Last month, the Special Adviser to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode on Sports and the Chairman of the Lagos State Sports Commission (LSSC), Mr Deji Tinubu revealed that Gov. Ambode has ordered the reconstruction of the Onikan Stadium with contractors immediately moved to site.
This announcement got many thinking and leaving them with unanswered questions. So, our own Sola Oyeniyi sat with Mr Deji Tinubu to get the answers you all have been asking yourselves.
“It’s a complete reconstruction. It’s going to be a 5,500 seater modern stadium which would fit into the whole regeneration of the Onikan-Marina axis,” Mr Deji Tinubu began.
“The JK Randle centre is going to be rebuilt, the Lagos house Marina is going to be turned into a tourist destination where people can go there and learn about the heritage and the history of Lagos. As well in that same area, is the Federal Government guest house which has been added over to Lagos. It’s a complete regeneration and His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Lagos State said that it was only right that the Onikan stadium also be involved,” he added.
This means that the entire Onikan-Marina axis which would house the modern Onikan stadium would be a befitting location for Nigeria’s oldest stadium. “What does that mean for us at LSSC?,” Mr Tinubu asked. “It will attract first class matches, it will again reignite everyone’s passion for football whether as enthusiasts, fans or even players. People would be more interested in football, they would want to come and watch football because it’s going to be a very comfortable stadium.”
On the historical importance of the stadium he said: “Of course, it has got it’s own heritage and history: the oldest stadium in Nigeria, stadium to one of the biggest clubs ever in Nigeria – Stationery Stores FC. We’re hoping that the rebuilding would bring all that back to Lagos.”
Talking about the features of the stadium, Mr Deji Tinubu said “the enhanced features will include: modern retail spaces, modern first class lounge, office space, press gantry, and things that would attract you to the stadium even when there’s no football. There would also be a museum there showing the history of football in Lagos.”
Unfortunately, the new stadium would not be retaining it’s natural turf “but we would go for the highest grade artificial turf which would be certified by FIFA. This is because in our opinion, based on what we have now and for this period we think it’s best to go for artificial but again, it would be the highest grade of the FIFA certified turf for international matches.”
Players have constantly complained about the artificial turfs especially in Lagos and considering Onikan was the only natural turf of all 3 stadiums in Lagos (Mr Tinubu cuts in) “In my opinion, I think we would always have problems maintaining grass pitches. It might change in a few years or next year but it’s my opinion now and we don’t want a situation where something happens next year or in a couple of years and we’re not in a position to maintain and then maybe we can’t use the pitch or, the pitch can’t attract the highest grade matches.
If FIFA certify and say it’s the highest grade, that means FIFA is saying that international teams or the big clubs can play on it so, it’s our opinion. We just believe that at this moment in time it might be just too difficult to properly maintain it.”
Why is that, does it have to do with finance? “It’s a mixture of everything. It’s a mixture of finance, our maintenance culture, what it will take for us to get there and say, Yes! We are now in the position to maintain it, and we’re talking about maintenance to the highest standards,” he added.
Talking about our maintenance culture, is there a maintenance plan or policy already in place for the new stadium before it is completed? “Yes, we’re looking to a set up of dedicated team or we put it out to tender for facility managers. We will look at the two options before the stadium is handed over,” Mr Deji said.
The Onikan stadium reconstruction which the SA to Gov. Ambode said will gulp ₦3.7bn “will be a football stadium but since the pitch would have its own adequate covering that would totally protect the turf it can still be used for other things.”
Finally, with many expressing concerns over the 12 months due date of the project which has been contracted to Slavabogu Nigeria Limited, Mr Deji Tinubu said: “We just have to wait and see. The contractors have promised us 12months so we just have to wait and see but I think the key thing is that the government has decided to commence the reconstruction of the stadium. Like I always say it’s the best time for sports in Lagos because the Governor, H.E Governor Akinwunmi Ambode understands the dynamics and potentials that sports brings.”