Akwa Ibom Stadium: Alternative Uses for $96m

As my people are quick to say, what is good is good. Yes, I do agree; and might add that what is worth doing is worth doing well. So it was that Ibomites – as the people of Akwa Ibom call themselves – and Nigerians marveled at the state-of the-art stadium unveiled recently by the government of Akwa Ibom state. The presence of the current Ghanaian and Ivorian presidents, along with the ever-loved Jerry Rawlings, former Ghanaian president, in the company of President Goodluck Jonathan, added pump to the ceremony. Indeed, it was a stadium befitting of a state which has blazed the trail in development in modern Nigerian governance.

Akwa Ibom state boasts a population of about 4 million people scattered over 31 local governments, with an estimated 1.5m people within the 14-59 labor force age bracket. It is an agrarian state, with few solid minerals but plenty of the Black Gold off-shore; therefore, its federal allocation – NGN260b in 2013, an average of NGN21.6b monthly (plus NGN1.13b IGR -2012) – topping the list of the 36 states and the FCT. So, the state has enough money to throw around. The state’s GDP is estimated at $13.7b (2013), with a per capita income of $2,779 (2012); compared to Nigeria’s GDP of $522b and per capita of $2,800 (2012), Akwa Ibom is a state from which much is expected. It is heartening to say that the governments have not entirely disappointed.

Having said that, Akwa Ibom is also a state infected with the same national plague that bedevils the Nigerian nation; misplacement of priorities, high unemployment, and lack of rural roads, electricity, and adequate rural health clinics are still problems in the state. Granted, the government has made noticeable strides in some of these areas; however, for a state that’s internally-generated revenue (IGR) depends on food crops, or agriculture, high priority should be place on not only modernization of agriculture but, also, provision of access for movement of the produce. While the flash and dash of the state is mostly evidence in the major cities of Uyo, Ikot Ekpene, etc. places like Nkana, Obotme and the rest of the rural communities seem to have been forgotten. The roads are hardly passable, the lights are more of a twinkle, primary education facilities are far and few between communities and the residents in these communities are at a loss where they belong, Abia or Akwa Ibom. So, having all these priority needs, was spending $96m on a stadium a wise decision? My guess is that it depends on what the state government considers important.

The sum of $96m is equivalent to about NGN16.3b, which is a lot of money to spend on a stadium with very little benefit to the majority of the state’s population. With this amount, the state can provide any of the following: 4 23-km roads which will greatly benefit rural farmers and dwellers; 31 rural clinics to provide easy access to primary healthcare where it is needed most; 20 primary schools (by Nigerian standard) to decongest existing schools; 2 four-year universities, or 4 two-year polytechnics to increase admission space for intending students; one fully-operation hospital in each of the three senatorial zones for secondary and tertiary healthcare services; 16 vocational training centers for training of tomorrow’s engineers in various fields; 31 rural recreational facilities to provide unemployed and unemployable youths an outlet to relax and  let off frustration; or 6 strategically located food processing plants (2 in each senatorial zone) to harvest and process the state’s agricultural resources for both consumption and export as a revenue earner and source of employment. There are many more uses for NGN16.3b; however, since it chose, instead, to build a 30,070-seat stadium, any of the above-listed is considered an opportunity cost of building the stadium. Now, what does Ibomites stand to benefit from this 30,000-seat stadium?

Of course, as with everything Nigerian, the stadium is cited at Uyo, the state capital, meaning that residents outside the state capital wanting to participate in any function going on in the stadium will have to fund their way to the place. Since it is not the official home of Akwa United FC, the Nigerian premier soccer team based in Akwa Ibom, the prospects of a steady stream of revenue to the state, during Premier League season, is very dim. Expectedly, the team will on occasions, play important matches in the stadium; thereby, attracting paying fans. Unfortunately, since Nigerians prefer to patronize European soccer teams – for reasons yet to be discerned – the stadium will never be of full capacity for any of the Akwa United FC games. Now, when one factor’s in the cost of admission to these marches, say NGN1000-1500, affordability becomes an issue; thereby reducing access to only those who could afford to easily spend such amount. It is estimated that on any given Akwa United FC match, the stadium will be a half capacity – 15,000. For matches involving the Super Eagles, Falcons and/or any of the junior national teams, ticket prices will likely double that of the local team, further restricting access for many soccer fans and reducing government projected revenue from these matches.

Another use for the stadium are likely to be concerts by popular national and international artists whose tickets run into the north side of NGN5, 000 per show – affordable only to the very rich; athletic events like track and field which holds twice or three times in a school year and attract very little in terms of revenue; and Holy Ghost nights, and sundry weekend activities, by evangelical churches who attract huge crowd to these events and are able to rent the stadium. Unfortunately, with these kinds of clientele, the stadium will experience exponential deterioration due to overuse of its facilities. Businesses are less likely to avail themselves of the stadium for their conferences and AGMs, because the state already has a conference center and a 3-star hotel, and these business events do not attract huge crowds. Of course, state-sponsored events are free at the stadium, and do not generate revenue. Basically, the recovery period for the expended NGN16.3b would take up to 30 years – well beyond the contractual maintenance period entered into with Julius Berger. If one should go by experience, especially in Nigeria, the stadium would be in the same state as the Abuja stadium today in the next 10 to 15 years.

National stadium

Like I said at the start of this write-up; what is good is good, and worth doing well. Nigerians do appreciate beautiful things, and will like to be associated with such beauties. Unfortunately, such appreciation is very flighty and short-lived. We have had such breathe-takers as the National Theater, Iganmu, the National stadium, Surulere and, in recent times, Tinapa, the Abuja stadium, Nnamdi Azikiwe airport, and many other magnificent national and state landmarks, only to watch them deteriorate with such speed, and within such a short period of time, that one wonders if Nigeria is some deserted island in the middle of nowhere.

This stadium, as beautiful as it may look today, as admired as it may be by not just the Ibomites, but the nation as a whole, and as jealous as other states may be of Akwa Ibom today, this is not a gift that keeps on giving to the people of the state. A progressive government does not invest NGN16.3 on one structure – not infrastructure – when citizens of employable age and education are jobless, and the rural famers cannot bring their harvest to the market. It will not spend that amount of money on a stadium when infant and adult mortality rate remains high, and access to primary education and healthcare for the poor is still a problem. A progressive government would have invested that amount in job-creating ventures, which will generate more tax revenues that would be used, in due course, to build such a stadium.

For now, the state has made its choice and the people are happy. For now…..


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