NIGERIA’S BLACK SATURDAY
Black Saturday it was for the Nigeria league but especially for premier league sides Zamfara United and Ocean Boys. As the Ocean boys and Bayelsa united players prepared for the ritualistic kick-off at the Oghara township stadium, 7 fans lay dead at the Ughelli-Patani stretch of the East West Road. Latest victims of a worsening state of security in the Niger Delta but this time with an ugly twist smeared with the putrefaction of football hooliganism. A press release from the Ocean boys management reveals that the fans commuting in the team’s bus- a Mitsubishi L300 bus with plate number XT78APP was trailed for a while before a trail of gunfire halted them somewhere about Ughweru . The fans would not have been travelling to Delta if the Yenogoa township stadium was not being renovated.
But Zamfara united had no such luxury-theirs was an away fixture so they had to haul everything on board to Bauchi-they commuted by road. One of the team’s buses failed to make it to Abuja leaving 7 dead, 7 injured the casualty list read-Wikki Tourist official Ado Umar died on the spot and a player, Abdullahi Sabiu, died in hospital early on Saturday.
One month earlier, members of the National assembly had observed a minute silence in memory of 17 Jimeta United Footballers who had died in a bus crash in North Central Jos. More minutes of silence would be observed nationwide but the truth is the roads remain death traps; and road accidents in Nigeria is a more lethal killer than HIV/AIDS claiming victims in tens of thousands yearly.
However the Nigeria league has long thrived in a mirage that all is well. The Nigeria premier league-the signpost of Nigerian football is besmirched in corruption and languishes in mediocrity. Inadequate stadia and facilities, poor travel arrangements, welfare and management are just a tip of the iceberg of an endless woebegone list of challenges facing Nigerian football. It is incomprehensible why teams continue to tempt fate week in week out on pit-hole ridden roads. Even when clubs play on the continent, the rule of thumb is to travel by road.
Last year league officials were ridiculed when a centre referee, Paul Umeagu and his assistants Auwalu Barau and Abdul Waheed Dauda were beaten to pulp by irate Enyimba fans after a local derby with Heartland FC ended 1-1. Two months later a ban on the Aba township stadium was lifted-very posh-soft landing for the peoples Elephant, some may readily admit. Enyimba’s media officer, Tonnex Chukwu adding salt to injury had claimed that the referee and his assistants were to blame for the provocation as the officials cancelled out goals scored by Enyimba, worse still none of the hooligans has either been prosecuted. Soccer hooliganism was the reason for last Saturday’s mayhem, over and there were reports of clashes and reprisal from Yenogoa to Delta state on the Friday, yet security operatives looked to the Niger bridge
Premier venues are considered hostile and volatile not only to visiting teams but also to peace loving fans. This unfortunately has led to declining gate earnings as well as record low viewership levels.
The NFL must mandate effective crowd control measures are enforced before the use of a stadium. Corrupt policemen must be prosecuted and the NFL must step in to investigate bribery allegations against club officials and match officials. Meanwhile justice must be served first by fishing out the perpetrators of Saturday’s dastardly act against Bayelsa United.