Lekan Salami Stadium’s renovation excites traders, Sports lovers task govt on maintenance

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OLUFEMI OLANIYI writes about the anticipation of restuarateurs, sport equipment, soft drink sellers’ and food vendors following the remodelling of the Lekan Salami Stadium

The renovation of the Lekan Salami Stadium at Adamasingba area of Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, has rekindled hope of improved sales in business owners around the magnificent architectural masterpiece which the 33-year-old stadium has been turned to.

For  restaurateurs, sports equipment sellers and those who sell drinks and other traders in and around the area, the completion of the remodelling of the place by the administration of Governor Seyi Makinde is perhaps the biggest news to them since the start of the administration.

The stadium, named after an Ibadan High Chief, the late Chief Lekan Salami in 1998 by the administration of Col. Ahmed Usman, the then military administrator of Oyo State for his strong support for the Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC), used to host the club’s home matches. But the Oluyole Warriors had to seek home grounds elsewhere when the pitch became a shadow of its former self.

The remodelling of the stadium has brought excitement to sports lovers and shop owners around the place who are hopeful that the project would translate into improved sales and patronage.

Some of the hawkers who spoke with Sunday PUNCH at the stadium area on October 1, 2021, marking the country’s 61st Independence Day celebration, said they were happy with the gradual return of action to the stadium.  Our correspondent observed many young ladies and women making quick money by hawking face masks at the entrance to the facility.

One of the women, Falilat Wahab, told our correspondent that she and her daughter made a profit of N6,000 by selling two and a half packs of face masks.

Wahab said, “I was happy just like many others when I saw the renovation work at the stadium. The completion of the work and the anticipated return of sporting activities to the stadium make us hopeful that there will be better sales soon at the place. There is no way football matches will be played here and fans will not patronise us. I sell handkerchiefs, face towels apart from face masks. I am hopeful that things will improve well with time.”

 A shop owner around the stadium, Tunde Adigun, described the new status of the Lekan Salami Stadium as good news to everybody in the area.

He noted that the place was beautiful and it had started attracting sports lovers, adding that sales would boom upon the start of the Nigerian Professional League.

Adigun said, “I am happy that 3SC has returned to the elite league and with their performance against the Slovakian team and even in the Super 8 which earned them the much-awaited promotion, many more fans will come to watch them play their home matches. ‘The only thing that may affect the influx of fans to the stadium is the European league which has gained more followers in the country. However, the League Management Committee, teams, supporters and journalists must support our local leagues to grow. This will benefit everyone.’’

A sports enthusiast, Bola Oyewale, who works as an architectural technologist, told Sunday PUNCH that the materials used for the exterior of the stadium was easy to maintain. She said the materials used would not make cleaning difficult, noting that it would ensure that the edifice was well maintained.

 Oyewale said, “The stadium is a big project and I am happy about its remodelling. But one thing which must be emphasised is that vandals must not be allowed near the stadium. It must also not be abandoned because that is our usual practice in this part of the world.

“People have been coming to see the stadium and I believe pupils on excursions will start visiting the stadium. That is part of sports tourism and many would be pleased to go to the stadium and see how things are. Some youths have never watched live football matches at stadiums but this will give them the opportunities to do so. Adequate security will also need to be put in place and the ticket fees should be reasonable considering the economic situation in the country and the fact that football lovers have the options to watch live matches of European clubs on pay TV channels or at viewing centres.”

Also, a football lover, Abiodun Oluokun, who has an office around the stadium area, told our correspondent that the stadium had become a pride to the state. He said the governor and the management of the 3SC should look into how the stadium could also be used to shore up the state revenue.

He said, “Football clubs in England and in Europe make money from their stadiums and I think the government of Oyo State and the 3SC management should look into how it can be replicated in Oyo State. This will make the running of the club financially easy and allow the government to focus attention and resources on other things.”

An amateur footballer who now runs a clothing line around the stadium, Yusuf Babatunde, told our correspondent that whoever was in charge of the stadium management or the state government could mobilise crowds to the stadium by showing European league matches on big screens at the main pitch at the stadium.

Babatunde said, “Since 3SC will play home matches at the stadium fortnightly, the management could use the weekends when the team would be playing away matches to show European league matches to football lovers. This will attract football fans to the stadium and they could charge some amount at the gate. This will not be free since football fans pay at viewing centres. Football lovers will be willing to pay to watch live matches on the screen at the stadium. The management will make money, business owners around the stadium will also make money and 3SC will attract more supporters with it.

“I think they can build a shopping mall inside the stadium also. The land there is unoccupied and once people know that a mall is there, many people will come there. Government should also invest in buying players or they should regularise the contract of some who are on loan to the club. By this, they will make money from the team when they eventually sell the players abroad. Shooting stars are a big team. They have a huge fan base and any investment on the team, if properly managed, will yield profits.”

Abdulgafar Asabidigbi, a boxer who also operates a printing business in one of the shops at the stadium, said whatever investment done by the government at the facility would benefit food vendors and drinks sellers more because sport lovers would patronise them anytime they were at the stadium.

He noted that toilets should be provided outside the stadium premises to stop visitors from defecating at every corner of the facility.  He also said the cleaning of the stadium should be contracted to a private firm because, according to him, those currently cleaning the place were not doing a good job.

Asabidigbi said, “Two weeks after the inauguration of the stadium, the place was not cleaned. I don’t think those currently cleaning it should be retained. We stay here and know that a lot of money was invested to renovate it, it would be bad if the place is allowed to become an eyesore.

“Government should also detach politics and political consideration from the club affairs. Whoever occupies any position in the club either as a coach or player must get it on merit.  They government should buy few more players to beef up the team.’’

Also speaking, the owner of Remdol Complete Sports Shop, Oluremi Oke, said football was currently the only focus at the stadium now. He, however, said building swimming pools at the facility would attract swimmers and learners to the place.

Oke said, “Many people love to swim. Boys and girls and older ones love to swim for pleasure. This will bring in many youths to the place and it will translate to more sales for traders in sport materials like me. Hotels will be busy especially at weekends when this place fully comes alive. On the day the stadium was inaugurated, the road in front of the stadium recorded heavy traffic as early as 8am and the two matches played that day were at night. Hotels around used to be busy from Thursdays when Shooting Stars played in those days. The situation can be reignited depending on the approach of the management to what can attract sports lovers to this place.’’

An ex-governor of the state, Adebayo Alao-Akala, who is now a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, was present at the stadium on the inauguration day. Alao-Akala was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party when he governed the state like Makinde.

He commended Makinde for remodelling the stadium to a befitting stature. The former governor advised Makinde to give priority to the maintenance of the remodelled stadium.

He said, “If I am to give any advice, I will just say they should permanently give this facility to someone to maintain. Our maintenance culture is poor.For it not to deteriorate and get out of hand again, we have to engage somebody who will continually maintain it. That is when the resources and time invested on it would not amount to a waste.”

However, stadium inauguration was greeted with criticisms especially because of the water-logged section of the pitch. The 4:0 victory of the 3SC over the Slovenia first division side, NK Tabor Sežana, was even downplayed by some critics who believed that the victory was achieved because the visitors were not used to playing football inside a stadium they described as a swimming pool.

Some sections of the pitch were water lodged and there were claims that the roof of the stadium was leaky.  To compound the situation, the match, played at the 10,000 capacity stadium at night, was marred by the rain which poured ceaselessly almost throughout the duration of the game.

The argument of the critics was that the N5bn spent on the stadium was too much. They noted that the amount could even buy land and build a stadium, describing the project as a conduit to siphon state fund.

 The governor, through his spokesman, Taiwo Adisa, in a statement justified the amount spent to renovate the stadium.

Makinde in the statement said, “Some critics have attempted to blow the cost of fixing the Lekan Salami Stadium, Adamasingba, out of proportion, especially in view of the water-logged on sections of the pitch due to heavy rain. Let it be placed on record that the main bowl of the stadium was only the first phase of the entire project which comes in phases. There is the main bowl, the gymnasium and indoor sports hall for a variety of sporting activities, a world class tennis court as well as the luxury apartments which will be given out on annual subscription.

“Besides, the pitch as seen on Wednesday (inauguration day) is work-in-progress, because the contractor has not handed over the project to the state government. The contractor had explained that the pitch needed three more months to fully solidify so that the automatic drainage system would become fully functional.

“But the unveiling had to be done to ensure that our darling Shooting Stars Sports Club return to Ibadan, having been forced to play their matches outside the state for long owing to the absence of a good pitch in Ibadan. The contractor has given his assurance to address the challenges of the pitch and by the time the works are completed, Oyo State would definitely have the value for its money, which has always been the priority and intention of Governor Makinde.”

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