The dangers of going to match venues by the home based football players has come to the fore again following the recent road mishaps some clubs have encountered in the past week.
It is a known fact within the Nigerian football community that most clubs travel to match venues by road, due to complaints of high cost of air travel by club officials.
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.
Last week Thursday, one of the clubs in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), Wikki Tourists, were involved in a road accident on their way to Uyo for their NPFL Match Day 11 tie against Dakkada FC.
The bus, which was carrying the players and officials of the Bauchi-based club caught fire at Hawan Kibo, Riyom Local Government Area of Plateau State.
According to an eyewitness account by one of the players in the bus, Damala Ezekiel, he revealed the bus lost two tyres before finally going up in flames
Secretary of the club, Abdullahi Ibrahim, who also confirmed the incident to newsmen said no one was hurt in the accident.
“Yes one of the tires of the bus burst and the vehicle was engulfed by fire. Fortunately the vehicle did not somersault and all the players and other occupants were able to escape through the windows of the bus. No one was hurt but the players and the occupants are in shock.
“Thank God no one is hurt but the players are in shock because they all escaped out of the windows of bus but all their match kits, jerseys, boots were burnt to ashes,” he said then.
In less than 24 hours after Wikki Tourists players and officials narrowly escaped being burnt to death, news filtered in that the players and officials of Adamawa United attacked and robbed by gunmen while on their way traveling to Lagos. The heartbreaking incident happened along Benin-Ore express way at around 11.30pm in which the players lost all their phones, feeding monies and other important properties to the gunmen.
Adamawa United were actually heading to Lagos for their Nigerian Professional Football League week 11 game against MFM at the Soccer Temple in Agege, Lagos.
The driver who was driving the coaster bus carrying the players was kidnapped and a ransom was demanded from the kidnappers for his release.
Few hours later, the kidnappers reduced the ransom from N50 million to N10 million before again reducing it to N1 million according to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Sports in Adamawa, Abubakar Jada who further said the government was working round the clock to ensure release of the driver.
In what began to look like an unseen attack on Nigerian football clubs, another side, Kwara United also narrowly escaped being burnt to death.
The team bus was engulfed in flames as the Afonja Warriors were returning to their base in Ilorin after losing 1-0 to Enugu Rangers in Match Day 11.
The accident which occurred along the Onitsha-Asaba expressway saw the players and coaching staff expectedly scrambling out of the vehicle after they discovered fired coming out from underneath the bus.
According to the Media Officer, Jimoh Bashir, says no lives were lost and no one was injured when the team’s bus caught fire in Asaba.
”We are grateful to God that none of our players and officials was injured in the incident, and no case of lost life or lives,” Bashir said then.
Also, Kano Pillars’ bus also caught fire on Friday, February 19, 2021, but players and officials rallied to quench the fire to cap a week of unpleasant experience for many players and officials of NPFL clubs.
It will be recalled that on February 9, Heartland FC Head Coach Fidelis Ilechukwu his two assistants alongside Team Manager were involved in a ghastly motor accident on the Benin-Asaba expressway while returning to Owerri.
It was reported that the coaches who were inside a Toyota Venza SUV sustained minor injuries.
According to eye-witness account, the Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) rammed into a Mercedes Benz 911 truck that was carrying bamboo that left the windscreen and roof of the car severely damaged.
Interestingly, it is the second time in two season the coaches will be involved in a motor accident while returning to Owerri after a Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) game.
Meanwhile, Ilechukwu who was behind the wheels at the time of the crash, passed out was immediately and was rushed to St. Luke’s Hospital in Asaba where him and other passengers received treatment for various injuries.
While the men were still reeling in the near deaths, a female team in the Nigeria Women Professional League suffered a similar fate as the men.
FC Robo Queens were robbed on their way to prosecute their away game at Delta Queens according to the Club coach and founder, Emmanuel Orobosa Osahon.
The Club was robbed and their bus driver initially missing before he was later seen with the robbers taking everything from the players including their kits as they were stranded at Ijebu Ode, Ogun State before they later located their driver and continued their journey to Delta State.
WHAT STAKEHOLDERS SAY
Speaking with Rivers United defence stalwart, Anaemena Ifeanyi, he urged the LMC to prevent clubs from travelling by road once the journey is beyond 7 hours.
“There are several ways the LMC can make things easy for the NPFL players especially when it comes to traveling issues. A lot of questions have been asked concerning this travelling issues for some years now where players are kidnapped or robbed on their way. LMC should put a mandate on clubs that any journey that exceeds 7 hours should be by flight as this will save time, energy and save the careers of the players. Maybe because so far, no team has been shot dead that is why they have not done the right thing,” he said.
In the same vein, Plateau United captain, Elisha Golbe said the long travels affect their productivity on the field while urging the government to put in place measures that will see them go by air for long travels.
“It has not been easy with us travelling long journeys where we spend sometimes, two days on the road. We are often faced with bad roads, armed robberies. This is not safe for us. Last week, when we travelled to Akwa Ibom, we left Jos around 6am and we got Uyo around 10pm and we are expected to give our best on the field. Some teams even get to their match venues few hours to the game.
“If the government who own most of the clubs should ensure that journeys more than 13 hours should be flight. When we lose, everyone blast us but don’t know what we go through. We have security with us when we travel but what can they do when they encounter heavily armed men who will easily overpower them,? he queried.
Similarly, Adamawa United midfield maestro, Adams Tunde is of the belief that the long travels played a huge part in his recent injury woes.
“These long journeys are stressful and maybe there are the cause of my injuries. They are very risky especially the night journeys. We have families, we are not animals but they don’t care about. I understand there is a rule from LMC that once it is 6pm, clubs must find a place to sleep but our clubs don’t adhere to such rules,” he said.
Speaking further, former Wikki Tourist’s player, Nafiu Kabuga is hopeful the league will improve while admitting long travels is not good for the players.
“I believe that with time things will improve in the league. It has not been easy but we will overcome. It will be great to travel by flight so that the expectations of fans from the players can be met.
“Travelling long distances have adverse effects on the performances on the players but with time, we will get there. We can’t travel from Bauchi for example to Lagos and won’t need to a day rest before playing the next day,” he asked.
The Chairman of the Ondo State Football Agency (ODSFA), Otunba Tajudeen Akinyemi admitted that the kidnapping cases was not expected as club owners were more focused on the pandemic.
“It is very challenging for all of us. When we met as club owners, we didn’t see this coming. We thought our only challenge was COVID-19 but now we are battling with kidnapping and banditry on the roads where a lot of properties have been damaged. Initially the pandemic was our issue but not again at the moment that much.
“We have started already and the league just has to continue like that. As the South-West director for the LMC, if we had known all these would have happened, we would have asked for clubs to play a zonal format and the top 2 from each zone would then meet to get teams to represent the nation in continental games,” he said.
SOME RECENT ROAD MISHAPS
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.
In December 2008, nine female footballers and two coaches were burnt to death in a motor accident in Mangu, Plateau State.
Also 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.
15 members of FC Jimeta from Adamawa State were killed in a road accident in Plateau State while on their way to Abuja for a league game in January 2009. Eleven players died on the spot while four others lost the battle to survive in hospital.
In August 2013, Kano Pillars technical crew members were involved in an accident with former Head Coach Mohammed Babaganaru sustaining head injuries while Abdu Maikaba and others had other forms of injuries.
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 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.
Lobi Stars narrowly escaped death after their team bus caught fire while returning from an away game in March 2020.