Sports Minister, Mr. Bolaji Abdullahi, recently hinted that the Federal Government has concluded plans to concession the two national stadia in Abuja and Lagos. The move, he explained, will make them functional and add to their utilitarian value.
This is a commendable step because the two sporting facilities are in such a state of rapid dilapidation that without this kind of redemptive intervention, they may soon degenerate into a decrepit symbol of past glory. It is particularly noteworthy that government has identified this decadence and has embarked on measures to arrest the rot. This intervention may be coming late in the day, but it is still worthwhile in the sense that the two stadia will be put to better usage after the concession.
As the age-long aphorism has it, it is better late than never. Even as we support this initiative, we are also mindful of the fact that this kind of arrangement is usually fraught with drawbacks if the terms are not clearly stated. Therefore, we caution that the contractual obligations should be well spelt out to forestall any shortchanging. It is also our expectation that the interest of the public will be protected by ensuring appropriate pricing for usage of the stadia, after the concession. Another critical element of the concession that needs to be underscored is the duration of the Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) arrangement.
Experience with other concessions has shown that the timeframe for this kind of deal is unnecessarily long, and the other terms not clearly stated, leading to avoidable controversies. The latest of these concessions that went awry is the protracted Lagos-Ibadan highway reconstruction that had to be revoked recently over some issues. Now that the Abuja and Lagos stadia are going under concession, we hope that the remaining Federal Government-owned stadia will be rehabilitated and put to profitable use instead of the present development that signposts underutilization of such public arena.
Inasmuch as we support the new approach to the management of these stadia, it is critical to point out that there is a growing predilection towards concessioning of virtually everything belonging to government and, by extrapolation, the citizenry. The only way to rationalise this tendency is that government is abdicating its responsibility by ‘giving away’, as it were, these national institutions. The authorities cannot continue with this binge of leasing out public assets on the grounds that government does not run business. This kind of defeatist inclination cannot survive any serious interrogation.
If anything, the only challenge in government ownership of business is that a combination of factors, from corruption to indolence, serves as the antithesis to any such investment. Indeed, there is this general attitude that ‘government’s property’ does not belong to anyone, which is indicative of the lack of commitment by those saddled with such national assignments. No matter the challenges government has running public assets, there must be left some national symbols that it is duty-bound to maintain.
We cannot sell off everything under the disguise of concession or privatisation. There is no magic wand in the administration of public assets. What their management requires is good corporate governance. In other countries, there still exist functional public utilities that are held in trust for the citizenry by the central authorities. Nigeria cannot afford to lose authority on public infrastructure on grounds of managerial incompetence. Henceforth, the Federal Government should think deeply before handing over the people’s institutions to a few privileged members of the society.