Jos — The new Zaria Road stadium complex in Jos, Plateau state, is expected to stand as one of the most sophisticated and internationally acclaimed football stadiums in Nigeria. With an expected N3.2 billion price tag for its completion, Governor Jonah Jang intends to break the 24 years jinx by completing the stadium which it is hoped, will stand tall as one of the highly-admired structural achievements of his administration.
However, not every citizen in the state is looking forward to the completion and subsequent commissioning of the stadium as members of the Sabonlayi community, directly behind the stadium recently expressed fear as to what will become their fate when expansion of the stadium commences.
Though the project emanated in 1988 when the then military governor of the state, Col. Lawrence Onoja, awarded the contract, Governor Jang recently said he wanted a stadium that would be best in Nigeria, and one that would meet FIFA standard. He said he wanted to ensure that the stadium is finished early so as to boost the state's chances of hosting the 2014 National Sports Festival.
The effort to achieve the FIFA standard led to some form of adjustment to the initial concept. And this has become the major borne of contention between the people of Sabonlayi and the state government. The state government wrote a letter to the head of the Sabonlayi community (Mai Anguwa) on the 6th of September 2012 detailing its intension to meet the required status of the FIFA rules of International standard around the new Zaria road stadium complex.
"For instance, the rules spelt out that there should not be less than fifty (50) meters radius from its fence and make the provision of essential needs and facilities in line with the FIFA standard worldwide," it reads in part.
The letter which emanated from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development introduced the community to a seven man committee headed by Emmanuel Adikaba, which was expected to mobilize the affected residents as well as assess the affected structures and properties.
The people of Sabonlayi, through the Mai Anguwa, Alhaji Adamu Aji, said that they had agreed to cooperate with Adikaba's committee because they were assured that all surrounding communities in the area will be affected by the exercise.
Aji however alleged that the community later discovered that only structures in Sabonlayi, situated at the eastern and the northern flanks of the stadium were marked while those at the southern and western parts of the stadium were speared.
He said this was contrary to the 50 meters radius acquisition stated by the government which was expected to affect all the communities surrounding the stadium.
The Mai Anguwa also recalled that during the administration of Onoja, "the then Chairman of the Local Government James Dimka and then Commissioner of Sports and the contractor of the stadium came here to measure the land in which they carved an area for the stadium. My late father was alive and he cautioned them against coming back to acquire more of our lands and they promised that what they carved out was enough for any standard international stadium. We reached agreement and people whose homes where acquired where compensated."
Aji confirmed that select members of the community met with the Adikaba committee on the 18th of September 2012 "and they assured us that we were not alone in the exercise and that since it was 50 meters radius, all the surrounding communities will be affected.
"We agreed but now we have noticed that only our area has been marked and they exceeded the 50 meters agreed. The project is also supposed to affect Anguwan Badau, the buildings around St. Marumba and even Josey Royal Hotel yet over 200 houses from Sabonlayi were marked. We also heard that the contract for the expansion has already been awarded to PW when we have neither been compensated nor resettled."
Responding to these allegations, Plateau State Commissioner of Housing and Urban Development, Engineer Solomon Maren, said "there is a NEPA installation at the western part of the stadium and there is also a tarred road there. If you look to the southern part of the stadium, there is also a tarred road there. We are not saying that the NEPA installation will be speared but we are looking at the quantum of compensations government will have to make. We will still have to relocate the NEPA installation within the life span of this project but we have to do them in stages. Why we insist on following the FIFI requirement of not less than 50 meters is because we want to construct another road around the Sabonlayi community so that we can have tarred roads by all sides of the stadium and people can park their cars. The reason sometimes you mark outside what is required, in this case 50 meters, is because if you want to build a road, the road cannot be without shoulders and drainages, so if you are looking at all these offsets, it means you need a virgin land of 50 meters from the stadium, then you have a road, so some of the members of the community whose houses will survive will benefit immensely from this project."
Maren said government was not doing any selective treatment as even the state Commissioner of Water Resources who has a house there is affected.
He regretted that the committee has not even submitted its report and people are already spreading rumours that government is negotiating with owners of the marked houses without the knowledge of the Mai Anguwa, which is not true.
"The people of Sabonlayi only heard that the contract for the stadium has been awarded and they panicked. Is it possible for us to demolish their houses when they have not been compensated or resettled? Is it possible to demolish their homes while they are still living in them? That will be inhuman," the commissioner said.
On the issue of whether Josey Royal hotel was speared from the exercise, the Adikaba committee said assessment of the hotel had already been carried out and that the owner had agreed to sell the hotel to the government before the seven man committee was set-up.
But Aji told Daily Trust that the community had written to the government informing it that unless other surrounding areas are marked as agreed, they will no longer give their cooperation because they don't want to be deceived.
"I don't want my people to see me as a dishonest leader since I was the one who begged them to co-operate with the government and assured them of government's sincerity," he said.
Adikaba confirmed receipt of the letter but expressed surprise about his committee's alleged insincerity as stated in the letter. He however said he had met with the Mai Anguwa and the issues have been resolved.