refreshed after their trainings.
An attendant in one of the food shops, who gave her name as Ekaette, said, “Our food here is quite affordable and we also offer a variety of foods; that is why we have many customers. People who come here range from the workers at the stadium and the athletes to others who just stop by to have a drink.”
When you drive to the Sports City and your car develops a fault, do not panic, there are mechanics there, who will attend to you. The mechanics, our correspondent observed, arrive for work as early as 9am and close in the evening.
Their shops are located opposite the boxing section under the terraces of the main bowl. One of them, who was attending to one of the cars at the workshop, told our correspondent that the stadium officials were aware of their stay.
“Business is good here especially when there are sports competitions. Cars get spoilt and we make brisk business,” the mechanic, who gave his name as Lanre, said. “We pay rent, that is why we can stay here.”
There are also sports shops, where sports kits and equipment are sold but aside these businesses other day-time users of the stadium are idlers and touts, who sit around under the trees and at the various sheds looking for an athlete or an unsuspecting visitor to the place to fleece.
The stadium gradually takes another look as dusk sets in. Exotic cars mill into the Sports City, after paying a fee of N100 at the entrance to the place. The occupants, who are usually on their way from work, head straight to the various restaurants, bars and relaxation spots inside the stadium. Soon the parking lot and other spaces around the stadium get filled with cars.
Some of these relaxation spots, which boom with music at night include Old Skool, located inside the boxing arena, O’Jez (around the main bowl), NIS Co-operative restaurant (close to the swimming pool) and several others.
A ticket attendant at the gate, who pleaded anonymity, said, “I close at 8pm. But before that time, I do sell up to two rolls of tickets. Sometimes, I sell one and a half. When there is a big match (on TV) I sell two because people come in to enjoy themselves and watch games.”
Each roll contains 100 tickets, an equivalent of N10, 000.
But the arena is in complete darkness as the floodlights are no longer functioning. The streets lights lining up along the roads to the gates flicker once in a while. The only lights are from the restaurants and bars but fun-seekers don’t seem to mind as they enjoy themselves.
A banker, Tolu, says he only comes to the stadium to relax after a hard day’s work.
“I am not in any way into sports. It was a friend who recommended this place to me for relaxation, so on weekends and sometimes after work during the week, I come here to have some drinks and relax,” Tolu said at O’Jez.
The Old Skool Restaurant has a huge screen for the bar’s teeming customers to watch matches as they nurse their drinks and pepper soup or barbeques while the restaurant at the back of the swimming pool complex, which is owned by the NIS Cooperative Society, also has its fair share of the milling crowd.
Our correspondent observed that the stadium is used as a spot for lovers to meet and share their emotions.
Ladies of varying shapes and sizes parade the place, with some scantily dressed and willing to run into the hands of men, who send signals to them. Some were seen conversing on their mobile phones while others light cigarette after cigarette.
Meanwhile, some seeming homeless youths lie on the bare floor ready for sleep, while others were fast asleep. In other corners, close to the NIS football pitch, smell of Indian hemp filled the night air.
A source at the stadium, who claimed to be a student of NIS, said all manner of activities were carried out in the stadium, adding that the police come after the women of easy virtue during raids.
“We are the ones who are mostly left in the stadium at night. When I go for a stroll at night, I do see things which are better left unsaid. The Police come here once in a while. They come on raids and take anybody they find but mostly the girls who stand around the stadium. Sometimes they come inside when they have a tip off. But they have not been here recently for a,” the source said.
The bubbling night life inside the stadium begins to gradually winds down as midnight approaches but few of the visitors, stay as far as 12am or even longer, after the gate has been locked, our correspondent observed. These ones know where the man in charge of the key is; after a tip-off, the gate is opened and they find their way home.
However, same routine continues few hours later, as athletes, touts those with businesses or not inside the Sports City, throng in at 6pm to begin the day’s activities.