SINCE 2006 when a group of militants wrote a letter to the contractor handling the expansion of the popular Liberation Stadium, now Yakubu Gowon Stadium in Port Harcourt, the project has remained uncompleted till date.
The contractor, a Chinese firm, China Civil Engineering and Construction Company, was awarded the contract by the then Dr. Peter Odili administration to expand the stadium from its 16,000 capacity to 26,000. It was gathered that the award of the contract in 2006 was also targeted at installing world class flood lighting system and scoreboard.
But 11 years after, the expansion of the stadium that hosted some of the Nigeria ’99 FIFA Under-20 World Cup matches, has not been completed. The contract was expected to gulp over N5bn with the sum of N2.9bn said to have been paid to the Chinese company.
The Chinese engineers, who had begun the project after bringing in some seats and erecting pillars, suddenly abandoned the project and fled.
One of the minders of the facility told our correspondent that workers at the site of the project, who were mostly Chinese, received a letter from a group of militants, informing them that they would soon be attacked and abducted.
The minder, who spoke on condition of anonymity, explained that the contractor and his workers immediately fled the site (stadium), leaving behind some of the materials they had already brought for the project.
He said, “In 1999 when Nigeria hosted the Under-20 World Cup, the stadium was good; that was why England played here. Ronaldinho and Xavi played in this stadium. Then the VIP stand was covered so that rain would not affect spectators.
“After the World Cup, the then governor of the state, Dr. Peter Odili, said he would rebuild the stadium and increase the capacity by 10,000 and put a cover around the sports facility. All the lighting was removed to that effect and some of the covers were also removed. This is happening after many competitions were held there. Ever since, this stadium has not been what it should be.
“We heard that the contractor handling the project then was CCECC. The company stopped work because of the security situation in the state then. They resumed work and fabricated many seats for the stadium before they left everything and ran out of the state because of a threat from militants.
“We heard that militants threatened to kidnap their officials. So, they left the state then. Currently, there are no lights in the stadium, As a result of this, games cannot be played at night here. The tartan tracks are pilling. The tracks are seriously in bad condition. The fences are broken.”
Another security official at the stadium, who also spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity, appealed to the Nyesom Wike administration to consider the expansion of the stadium.
The source said, “The government should go back to Odili’s master plan for the stadium. We thought the former governor (Mr. Rotimi Amaechi) would have revisited the stadium, but he built the Amiesimaka Stadium, which is not bad. We are now calling on Governor Nyesom Wike to step in and work on the stadium.
“The governor should bring CCECC back to complete the work. They understand what the project is. They should raise the pitch; it is too low so that when it rains, the field will not flood again. The tartan tracks have expired and should be changed.”
Our correspondent learnt that the contract was later cancelled with an ultimatum to the contractor to return to site or return the money the state government paid him for the expansion of the stadium. The state government then was said to have shown an interest in going to court to get the money paid to the company, who failed to return to site, even when militancy that was once at its peak had subsided.
Speaking on the matter, the state Commissioner for Sports, Mr. Boma Iyaye, maintained that the current administration had no intention of expanding the stadium, describing the project as one that had already been embarked upon by four administrations ago.
Iyaye, who spoke through his media aide, Mr. Sammy Nwejia, said, “This administration has no intention to expand that stadium because it was a project that was embarked upon four administrations ago. Two different administrations have had their tenure and everything and this is a completely new administration.
“They have no intention whatsoever to carry on with the project of the former governor. We are not saying it is good or bad; this administration has no intention whatsoever to continue with that project.”
Meanwhile, the pillars still stand around the structure while the fabricated seats that are to be installed are packed outside, but not far away from the former Liberation Stadium.