Abstract: To residents of the community, the construction of the football pitch was the cure needed to reduce the high level of crime and violence in the community.
Many years ago, in the 1970s, a community relaxation centre was built in the Surulere area of Lagos State. Named Love Garden, it hosted residents who wanted to sit and catch the ambience of fresh air for many years.
Some years down the line, however, less attention was given to the maintenance of the garden and this led to its deterioration.
From a once beautiful garden, it degenerated into an empty space used for different activities – football pitch, event ground and the likes. Soon, the swampy nature of the site condemned it to total abandon.
“The place was in a deplorable state,” Wale Aderibigbe, a former member of Love Garden Community Development Association (CDA), said. “It was very bad. We had water all over the place, green water, we were already scared that the residents would be infected with bacteria.”
During this time of neglect, some youth in the community, and from outside, hide in the wreckage of the garden to perpetrate violence in the community.
“At a stage, cultism got to a high level due to the influx of foreigners. They were cultists where they were living before and influenced the youths,” Mr Akin Lanlekun, a 30-year-old resident said.
To put the garden back to use, the CDA (in 2014) decided to turn the garden into a football pitch. To achieve this, they made some donations at the community level and then contacted Desmond Elliot, a state lawmaker representing the Surulere constituency, for contribution.
Residents say Mr Elliot assisted in sand-filling the garden. Thereafter, they turned to Femi Gbajabiamila, the lawmaker representing Surulere 1 at the Federal House of Representatives for further assistance.
The football pitch
Mr Gbajabiamila, who doubles as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, attracted N160 million to the project in two years.
In 2018 and 2019, a sum of N60 million and N100 million, respectively, was allocated as a Zonal Intervention Project (ZIP) for the construction of a football pitch, with the installation of solar lights, in Love Garden.
The pitch having artificial grass and a wire fence along two goal posts was commissioned in November 2019.
Initially, the project was supposed to include the construction of seats under rooftops but members of the CDA decided against it to prevent ‘area boys’ from sitting there and smoking. Instead, they opted for the construction of a gym and an event centre in the location.
An antidote to violence
To residents of the community, the construction of the football pitch was the cure needed to reduce the high level of crime and violence in the community.
Aderemi Francis popularly referred to as Coach Ade, said the football pitch has fostered peace among warring youths in the community.
“By the time they play (football on the pitch) and get tired, they have no strength to commit atrocities. After they finish playing they will put themselves together and play and laugh, unlike before when there was no peace,” he said, adding that since the completion of the pitch, the community has not witnessed any form of violent attacks.
Peter Oladele, 24, hopes to be a professional footballer someday. To achieve his dream, he trains at the Love Garden football pitch every week.
“The pitch has stopped a lot of negativity. Even the cultists themselves want to play football,” he said.
Obafemi Sarumi also wanted to be a footballer but gave up his dream five years ago to become a fitness coach because of ‘the biased nature of Nigerian football’.
He recounted how as a young footballer, before the construction of the pitch, he and his fellow aspiring footballers who used the street as a make-do football pitch, were constantly harassed by residents.
“We were playing on the streets, the residents were complaining, before you know it they called the police for us,” he said.
On this occasion, Mr Sarumi was not caught, as he ran away, but some of his colleagues were taken to the police station. He is happy that no footballer has to play on the street and get arrested again as the pitch has filled the void that allowed that earlier.
Moluoluwa Adesanya, a 16-year-old secondary school student has been involved in several fights in his school. In fact, he was once suspended from school for engaging in street fights. However, his life has taken a new lease since the completion of the pitch.
“We will not have time to go and be fighting when the field is here. Everybody’s mind has forgotten about fighting. This type of time. Now. It is usually just ball, work, go to school. Nobody has time for that one again,” he said.
Similarly, 17-year-old Semilore Ridwan would pick a fight at the slightest provocation but that was before.
“Anytime I come here (football pitch), I use to have fun here because I don’t have time to go anywhere. After that I’ll go home,” he said.
On a visit in March, UDEME noticed that the pitch and other facilities have started deteriorating.
The iron poles, supporting the fence, have started disengaging, the net on the goal post is not which was getting detached from each other had begun to rust and fall forwards, the barbed wire on the fence had multiple holes in them, and what remained of the goal post net was unable to cover the entire post as some parts had torn and huge piles of spoilt artificial grass lay behind the pitch.
Reports obtained from residents indicate that since the pitch construction, the CDA had renovated it three times. Also, they (the CDA) had to replace the artificial grass which had spoilt with one gotten from Teslim Balogun Stadium.
Commenting on the state of the pitch, Mr Taofiq Durosinimi-etti, Secretary to the CDA complained about the materials used.
“The materials they used are inferior. See the iron (pointing towards the pitch) see the way it’s bending, is it supposed to bend like that if it is quality material?”
He also noted that some people who claimed to be from the federal government had come to check the project within the year it was done. Though the residents complained to them, they did not return to repair it.
Meanwhile, Aloh Aderonke, a resident, wants the current CDA chairman, Seyi Ajakaiye, to take full charge of the maintenance of the field as did the former chairman.
Tags: Femi Gbajabiamila, Love Garden, Surulere, football in Lagos
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