The dangers usually faced by home based players and club officials who cover thousands of kilometres by road to attend away matches has come to the fore once again following the road mishaps that some clubs encountered in the past week.
Although no life was lost in the over five unfortunate incidents, properties worth millions of naira were lost just as the players and their officials were left thoroughly traumatised.
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Last week Thursday, Nigerian Professional Football League side, 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 conveying the players and officials of the club, caught fire and burnt to ashes at Hawan Kibo, Riyom Local Government Area of Plateau State.
The occupants of the bus managed to escape but most of their properties like playing boots and training kits were consumed in the inferno.
In less than 24 hours of the ugly incident involving Wikki Tourists, players and officials of Adamawa United were attacked and robbed by gunmen while on their way to Lagos to honour their match with MFM.
The incident happened along Benin-Ore expressway at around 11.30pm in which the players lost all their phones, feeding monies and other important properties to the gunmen.
The most unfortunate part of the story was the abduction of the bus driver, Kabiru Muhammed. His abductors later demanded for a whopping N50m for him to be released.
The good news, however, is that the driver who was released on Thursday has reunited with his family. It is not known how much was paid to secure his release. Of course, those who kidnapped Muhammed had brought down their demand of N50m ransom to N1m.
While Nigerians were trying to get over the robbery attack on Adamawa United, another ugly incident popped up as Kwara United players and officials escaped being burnt to death on the Onitsha-Asaba expressway. They were returning to Ilorin after their 0-1 loss at Enugu Rangers in MatchDay 11.
The Technical Adviser of Heartland FC, Fidelis Ilechukwu and his two assistants suffered a similar fate February 9 when they were involved in a ghastly motor accident on the Benin-Asaba expressway while returning to Owerri.
Sadly, it is the second time in two seasons the coaches will be involved in a motor accident while returning to Owerri after a Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) game.
Female footballers also shared in the gory tales of road mishaps as a Nigeria Women Professional League side, FC Robbo of Lagos were robbed on their way to prosecute their away game at Delta Queens.
The bus driver went missing. However, after the dust settled, he resurfaced and the journey to Asaba continued.
These sad incidents have got the concerned players and officials talking again as they attempt to proffer solutions to the dangers they are being exposed to day and night.
What the players, officials say
Rivers United defence stalwart, Ifeanyi Anaemena has urged the League Management Company to stop clubs from travelling by road once the journey is more than seven hours.
“A lot of questions are usually asked when players are kidnapped or robbed on their way to matches. LMC should ensure that any journey that exceeds seven hours should be by flight as this will save time, energy and the careers of the players. Maybe, 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 use air transportation when travelling far.
“It has not been easy when we spend sometimes two days on the road. We are often faced with bad roads and armed robbers. This is not safe for us.
“Last week, when we travelled to Akwa Ibom, we left Jos around 6am and we got to Uyo around 10pm and were expected to give our best on the field. Some teams even get to their match venues a few hours to the match,” he said.
Similarly, Adamawa United midfield maestro, Adams Tunde is of the belief that the long travels have played a huge part in his recent injury woes.
“These long journeys are stressful. I believe they have contributed to my recurring injuries. They are very risky especially the night journeys. We have families, we are not animals but they don’t care.
“I understand there is a rule from LMC that once it is 6pm, clubs must stop and find a place to sleep but our clubs don’t adhere to such rules,” he said.
The Chairman of the Ondo State Football Agency (ODSFA), Otunba Tajudeen Akinyemi admitted that they never saw the issues of kidnapping and robberies coming. According to him, everyone concentrated on the deadly coronavirus.
“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.”
The chairman of Enyimba FC, Ayansi Agwu also blamed the bad roads for most of the mishaps suffered by the clubs. He said covering long distances on the road usually exposes the clubs to danger of accidents, kidnappers and armed robbers.
Meanwhile, it is pertinent to reiterate that before the recently witnessed incidents that have set tongues wagging, there were numerous cases in the past that even claimed the lives of some Nigerian football players and officials.
Past road mishaps involving Nigerian clubs
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.