Fans’ hunger for Eagles and poor crowd control at Ahmadu Bello stadium
In October 2009, the city of Kaduna played into the bad books of FIFA when Nigeria hosted that year’s edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Then, the Ahmadu Bello Stadium was the home ground for Group F matches involving Uruguay, South Korea, Algeria and Italy.
In his bid to ‘prove’ to FIFA that the Kaduna center had the highest number of spectators, former governor, Namadi Sambo, was said to have bought 60 percent of the tickets for the opening group match involving South Korea and Italy.
The government also provided free transportation for fans in all the local government councils to come to Kaduna for the game. It worked, as FIFA showered praises on Sambo and members of the Kaduna Local Organising Committee for a job well done. The commendation only lasted for a few days.
On the day of the second group match between Uruguay and Algeria, disaster nearly occurred at the Kaduna center. Unknown to a majority the fans, the government ‘free ticket’ was over.
Governor Sambo had traveled out of town on official engagement and members of the LOC were caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, as the fans in their thousands, besieged the stadium seeking free tickets.
Explanations by security officials at the gates that the free tickets were meant only for the opening group game did not go down well with the fans. There was pandemonium and the center had to suffer a glitch, when men of the Operation Yaki fired teargas to disperse protesting fans, who wanted to gain entrance into the stadium by all means.
The incident, which happened outside the stadium, was described by FIFA as ‘usual security scare,’ which left low point for the LOC and government of Kaduna.
The tear gas choked some of the players on the pitch, including Uruguay goalkeeper. Some of the fans occupying the sector close to the crisis point were forced to infiltrate into the tartan track for safety.
Last Friday, the Ahmadu Bello Stadium was again the center of attention; this time, during the AFCON 2017 qualifiers between the Super Eagles and Pharaohs of Egypt.
Fans were initially required to pay between N300 and N1000 to watch the match, but they were later told to go to designated centres across the state to collect free tickets for access into the stadium.
The State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, was said to have paid for all the match day tickets for the fans to cheer the Eagles. It became a ‘black market’ for some people in the city, who capitalized on the ‘free meal’ to enrich their pockets.
The Ahmadu Bello Stadium, which has less than 20,000 capacity, was considered a good hunting ground for the Super Eagles before last Friday’s game against Egypt.
It was learnt that the NFF had printed 13,100.00 tickets for the game. Not leaving anything to chance, security officials announced that fans without match day tickets would not be allowed around the stadium vicinity for the game that was scheduled to kick off by 5.00 p.m.
However, security personnel at the gates were overwhelmed by the fans, who forced the gate open and in the process recorded an overcrowding situation in the stadium.
Despite the presence of heavy security within the main bowl, one ‘crazy’ fan still found his way into the playing pitch to hug and kiss team captain, Mikel Obi. Many fans, who could not find space inside the main bowl, took the risks of their lives by climbing onto the floodlight, scoreboard and camera stands just to watch the game. Some of the fans were forced to sit on the tartan track.
The situation became so tensed that some journalists, who were accredited to cover the match, were forced to return to their various hotel rooms to watch the game.
“I pray to God that no ugly incident occur here because this crowd is overwhelming,” an NFF official told The Guardian while the game was on.
But one state FA chairman, who was not satisfied with what he saw, gave Kaduna State government a knock for what he described as ‘poor crowd control.’
“This is poor and unacceptable under FIFA security arrangement,” the FA chairman said. “How can they allow more than 40,000 spectators into a stadium of less than 20,000 capacity? If I were the match commissioner for this match, there is no way I would allow the game to kick off. This stadium has only two exit gates and if any ugly incident should happen, everybody will be in trouble.”
Speaking further, the angry FA chairman said: “What the state government should have done was to mount some giant television screens outside for the fans, who could not enter the main bowl to watch the game. The government even complicated issues by allowing people to drive their vehicles into the stadium. It is not acceptable. Even in our local league games in the east, we don’t allow such things any longer. I am sure the Confederation of African Football (CAF) will slam a heavy fine on the NFF for crowding this stadium.”