Agony of View Centres Operators

Fans watching soccer at a viewing centre in Abuja

Many view centres operators who have expected to use the ongoing Word Cup to make brisk business are lamenting because of Boko Haram insurgents plan not to relent in its nefarious bombing spree

By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Jul. 21, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

COMPARED to what it has now become, Godfrey Eneh’s soccer viewing centre has seen better days. Being the only viewing centre in the low cost estate located in Nyanya, Abuja, it was usually jam-packed with soccer enthusiasts every time there is a big match.

But since the Brazil 2014 World Cup began, Eneh’s shop has now become a deserted place bereft of the usual screams and chants of fanatical supporters of various football teams.

Like Eneh’s Soccer Arena, Lincoln Lounge, another popular pub and viewing centre in Nyanya, has recorded low patronage since the World Cup began. The bar which on a normal day was usually filled with close to a hundred soccer fans shouting themselves hoarse every weekend now welcomes just a few customers even on match day.

Godfrey Eneh

To ordinary observers, the low patronage being experienced by Eneh and other viewing centres operators may be attributed to the fact that the on-going soccer tournament is televised on many local television stations. But to owners of viewing centres who at the short end of the stick, the low patronage is a fall out of security threat by members of the Boko Haram sect to attack soccer viewing centres in Abuja and other parts of the country.

Abubakar Shekau, leader of the sect, professes hatred for anything with a touch of the West. And since football is largely regarded as a creation of the West, he has not hidden his hatred for the sport. In one of his internet videos, he preached against football which according to him would have no part if the sect’s plan to impose strict Islamic laws in Nigeria succeeds. Shekau also described football and music as a Western ploy to distract Muslims from their religion.

Consequently, the Boko Haram leader and his lieutenants have been carrying out attacks on football viewing centres in the north-eastern part of the country since the beginning of the year.

Sometimes in March, many people were killed in explosions while watching football at a viewing centre in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, which is also the hotbed of the Boko Haram attacks.

There was another attack at a football viewing centre in Mubi, Adamawa State on June 1. The explosive which was detonated at viewing centre killed about 40 people who were watching a football match.

Two weeks before the Mubi attack, a female suicide bomber had attempted to drive an explosion-laden vehicle to a viewing centre in Jos. But the explosive detonated before the bomber could get to the viewing centre killing her and three other persons around the scene.

Boko Haram’s threat to prevent football lovers to enjoy the game during the ongoing World Cup became more worrisome on Tuesday June 10, when another explosion rocked a viewing centre in Damaturu, Yobe state. When the dust settled, 14 people were confirmed dead while about 26 others sustained various degrees of injuries.

Governor Ibrahim Gaidam, Yobe State
Governor Ibrahim Gaidam, Yobe State

The frequent attacks must have forced the police to issue directives to people to stay at home to watch the on-going World Cup matches. It has also forced the military to issue an advice to some state governors to place a total ban on viewing centres operating in their states.

For instance, the 23 Armoured Brigade of the Nigerian Army based Yola,  advised Murtala Nyako, governor of Adamawa State, to shut down all viewing centres to avoid more attacks by members of the Boko Haram sect. “Our action is not to stop Nigerians in the state watching the World Cup, it is to protect their lives,” Nicholas Rogers, a brigadier-general and brigade commander, said.

The state government paid heed to the advice and promptly shut down all viewing centres operating in the state thereby depriving many fan the opportunity to watch the soccer fiesta. Explaining the decision later, Ahmed Sajoh, director of press and public affairs to the state governor, said the order was based on the advice given by the army.

“Owing to the current security challenges, the army authorities have advised the state government to close all the commercial football viewing centres during the forthcoming World Cup competition in Brazil,” Sajoh said in a statement.

The Adamawa State government explained that it reasoned that commercial football viewing centres would record unprecedented crowd during the world cup tournament, and the insurgents might capitalise on the crowd polling tournament to wreak havoc. It advised owners of such viewing centres to take the ban in good faith as it was in the interest of the public, especially the youths who constitute the larger percentage of those who patronise the viewing centres.

A similar measure was taken in Plateau State. The state police command issued a similar directive and advised football fans to stay away from viewing centres. The federal capital territory, FCT, was not left out. The police command in the same vein, directed operators of soccer viewing centres to take extra security measures as well as collaborate with security agencies to safeguard their viewers during the World Cup tournament.

In statement, Frank Mba, the force public relation officer said: “For the safety of your clients and customers, the operators of the centres should carry out a thorough stop and search of viewers before allowing them into the centres.”

Frank Mba

A day after the police gave the advice, the federal capital territory administration, FCTA, announced a total ban on TV viewing centres in the city, and warned operators against flouting the order.

While there are really no complaints from viewing centres owners in other parts of the country where the order was given, those in Abuja are complaining bitterly. Apart from the low patronage by viewing centre operators, the centres have now become cash-cows for corrupt FCTA officials.

According to some of them, these officials storm the viewing centres, arrest owners and those watching football and later demand money from them. “That is what we are going through now and it is very unfortunate. We are complaining that people are not coming to watch and the few ones coming are being arrested and money extorted from them by these FCTA officials,” Eneh said.

To some frequent visitors of the viewing centres, the ban is an indication of the alarming level of insecurity in the country. Tanko Auta, a football enthusiast, opined that though the closure had to do with security which is the most important aspect of life, the economic effects to the operators also matter a lot. “To some of these owners, this is the only means of livelihood they have. With these bans, how do you expect them to feed?” he asked.

According to Bright Omotere, a viewer at the Lincon Lounge, the ban has not only become a source of making money for corrupt government officials, it has also hampered the sense of camaraderie that people who cannot watch the match alone usually enjoy. “This is the only place we come to take off the stress, play with friends and hail our teams. My fear is that even after the world cup, these FCTA officials will still be going round viewing centres to arrest innocent and claim the viewing centres have been banned completely.”

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