Is the Godswill Akpabio Stadium ready to host the world?

Nigeria plays host to the world once again at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo and as we all look forward to the game I can only just wonder whether we are really prepared for it.

After the fiasco that were the games against Algeria and South Africa and then the outright organisational mayhem that characterised the game against Cameroon, one has to wonder what fate befalls Nigerians in Uyo on Saturday, October 7.

On this page three weeks ago I cited the brutality of the security operatives on journalists that covered the game on September 1.

But it was not just the journalists that suffered, but the fans too, whether fee paying or not, the fans also got on the other side of security operatives trained for combat and anti terrorism, but certainly not sporting events.

But after all the complaints on social and traditional media, would we have a better organisation of this game?

In my other piece, I wrote, “Maybe it is time to boycott the Super Eagles” but can we really do that? Since boycotting the Super Eagles is not an option, then I ask if we can really get it right, off the pitch next Saturday?

We all know the last experience was terrible for almost every one who attended, especially the journalists who couldn’t do their jobs because mobile network signals were jammed, then a lot of them could not attend the post match press conference and most of all they were harassed and in some cases beaten up and teargassed by security operatives, but that is not what these 7 minutes are about.

For the fans, it is a mystery how they still turn out to watch the Eagles play, whether in Abuja, Kano, Kaduna or Port Harcourt as they are treated as common criminals by those who should do better.

Just one gate was opened to fans on match day, in spite of the fact that the Uyo stadium had 30 emergency exits and the queues were as long as up to 2 kilometers at some point before the game

The police men on duty even went as far as flogging them and in some cases using teargas.

And it is not just an Uyo, Calabar, Kaduna or Port Harcourt thing. It is a Nigerian thing because our people are not trained for certain situations.

In Abuja, many years back, I traveled to watch the game between Nigeria and Argentina and my cousin who lives and works there told me he needed to take his son to a real football game.

According to him, the only football his son knew at that time was on Play Station so I got tickets for him, but I was shocked when he called me up at half time very angry and almost swearing not to ever have anything to do with Nigerian football.

He said just as he was walking in through one of the gates, the police men on duty suddenly gave an instruction which was not adhered to because it was getting close to kick off and fans were eager to get in.

Suddenly, they released teargas into the air to send the fans back rather than open the gate which they had locked on ticket holding fans.

He had already gone through the gates at that time but felt the full force of the tear gas in the air.

He said his eyes were red and his son had been crying ever since.

This happened in Abuja

How we can organise these games better

In Lolade Adewuyi’s piece for the Guardian on September 15 titled, Uyo- Yaounde, A tale of two cities, he compared the organisational chaos the game in Uyo was with Yaounde, just 4 days later.

As the former editor of pointed out, the stadium in Uyo lacked seat numbers and a dedicated media tribune so VIP ticket holders and journalists jostled for seats on match day, but you can click here to read his submissions.

What can we do to make life better for Nigerians on Saturday in Uyo?

Get trained personnel: I think it is not too late to train personnel to provide security and logistics at the stadium. A one week training will not be too little too late.

First, bringing in operatives of the Department of State Security for a football match makes it seem like a there is more to it than meets the eye. Gun-totting police men, Special Anti Robbery Squad and even combat soldiers are not pictures you want to see at the stadium and most of all anywhere near the pitch. An overkill for a sporting event when Nigeria is not a Police State.

Trained stewards with the police acting as outside perimeter, hardly ever coming into play. These police must also be trained for the situation, not those that will open tear gas canisters at the slightest provocation.

Spectators coming to watch the game must feel comfortable going in, not expecting to be beaten up by the very people supposed to protect them.

Because of the chaos last time, I lost my smart phone in a scuffle with DSS operatives and I was not the only one. Andrew Randa of also lost his tablet in a previous Super Eagles game because of the same confusion. These are not stories we want to hear. The journalists have told their stories, but who knows the woes the fans have to tell?

Searching for network in Uyo. Pic by Tunde Bello
WIFI and mobile phone black out must stop: It is a regular feature in Nigeria, at least we have experienced it in Abuja, Port Harcourt and now Uyo that as soon as the governor of the state arrives, mobile phone signals are scrambled. Wow! In a stadium? During a football match?

Out there in the west, or in the civilised world as some Nigerians would want to say, many sporting events grant free wifi access at games.

Out there the media are given passwords to wifi as soon as they show their accreditation tags but in Nigeria signals are blocked, shutting out access to communication, even when you come with your own communication facilities to aide your job.

The sad part is that advertisers cannot capitalise on the game for any campaign on social media because signals are blocked and most of all journalists cannot even work while at the stadium too.

Such scenarios as fans posting their photos on twitter with a hashtag of the sponsors cannot be achieved because signals do not exist.

Social media enhancers, bloggers, website editors and journalists cannot work because of these conditions.

Can we have access to our mobile phone networks at the stadium on Saturday?

This is one aspect I expect the NFF to sit with sponsors, AITEO and the Akwa Ibom State government to sort out.

Media Accreditation, post match meeting and mixed zone: This has been shambles since the Eagles games moved to Uyo and it is because there has not been proper coordination between the NFF Director of Communications and the host state officials.

With Atletico Madrid's Saul Niguez at the mixed zone in Spain. 
The importance of the mixed zone can never be overemphasized. The media should have unrestricted access to it as long as the tags they wear grant them permission to be there.

The media should have unrestricted access to the dressing rooms of the players, as long as the tags they wear grant them permission to be there, but the tags become worthless if the combat policemen on duty see the media as security threat to the players who even need the media presence more than police presence.

The truth is that games do not come bigger than what we expect in Uyo on Saturday and we would expect the Eagles to win on the pitch while the fans and all watching get a good experience too.

If the press cannot do their job then the aim of traveling hundreds of kilometers to Uyo would also be defeated.

I saw the efforts of Amaju Pinnick and Christian Emeruwa to stop the DSS from bullying innocent people on September 1, making me understand that the Nigeria Football Federation really want things to run smoothly so this is the time to act (If they have not acted already).

There should be a lot of sensitizing going on now between Federation officials and members of the Akwa Ibom State Local Organising Committee.

The NFF Director of Communications should also at this time be making moves to ensure the journalists on duty can actually work on match day without hindrances, while we expect the NFF security committee to liaise with the home security team to ensure a hitch free game.

The fans also would love to stroll inside the stadium without harassment.

Is Uyo ready to host the world on Saturday? We really hope so, yes we do!

Photo taken by me at the entrance dressing room of a La Liga Stadium 

With Valencia's Montoya at the mixed zone in Spain. Can't happen in Nigeria. The police will shoot me in the head

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