Hillsborough and Minister Abba Boro – Part 1
It was a lovely spring day, April 15, 1989. There was the semi final FA Cup match between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool Football Club. It was to be played at the neutral ground of Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough in South Yorkshire, England. The capacity of the Stadium was about 29,000. Liverpool Football Club supporters have a reputation of over boisterous support of their club and are not averse to fighting and rioting when Liverpool is playing. (Football hooliganism is a major feature of English Football). That reputation had gone before Liverpool supporters to Hillsborough whose Police Force (South Yorkshire Police) had the mindset that the hooligans of Liverpool would cause trouble on that day.
The game was to start at 3:00p.m. A short while before thousands of Liverpool supporters were still outside waiting for the slow entrance through the turnstiles to let them in. Many had been drinking in nearby pubs and were definitely noisy and anxious to get into the Stadium. They had tickets. But the admission process was slow. The game had started; the crowd was restive. The South Yorkshire Police officers, fearing there would be a riot ordered that the main doors of the Stadium be opened. But there were people already in the passage ways leading to the turnstiles. Opening the gates merely caused a crush, as people started to get out since the game had then been cancelled for fear of a riot. Pandemonium ensured. Thousands were injured and 96 Liverpool fans were killed as a result of the crush.
By law, such occurrences have to go to a coroner for decisions of the cause of death. That was when events started to turn sour. The coroner’s inquest originally returned a verdict of accidental death. Meaning that no one was responsible and no one could be prosecuted. This verdict incensed the relatives of those who died and the supporters of Liverpool Club and indeed all of Liverpool. They smelt that something rotten was going on. After all, there were cameras in the field, there were witnesses. A pressure group of relatives of dead spectators and other civil rights groups took up the case. Unfortunately, the Police were economical with the truth and sent false information to the Press in an attempt to cover up the hopeless handing of the disaster. The stadium was opened for entrance at 2:52p.m. for a game that was to start at 3p.m.
The gates were closed at 3:05p.m.! The Sun, the largest tabloid newspaper in the UK, carried the news that the crowd was unruly and riotous, hence the Police stopped admission which further incensed the crowd by insinuating that “the hooligans” “football bullies” were the main reasons for the crush which led to the deaths. The Press led the attack on the inquiry led by Lord Taylor in 1990, which absolved the fans of any contribution to the disaster. Taylor condemned the Police action. Nevertheless, the Director of Public Prosecution claimed there was still no evidence for prosecution. The families of the dead were even angrier and continued their agitation for justice. They made a documentary film, Hillsborough, in 1996 but the authorities remain unmoved. Another inquiry was set up this time, led by Lord Justice Stuart Smith, 1997, who also concluded that no prosecution was justifiable. The aggrieved people tried private prosecution but that failed in 2000. Their agitation continued.
Nevertheless on April 15 every year, the Hillsborough “massacre” or deaths were commemorated. In 2009, on the 20th anniversary, the Labour Minister of Sport had come to that year’s commemoration and attempted to make a speech at Enfield, the home of Liverpool Football Club. He was booed and heckled. He set up the Hillsborough Independent Panel to take a fresh look at the whole of the Hillsborough affairs because of the rawness of the emotions he saw in Liverpool. The Panel reported in 2012, largely confirming Taylor’s findings where he criticised the Police for attempting to shift the blame from themselves and other emergency services and the 3:15p.m. artificial time cut-off of the enquiry.
In other words the inquiry looked at events from about 2:30p.m. to 3:15p.m. Another inquest, now the fourth was established having squashed the original verdict of accidental death. The new inquest, with an empanelled Jury sat from April 1, 2014 to April 2016, the longest Jury case in all of British history. Its verdict was that the supporters were unlawfully killed because of gross neglect of the emergency services and the Police, to fulfill their duty of care. Police officers were found to have operated a vast cover-up campaign from the beginning.
I have gone into all these details to show what can be achieved when a people feel unjustifiably treated, and when such treatment result in the death of so many; that even when the cards are stacked against you, with determination you may succeed in obtaining justice.
There are two committees still working on the Hillsborough case – one to apportion blame and prosecute offenders. The Chief Constable and many other Police Officers of South Yorkshire Police lost their jobs; the commander of the operations on that day accepted responsibility and resigned. A plaque was set up with the names of all 96 who died; a memorial service was conducted in the Cathedral in Liverpool, with the photographs of each of those who died on the wall in front of the cathedral; the bell tolled 96 times and at each toll the name of one dead spectator was read out. Hillsborough pronounced Hillsboro, rhymes with Abba Moro. Now let us look at what would have happened if this disaster occurred in Nigeria.
In 2014 the Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, decided in recruiting 4,000 Immigration officers. He advertised the vacancies. Each applicant was to pay N1000 for a form, produce a medical report, appear in white sports dress and shoe because the Immigration Service was a Para military organisation and would like to know the fitness level of the applicants. 6.5 million Nigerians applied – i.e.N6.5 billion was collected for the forms. Since this was Nigeria it would be “reasonable” to imagine that each applicant may pay between N2000 to N5000 to all kinds of middleman who could claim to be facilitators. To get a medical certificate cannot cost less than N1500 each. The sports outfit would probably cost another N3000 – white T shirt, white shorts and shoes: altogether N8000 was what it may have cost each applicant for this application to be an Immigration Officer. The applicants were to report at various stadia in the country – Sokoto, Kebbi, Kano, Port Harcourt, Minna, Lagos, Benin, etc.
As early as 6a..m, the various stadia were filled up by the applicants. In some places the queues outside the stadium were 2 to 3 kilometres long. The Army and Police had been mobilised to keep order. But the crowds were unbelievable. In Abuja the stadium was full before 7:00a.m.; more people were outside than inside. In Port Harcourt, the Stadium capacity was 16000; there were over 30000 outside and more were coming. In Kano, Sani Abacha stadium was already full and thousands were outside trying to get in. In none of these stadia did Immigration officials show up before 10:00a.m. to begin the processing of the applications?
To be continued tomorrow
•Dr. (Ambassador) Cole, OFR, wrote from