Nigerian football clubs and incessant road mishaps

THE Sportbay recorded that in 1996, 14 people, including 11 policewomen footballers died in a ghastly motor accident in Ijebu-Ode, near Lagos, along the Benin-Sagamu expressway after a downpour. Again, In December 2008, 9 female footballers and 2 coaches were burnt to death in a motor accident in Mangu, Plateau State. A year after, in January 2009, 17 players of Adamawa United lost their lives after their bus was involved in a crash in Jos on their way to a league match in Abuja. A month later, precisely on February 20, 2009, a bus conveying players and officials of Zamfara United was also involved in a fatal accident that claimed the lives of a player, Abdullahi Sabiu and the team’s curator, Ado Umar. Another report came in February 2014, Sunshine Stars also suffered an accident which left their team bus in tatters and players psychologically harassed. Then, five Kano Pillars players were injured in a robbery attack that happened while the team was on their way to a game in June 2015. Giwa FC were also attacked by gunmen in Enugu on their way to honour a game against Abia Warriors in Umuahia in 2015. In January 2016, Enyimba were ambushed by heavily armed robbers on their way to Kaduna for the Super 4 tournament. In October 2018, Kwara United’s team bus was involved in a crash during an away trip to their 2018/2019 NPFL season opening game.

In February 2018, Chinedu Udoji of Kano Pillars football club died in a fatal motor accident after involving in a car accident after visiting his former team mates at Enyimba. That year, this tragic accident happened along Club Road in Kano after Udoji had played in Kano’s 1-1 draw with his former side Enyimba. Fast forward to March 2020: two Nigerian footballers, Ifeanyi George and Emmanuel Ogbu were pictured killed in a car crash in Nigeria. The pair, who played for Nigerian league side Enugu Rangers, were involved in a crash on the Benin-Agbor road whilst travelling to Lagos that Sunday morning. The players who were returning to Lagos from Enugu following a break in the Nigeria league due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet again, in that same March 2020, another Nigeria Professional Football League, NPFL side, Lobi Stars were involved in a motor accident on their back from match venue. Lobi Stars who were returning to their base in Benue State after edging Kwara United 1-0 in Ilorin on Sunday, could only watch as their team bus exploded and burnt to ashes. The team reportedly left Ilorin, Kwara State capital on a Monday evening and were on the verge to entering Makurdi when the unfortunate incident happened.

Yet again, it’s the same bitter news again in 2021, as various clubs has been experienced series of road mishaps and kidnapping, while traveling to honour their Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) matches in various parts of the country. The worrying trend has become very obvious over the last two months. TheCable recently unveiled a timeline of incidents from February 16, 2021 to date. The timeline numbered the Wikki Tourist Bus Fire, the bus conveying team members of Wikki Tourists Football Club of Bauchi, one of the sides participating in the NPFL, caught fire along the Jos-Bauchi highway. Another is the February 20 robbery and abduction of Adamawa Utd, the bus transporting players of Adamawa United Football Club was attacked by bandits along the Benin-Lagos highway. The players were robbed while travelling to Lagos to honour a weekend game against MFM FC. The bus driver known as Alhaji Kabiru was abducted by the bandits.

Another is the February 23 scene for FC Robo, a Nigeria’s Women Football League (NWFL) side, was attacked by gunmen along Ijebu-Ode road in Ogun State. They were heading to Agbor, Delta State, from Lagos for their week seven match against Delta Queens. The players and officials of the Lagos-based club had their valuables taken away by the gunmen and were left stranded till the next morning after their driver went missing. Also, Akwa United bus crashed in Enugu after a head-on collision with a truck en route Kaduna to honour their week fifteen match against Jigawa Golden stars.The Uyo-based club said a player and two officials sustained injuries in a Tweet to announce the incident. Yet more, players and officials of Ekiti United football club were involved in an auto accident while returning from their evening training session. And lately, A bus conveying the youth team of NPFL side, Enyimba FC of Aba, was involved in a road accident. The team was on its way back to Aba from a tournament in Imo state.

Obviously, these road mishaps occur because most clubs travel to match venues by road, due to complaints of high cost of air travel by club officials. Yet often, the journey is undertaken a day before their games in order to save costs thus putting the players, officials at the mercies of the bad roads that litter the country and most importantly as well as unfortunately, at the mercies of dare-devil men of the underworld, which leads them to the unexpected. From Manchester to London to Amsterdam to Napoli to Munich to Genk and all over the world, football obviously thrives by movement from one location to another. The football team, their supporters and officials are always part of this movement to supervise and monitor growth in games. The fans most especially are in the obligations of covering the distance between the venues and their residence. Many times has teams in Manchester travelled to countries of Turkey, Spain and the likes to show support. Unlike Nigeria, in more advanced countries, moving from one venue to the other is not so much of a problem because there exists easy means of transportation across such countries. We can always talk of Train, Cable and Aircraft.

Apparently I’m a Manchester United fan, I know Manchester United do not have to leave for match venues days earlier than the kick off date because they have easy means of getting to their centres. Clubs like this, and many others have such means of transportation as effective rail system, affordable aviation service and even smooth water transportation make it easy for teams to get to their destinations without much hassles. However, such is not the case for teams in my beloved country Nigeria, as NPFL clubs ply vulnerably on deplorable Nigerian roads.

I’m always on my knees praying each time my favourite NPFL club, Shooting Stars of Ibadan travels for an away game. It’s always overwhelming.

If you are a follower of the NPFL like I do, you will agree with me in witness that football teams in the NPFL have suffered various forms of attacks from armed robbers and gunmen like the previous instance in the introduction, who often take advantage of the poor security situation on the highways to unleash terror on players. Travelling from the Eastern part of the country to the West can take as much as eight hours, while a travelling from the North to the East lasts sometimes more than sometimes two to three days. Ask 3SC how it cost to travel from Ibadan to Kano? Ask Rivers United how much they do suffer when they travel down to Akure?

While the farthest a team can fly from one end of the country to the other is two hours, most teams cannot afford the luxury of air travel because they lack the finances to accomplish that. All these travel long distances and often head into matchdays fatigued, with very little time to train and acclimatise to the environment, results invariably suffer. No wonder, It is very rare to see away wins in the NPFL, as players will already be exhausted even before match day. Yes? once a positive response in 2018, when Goal.com identified two clubs, Akwa United and Heartland, who took bold steps to ease the burden of the long away trips this year by signing deals with Dana Air. Although this was a welcome development and the first of its kind in the NPFL. Today, the beautiful development is no more, bitter that private owned clubs cannot even fund that, why? Why can’t MFM of Lagos management get it team a plane to travel down for away games? Why can’t Dakadda do so? Why can’t Vandrezzer do so? Why?

Repeatedly and generally, facts shows that there are increasing rate of crime and road crashes in public transportation system in Nigeria. The country has lost a good number of her productive population to the incidences of crime on board public transportation, which most times result to road crashes. Ordinarily, the nation is still grapping with the scourge of road crash related death, which soars geometrically. Sad still, this wanton destruction of lives on the roads is compounded by the activities of criminals whose aim primarily is to cart away valuables items of commuters. Ask Kano Pillars for their bitter tales? Experience has it that some criminals hijack vehicles and drive to nearby bushes to unleash terror on the helpless victims, while in some cases stones, tyre rims and woods are used to stop vehicles. According to Idowu, (2006) “oranges and foam balls have been at various ugly times laced with nails and set on roads as traps to deflate the tyres that ran over them. Tyres have been shot on motion as well as direct attack on the drivers and passengers. Many lives have been lost at different times when buses were attacked on the highways”. Some criminals board vehicles as passengers and along the way, rob people of their valuables. Where should we look up to?

At the end, the actions of these criminals on board the passenger vehicles result in road traffic crashes and gun shots killing or injuring passengers in the vehicles. The nature of Nigerian roads, the driving culture, unexpected behaviour of other road users, road engineering and crime at various points during a journey account for the high rate of death on our roads. So shall we continue to look at our innocent Nigerians who want to survive die ‘prematurely’? Or shall we watch them get attacked while they make end meet? Will the Federal Government of Nigeria continue to sit back and not provide security for her people? Will state government who doubled as owners of football clubs not fund security for the clubs? Will NPFL, NNL clubs not find a better way of protecting the clubs all?

Now, let’s take a break here, let’s accept that Nigerian roads cannot be fixed, let’s accept that NPFL clubs cannot afford other means of transportation apart from road, but what of insurance to the life of this players when they go vulnerable? It’s sad that even when this accident happens, the victims which always involve the players and staff are not insured, It is bitter that contracts in Nigeria are not properly crafted with emphasis on typical clauses and the significance of such clauses. For example, what happens if a player gets injured? What happens during accident? This brings to mind the issue of insurance scheme for players. Section 21(g) NFF Act states that every registered football club should have a satisfactory insurance policy put in place. Also, Rule 12.12 NPFLR recapitulates that clubs shall ensure that they maintain a medical insurance scheme approved by the LMC and comply with all relevant pension laws. Tell me why should this be difficult for Nigerian football clubs to comply and implement? I’m sure no player of Adamawa United is insured, don’t ask me how. Last year, Leelaw Barristers and Solicitors monitored NFF as they signed a five year partnership deal with Wapic Insurance Plc.10 Many insurance companies provide a wide range of products to football clubs such as Public Liability Insurance (PLI), Group/Personal Accident Insurance (GAI/PAI) and others, I wonder how true is this?

Afolabi Elebiju and Omovefe Oghotomo researc identified how the PLI and PAI deserve special mention. For the PLI, a club can be held liable if it was negligent or failed to take reasonable care to prevent injury to members of the club, spectators and match officials or damage to property. This insurance is designed to pay compensation and legal cost that arises if the club or any of its members are found to be at fault.

PAI is designed to provide compensation for players following injury whilst playing, training and travelling to and from an organised club activity. The club does not need to be negligent for a successful claim to be made. Benefits of such cover include quick settlement for injured players and this proves that the club has taken extra measures to protect its players. This should be a necessity for our football clubs as there are instances where players are involved in accidents. I just wonder have always been the fate of victims of road accident, injuries and all? I wonder how the family of these players must have survived? I wonder?

In Alex Monye testimony, he testified that in the past, rich teams like Leventis United, Abiola Babes, Julius Berger, Iwuanyanwu National and BCC lions, among others, often flew to distant match venues. Apart from giving the players the opportunity to rest before matches, it also ensured they arrived the venues safely. However, the current economic situation in the country has made it difficult for most of the teams to travel by air. Only a few like Akwa United and Heartland, which signed an agreement with DANA Air, airlift their players to match venues, which was even no longer existing today. Why?

Today, shall we teach the Nigerian league clubs how to sign up with airlines for sponsorship or deals that would make it possible for their teams to travel by air? Shall we tell them that these airlines will have the opportunity to advertise their brands through the clubs, and that business will bloom? Shall we tell them that the League Management Company (LMC) should also come hard on clubs in their guidelines by making it compulsory that teams must be airlifted to far distant venues? And in the area of insurance for players, should we tell them the clubs how to be serious on paying the premiums? What else shall we tell them?

Finally, for football lovers, we all know that anywhere in the world, football is big business, apart from Nigeria. This issue of players facing attack on the roads is an issue that has always been talked about, tomorrow it will still be talked about?. Shouldn’t we try other means of transportation? Shouldn’t we invest in football? Shouldn’t we fix the welfarism of our players? It is now a call to all stakeholders to go back to the drawing board and get things fixed for Nigerians, the Nigerian football league, the players and people affected by this.

 

•Ogungbile writes in via thedreamchaser65@gmail.com

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