Ministry matters

The Ministry of Sports is transforming the Abuja Velodrome into a center of worship, other

Prior to the 2003 All Africa Games hosted by Nigeria in Abuja, the federal government under former President Olusegun Obasanjo awarded a $360 million contract to Schlaich Bergermann and Partners for the construction of the National Stadium in Abuja.

One of the main facilities located inside Lot A of the National Building, now renamed MKO Abiola National Stadium, is the velodrome for indoor cycling.

The MKO Abiola National Stadium consists of a capacity of 60,491 seats in the main bowl which recently hosted the ill-fated World Cup qualifiers Nigeria v Ghana, a presidential suite and viewing area, 56 corporate suites, modern turnstiles, ticket office, post offices, banks, media facilities and the underutilized velodrome.

In the years leading up to the 19th National Sports Festival hosted by Abuja in 2018, the velodrome which stood abandoned for 15 years was used for different purposes ranging from private events such as weddings, trade fairs and drills recruitment.

In 2008, the velodrome hosted the MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMA) before the jaw-dropping edifice became a storage facility as it was filled with thousands of gas cylinders and stoves.

The pans, believed to have been purchased as campaign gifts by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign team ahead of the 2015 election, were kept there for around two years before being removed in 2018.

Elohim Ministries banner at the gate of MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja

Upon his appointment as Sports Minister in 2019, Sunday Dare, during a tour of the stadium facilities, stressed the need to find innovative ways to fund and maintain the facilities while reaffirming the fact that in Africa , only South Africa has the type of velodrome at the MKO Abiola National Stadium.

As if we hadn’t abused it enough, not so long ago, the very first National Youth Conference (NYC) organized by the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development was held at the velodrome.

However, our investigation revealed that the velodrome is currently the hub of Christian religious activities as no less than three Nigerian Pentecostal churches take turns in organizing their activities.

Between September 24-25, 2021, The Everlasting Light of Hope International Ministry (The ELOHIM) held an international prayer meeting with a special service of thanksgiving on the 26th, which was a Sunday at the same location. The church is led by Wiseman Daniel, a protege of the late Prophet TB Joshua.

It was also understood that the Velodrome on 18th February 2022 hosted a special Abuja Power Touch evening organized by God’s City International Church (GCIC), Abuja. The senior pastors of the Church are Pastor Matthew and Pastor (Mrs) Mary Morakinyo.

Our journalist, who visited the velodrome on a Sunday, attended the religious service of the Elohim Ministries.

Before gaining access to the site, he had to undergo security checks and was asked to put on his face mask.

As soon as he entered, ushers stopped our reporter as they demanded to know if he was an old member, a newcomer or someone in need of prayers and deliverance.

Our reporter chose the former and was directed to a section for elders where he witnessed deliverance sessions ranging from worshipers receiving various forms of healings for broken bones and back pain. So many other “miracles” were also on display.

Additionally, between March 16-18, 2022, Christ Apostolic Church (Nigeria and Overseas), Medaiyese Region, held its “Abuja for Christ” Crusade with the theme “Your Door Will Open Continuously “.

The crusade was led by Prophet Hezekiah Oladeji and other men of God with Chris Morgan, Sesan Moses, Joyrich Olowo, Omo Oba Akikitan, and the regional mass choir performing chants.

When approached to explain why the gigantic velodrome is used for purposes other than cycling, the facilities manager of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports, Engr Tunji Okedairo, said the velodrome was a multi-purpose facility.

“The velodrome is for all uses. It can be used for political rallies, religious programs and any other event. They apply and if approved, the money is paid into the TSA account. It is not intended solely for cycling purposes,” he said.

When asked how much it costs to rent the place, Okedairo replied that he did not know the cost and directed our correspondent to stadium manager Bosun Obanla.

Responding to a text message asking how much it costs to hire the state-of-the-art facility, the stadium manager said in a text message: “The total cost is N650,000 per day.”

Ordinarily, the money that the velodrome has generated should have had a positive impact on the equipment, but our reporter observed that the place always suffers the same fate with the other equipment of the national stadium.

It is neglected as most of the facilities inside the building are falling apart, just as the environment is perpetually messy.

In the meantime, contacted, the President of the Nigerian Cycling Federation, Giandomenico Massari, said he had discussed the issue of the velodrome with the Ministry of Sports.

“We discussed the issue with the ministry and I can’t tell you what we discussed, but we will sort it out,” he said.