By Olawale Ajimotokan, who was in Kaduna
The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has cleverly absolved itself of any liability arising from overcrowding and security breaches witnessed in Kaduna on Good Friday when Nigeria hosted Egypt in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
NFF Secretary General, Dr Mohammed Sanusi insisted that it was not the duty of the federation to control crowd at the stadium.
Sanusi said it was the function of Kaduna State government and the police to control crowd and provide security. He added that the football federation’s role was limited to organising the match.
The crowd control measures adopted for the match fell short of international best practices and also made Nigeria a laughing stock among nations.
It was only by divine intervention that no casualty was recorded during and after the match that ended 1-1 when Mohamed Salah stoppage time goal cancelled out Oghenekaro Etebo’s 62nd goal for Nigeria.
The suitability of Kaduna, the heart-beat of Northern Nigeria, to stage a fixture of such scope was raised given that the Ahmadu Bello Stadium only has a capacity for 25,000 fans.
The Super Eagles are no strangers to Kaduna: they hosted Chad in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier and had played Zambia and Burkina Faso in friendly matches.
However, good judgement demanded that a match between Nigeria and Egypt, with a spot to the Africa Cup of Nations at stake was not right for Kaduna which has seats for about 25,000 spectators.
Indeed, about 40,000 fans or more were cramped inside the Ahmadu Bello Stadium last Friday to cheer the Eagles to victory.
The tension was not helped by the decision of Kaduna State government to declare the stadium gates open as a way of marshalling public goodwill for the national team.
The fans choked into every available space. Some clambered into the television stand to the west of the stadium and the score board, directly opposite the VIP area, while the daring ones even did the extreme by climbing the four monolithic floodlights, portraying an impression of anarchy. The gate to the covered stand was locked two hours before the match, while those who managed to assess one of the two gates that directly lead to the pitch, infiltrated the technical area and the track further away from the goal post.
But the question is: where were the police while this embarrassment was foisted on the country in the glare of the world as the match was relayed on cable television?
Some of the security personnel on duty, including the police, army, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps and Department of State Services (DSS) were present in high number such that those on the pitch were mere football spectators.
International football rules forbidding unauthorized men around technical area, was defiantly violated, prompting the Match Commissioner, Mr Abbasi Ssendyowa from Uganda to threaten not to sanction the kick off unless the infiltrators were removed from the area.
NFF officials’ repeated appeal to the violators even in the local language was not headed.
In the heat of the moment, frustration could be seen on the face of President Amaju Pinnick, as he realised that the scenario being projected was a bad public relations for the country’s image.
Before kick-off as the both teams were warming up, an overzealous fan evaded security attention when he jumped from the stands and ran to the field to hug John Mikel Obi.
He was chased and ‘arrested’ by security men who repeatedly beat him as he was whisked away.
Sanusi told THISDAY yesterday that federation officials were highly embarrassed by the security lapses at the match.
He said that though the federation did all within its capacity it could not enforce control over the crowd.
“We did everything, we played our role but we have no control over the crowd. NFF is not a security agency; we can’t go and mount the gate.
“We even paid a courtesy visit to the Inspector General of Police in respective of this match. Our security committee even came to Kaduna where they had a meeting with the security here. The Commissioner of Police too was here, so how can anybody say NFF was responsible for security. We are not responsible for security in Kaduna state. It is the responsibility of the state government and the corresponding security operatives,” Sanusi declared.
It will be a mirage if CAF does not sanction Nigeria and in particular, Kaduna for the after studying Ssendyowa’s report.
But Sanusi insisted that CAF’s action would only be informed by media report, saying no one is sure of what the match commissioner report would write in his report.
He similarly defended the choice of Kaduna, saying it is national stadium and the possibility of Nigeria playing in the city in the future can’t be ruled out.
“We have not had this kind of problem since we have been playing in Kaduna. Just because of one episode and a setback, it does not mean we should place a blanket ban on Ahmadu Bello Stadium. The overcrowding was quite disturbing, but we thank God there were no casualties. The players were motivated by the presence of the fans who cheered from start till the end,” Sanusi said.