President of NBA champions, Toronto Raptors, Masai Ujiri has called for a 12-month shutdown of the National Stadium in Lagos which has been in a sorry state for almost 20 years for a much needed renovation.
Built by the Federal Government in 1972, the National Stadium, Lagos has been left to rot away leaving it to individual businesses, bars, beggars etc.
In 2010, Lagos State Government signified interest to take over the stadium by privatising the facility which was later renewed in March, 2017. But there is yet to be a concession between the Federal Government and the Lagos State Government before they can hand over the facility.
Speaking at a hang out with journalists in Lagos last weekend tagged “Meet and Greet with Masai Ujiri” Ujiri described the National Stadium, Lagos which hosted Africa Cup of Nations, International and Africa Games as an eyesore which needs proper renovation to get it back to its glory days.
“We need to shut down that National Stadium for a year and refurbish it. I don’t know or where the money will come from, I don’t know how we will do it but I know the money is there and the brains are here. We have the brains to do it why can’t we build this ecosystem? It is going to create jobs, make our national team players want to come home more. We can build nice hotels there, restaurants it is going to create something big.”
Ujiri continued, “There is something we can do in that place that changes the whole landscape of that National Stadium that would build an ecosystem here, build jobs for people, encourage our national teams that will encourage our players so I encourage everyone to talk about this. I encourage Okocha, Kanu text me, players, officials have text me.”
“We have to form a movement that changes things not only in this country but in this continent because kids, talents are wasting in this country. Do you know how many Serena Williams are walking around Nigeria and never play tennis, or how many Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka and they never touch a ball because there are no facilities? We have this abundant talent in our country and continent. We have to do the right thing in Africa now not this come tomorrow or so and do other times doesn’t help us.”
The former D’Tigers player disclosed that lack of facilities have prevented him and the NBA from hosting an NBA Africa game in Nigeria.
“We don’t have to go to South Africa every year to play the game of basketball we now have a newly built arena in Kigali and Dakar. A lot of people have asked why we have not brought the NBA game to Nigeria. Do you think I don’t want to bring the Raptors to Nigeria? I’ll bring the Raptors to Nigeria tomorrow but where are we going to play tell me where so that’s the challenge we face. We have to make that progress however we do it or push it.”
Despite his short stint with the national team, Ujiri admitted that the national team had a positive impact on his career.
“I wasn’t very good but very privileged. I wasn’t the best professional player or college player or the best national team player. A lot of time I was a bench player in the National team but I played with unbelievable guys Julius Nwosu, Mohammed Acha, Tunji Awojobi. The experience I had playing in Dakar 1997 I will never ever change that for anything. It affected my life in an incredible way. I’ll always cherish those moments wearing the Nigerian jersey and also coaching the National. It was very short lived but I made the best out of it.”
Ujiri who visits Africa every summer to train young players from Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, Senegal etc through his foundation “The Giants of Africa” was in Nigeria last week with the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy as he visited his childhood town Zaria, Kaduna meeting old team mates, friends before heading to Lagos.