After its initial rejection of a request by the All Progressives Congress (APC), the Akwa Ibom State government has given approval for the APC to use the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, Uyo, to host President Muhammadu Buhari and other APC leaders this Friday.
The state government’s approval is contained in a press statement issued on Monday evening by the Commissioner Youth and Sports in the state, Monday Uko.
“Following a decision by Julius Berger Plc to recall their staff from their scheduled holiday, the Akwa Ibom State Government has approved the use of the Nest of Champions Stadium, Uyo for the flag off of the President’s electioneering campaign on December 28, 2018,” Mr Uko said in the statement.
“Organisers of the rally are expected to meet with the stadium management to finalise this approval,” the commissioner added.
One of the reasons the government gave for its initial rejection of the APC’s request was that the officials of the construction company, Julius Berger, which maintain the facilities in the stadium, had shut down and travelled abroad for their end-of-the-year holiday.
The Akwa Ibom government had also said using the stadium for political campaign was going to have adverse effect on the grass in the stadium.
“The next season of the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) is scheduled to begin on January 13, 2019. In view of this and the fixtures of home matches for Akwa United FC, it will be practically impossible to ‘regrass’ the stadium for pre-fixed matches, if used for non-sports activities, because of the nature of pressure that such events bring on the pitch,” the commissioner, Mr Uko, said on Friday.
The government had directed the APC to make use of an alternative venue – the Uyo Township Stadium.
But the Uyo Township Stadium accommodates a far lesser number of people compared to the 30,000-capacity Godswill Akpabio stadium.
The government’s action, apart from being rejected by the APC, generated controversy within and outside the state, with some people seeing it as Governor Udom Emmanuel’s way of hitting hard on his political opponents.
“We recall that the stadium was used recently for the flag-off of the Akwa Ibom State PDP governorship election campaign for the second term bid and governorship primary of Your Excellency and there was no complaint of the likely damage to the field,” the APC chairman in Akwa Ibom, Ini Okopido, told Mr Emmanuel in a letter dated December 24.
Mr Okopido said the Uyo Township Stadium approved by the government was not suitable for the event.
“The party appreciates the alternative venue approved by the state government to use the 7,000 capacity stadium, with one entrance and one exit, for an event that more than 30,000 persons are expected.
“We, however, wish to draw Your Excellency’s attention to the likely breach of state security and a nagging fear of stampede, if such a small venue is used for an event of this national magnitude,” said Mr Okopido.
“The excuse of the grass and the season pales in the face of the magnitude of the presidential visit.
“We want to further intimate Your Excellency, that the visit of the president is a national affair, which must be accorded the importance and status it deserves.
“We consider it a great privilege for the state to be selected as the host for the event. We assure government that we shall take every necessary precaution to ensure that no damage is done, either to the grass turf or any facility in the stadium,” he added.
It is unclear if Governor Emmanuel received the letter from the APC and if it contributed to the Akwa Ibom governor reversing his earlier decision on the matter.