On Tuesday, March 29, 2022, the Super Eagles of Nigeria played a 1-1 draw with the Black Stars of Ghana at the MKO Abiola National Stadium Abuja. The full time scores meant Ghana qualified on an away goal rule.
The failure of the Nigerian senior football team to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup provoked violence by fans who were apparently disappointed that the country would not participate in the international tournament holding in the small oil-rich country of Qatar.
The 60,000 capacity stadium was filled to the brim with some fans sitting down on the staircase while others leaned on the metal barricades.
The Nigeria vs Ghana World Cup playoff was the first international match to be played inside the MKO Abiola stadium in the last 10 years. The outcome of that match has claimed many casualties including the life of a Confederation of African Football (CAF) match official, a doping doctor, Joseph Kabungo from Zambia. And following the dismal performance, the entire technical team of the Super Eagles was sacked by their employer, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).
However, the recent loss is not the first time the country would lose woefully on the Abuja soil. A quick review shows plethora of bad luck inside the Abuja national stadium, raising great concern as to why the country hardly wins international matches there prompting some critics to describe it as a “caused” stadium
Here are examples of some previous failed attempts at the stadium:
• In 2003, the Super Eagles were humiliated 3-0 by Brazil. That was the first time the Eagles played in that stadium
• Also in 2003, Cameroon defeated Nigeria 2-0 to win the All Africa Games men’s soccer gold
• Earlier in 2002, three workers died during the construction of the Abuja Stadium Velodrome
• In 2012, Guinea eliminated Nigeria from an AFCON qualifier following a 2-2 draw. Nigeria was leading 2-1 late into the game, which was enough for us to qualify but bad game management by the Siasia-led coaching crew proved very disastrous
• On October 8, 2011, Nigeria failed to qualify for AFCON 2012 when the Super Eagles drew two all with Guinea.
• In 2004, Enyimba Football Club of Aba lost plots of land promised them by FCT minister, Nasir el-Rufai simply because Etoile Sahel scored a goal.
• Coach Raymond Ogosu died in a crash, near Abaji on his way to watch that Enyimba match
• In 2009, Switzerland beat Nigeria to win the FIFA Under 17 Championships held at the same stadium, and
• In 2014, 10 persons died in a stampede trying to join the Nigeria Immigration Service recruitment exercise held inside the stadium.
With the above scenario, the NFF should not have taken the Super Eagles to the Abuja stadium. As one commentator puts it, “whether you’re going historical, mystical, existential or spiritual, how do you expect Eagles to qualify Nigeria to the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup when terrorists are taking over Kaduna Airport, killing staff and holding planes from taking off and landing, when Abuja-Kaduna train is bombed by terrorists with many passengers dead and many injured and hospitalised?”
From all indications, it appears the establishment called Nigeria that rolled out buses to fill the Abuja stadium wanted to use victory on the pitch as temporary escapism, for Nigerians to forget, even if for a few days, the Kaduna mayhem and the crushing economic situation in the country. But the authorities forgot that you can’t put nothing on something.
Another worrisome aspect is the claim by a group that called itself, the indigenous people of Abuja that they were responsible for the constant failure of Nigeria to win any international football tournament at the stadium.
According to them, “ Nigeria will never win any match at the MKO Abiola Stadium, Abuja, because the stadium is sitting on the graves of their ancestors.”
Named the Abuja Grassroots Advocacy Projects, the group accused the Federal Government of neglecting the natives and forcefully seizing their lands without compensating them.
In a statement signed by two of their leaders, Yunusa Ahmadu Yusuf and Buhari Barkonun, they claimed that since the Federal Government has failed to compensate the original occupants of the Kukwaba District before their partial resettlement to Kubwa warning that Nigeria should never expect any victory from both local and international tournaments where the Abuja National stadium is built.
They threatened that “long-term consequences will continue to haunt and demean Nigeria’s dignity until the age-long issues against the Nigerian government are addressed.”
Whether the group’s claim is true or false, the disgrace the loss of the match to a lesser team, the Black Stars of Ghana, has brought to Nigeria calls for concern.
It is regrettable that the Super Eagles failed to qualify despite the enormous support from the government and the good people of Nigeria who turned out in throngs to fill up the 60,491 –capacity stadium for the clash that Tuesday.
Even the NFF acknowledged this fact in a statement issued by the Secretary General, Mohammed Sanusi, noting, “There was nothing the team needed that was lacking. The government provided necessary support; the NFF put all logistics in place with the active support of the Sports Ministry and Nigerians turned out en masse to support the team. The truth is that we left nothing to chance. It is sad that things turned out the way they did.
“We are quite sad that despite playing a draw in Kumasi, the Super Eagles could not win here in Abuja. We apologize unreservedly to the Government and people of Nigeria for this non-qualification.”
Now that Nigeria has once again lost the opportunity to participate in the 2022 World Cup, the authorities should conduct an inquiry into what led to the poor outing. Thereafter, they should in earnest commence preparations for future tournaments (continental and international, including the Olympics).
Definitely, a stitch in time saves nine.