Playing football with terrorists

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One
of the most controversial decisions taken by the League Management Company, LMC
on the Nigeria Professional Football League is the sanctioning of the Maiduguri
stadium to host league matches.

As
soon as the league ended last season and the clubs relegated and promoted were
made known, the first question some league watchers posed was where El Kanemi
Warriors would play their games.
Of
no fault of theirs, El Kanemi Warriors are based in Maiduguri, a town besieged
by the terrorist group, Boko Haram.
There
was no official word from the League body then and it was not until the start
of the current season that the LMC accepted Maiduguri as venue for El KAnemi’s
home game citing “assurances from the state governor that the town was safe”
A
few weeks after the league kicked off the Federal Government declared emergency
rule in Borno State where Maiduguri is capital yet league games still continued
despite the uncertainty surrounding the area and the fact that pre-emergency
rule there were at least 30 deaths weekly due to terrorists’ activities.
How
have the clubs coped playing league games in Maiduguri?
Media
Officer of ABS FC, Jimoh Bashir described it as a terrible experience going to
Maiduguri as they were in continuous fear.
“First
you must know that from Damaturu (the capital of nearby Yobe state) to
Maiduguri I counted a little more than ninety military stops. The players must
all be dressed as such and your bus branded or else you will be made to alight
at each of those points and everybody searched by the soldiers,” Bashir said.
He
continued that getting into the town did not make them relax because they still
were not relaxed.
“They
told us the safest hotel in the town was one in the Government Reservation
Area. Incidentally that hotel was very close to Baga, another town known as a
Boko Haram stronghold so how could we have even closed our eyes to sleep?”
Basher
mentioned an incident during the match where street urchins, also known as area
boys almost disrupted play?
“More
than half the spectators at the stadium were smoking hemp and someone tried to
stop them and they took offence and wanted to stop the game. A top security
official had to beg them to continue smoking before they allowed play to
continue. Playing in Maiduguri is not what anyone would wish for.”
Another
team that has played in Maiduguri is Sharks of Port Harcourt even though their
fixture came after the emergency rule was declared.
Media
Officer of Sharks, Peter Abaje told naijafootball247.com that their greatest
issue was a total communications black out in the town.
“As
soon as we left Bauchi we were told to talk to our loved ones for the last time
because we wouldn’t be able to do so again until our return.
“All
phone lines and internet services were blocked except of course you own a
satellite phone. The stadium security was okay but movement in the town was
restricted from 5pm while in other less volatile areas it was from 9pm,” Abaje
said.
“It
was a terrible experience because for two days we were shut out from the
outside world and if anything had happened to us, who would have known?”
Truth
must be told that there has not been an incident yet in Maiduguri but it does
not make the town less safe than it is now.
But
as regards the league, the negative part of Maiduguri is the fact that nobody
gets league results until the visiting team leaves the town the next day and
whatever match reports are based on what the visiting team says.
I
sent an email to the chairman of the League Management Company, Nduka Irabor
twice in two days and did not get an answer.
Television
giants, Supersport have been broadcast rights owners for the Nigerian League
for about half a decade now but in two years have not gone to the northern part
of Nigeria due to security challenges.
That
means there have been no live home games of Kano Pillars, Kaduna United, Wikki
Tourists, Gombe United, Lobi Stars and Zamfara United before they were
relegated.
In
spite of this, those that run the league allow clubs to continue playing
football with terrorists in the most dangerous of places.
Will
we continue to do this? Yes, until something bad happens, but before then, the
clubs that go to Maiduguri will just pray it won’t happen in their time.

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