Written by China Acheru
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.