Hillsborough and Minister Abba Moro – Part 2
Cynthia went to the stadium in Lagos from her house at Ipaja. She left home around 6:30a.m. and when she arrived at the National Stadium in Lagos at 8:45a.m. the place was already full, so was the walk way leading to the entrance. But she managed to get to the main bowl by 9:30a.m. By then stronger young men had begun climbing on the shoulders of others; pushing others out of the way to get in.
Officials of Immigration were looking totally confused and hopeless; how would they distribute the question papers to those who were inside and begin the processing of the application. Each officer was surrounded by hundreds of applicants trying to snatch question papers. Those who got the question papers had no space to sit to answer the questions. They were trying to get out of the way so others could collect papers.
Meanwhile, several thousands had turned up without forms and there was a brisk trade in photocopied forms inside and outside the stadium, thus putting more pressure on the crowd. Cynthia had forms but could not get near any Immigration officer to collect question papers. There was no water, and no toilet facilities. She sat at the periphery, anxious, exhausted and apprehensive. At 4:00p.m. she started moving towards the exit – got out, was home at around 8:30 or 9:00p.m. without her application being processed. Nevertheless she was glad to be home without injury. She had seen many people faint and injured.
Iyabo had a similar experience except that she was strong. She fought her way to the middle of the main bowl of the stadium. She was a veteran at this, having attempted, at the same stadium, the same harrowing procedure for the Police and the Navy applications. She said she thought she would die in the Immigration call up process. Reports from stadia all over Nigeria were similar except that in Lagos there were no soldiers.
In Imo, Port Harcourt, Kano there were soldiers and police. When the surge began towards getting to the Immigration officers, many of whom feared for their lives, that they would be trampled to death, the Police in some causes shot tear gas into the crowd, while the Army shot into the air. Pandemonium resulted, as fearful applicants sought to run away from these shots. It was this pandemonium, loss of any attempt or tactics of crowd control, which caused the deaths of so many in Port Harcourt, Kano, Benin, Owerri, Minna, etc.
In Hillsborough the police was reacting to a reputation that football hooliganism was endemic with Liverpool supporters. But on that fateful day, there were no riots, nor baiting of the opponents all of whom had entered the stadium in different gates. In Nigeria the whole interview scheme was tainted as a money making enterprise. The forms alone cost N6.5 billion. The contract was outsourced to an organization that had been established for this purpose. What was the name of the company and who owns it?
In Owerri one death, over 100 injuries; Abuja 10 deaths, over 100 injuries; in Benin four deaths, over 120 injuries; in Lagos one death or more and unknown number of injuries – so chaotic were the preparations and inadequacies of the emergency services. Kano recorded seven deaths and 20 injuries; in Port Harcourt the story is confused – deaths were between five and 10 depending on which source one believed. In Minna three died and several were injured; Abuja 10 died, over 100 injured. After the event the parents of the dead did not organise themselves to pressure the government. Nor did the government show more than minimum response to the disaster.
Only one organisation – Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACAL) unheard of – issued statements for Moro’s prosecution. The Senate, as usual, set up committee for public hearings for two days. Nothing further was heard of the committee. Abba Moro accepted responsibility and expressed grief – but no apology. According to the minister, he wanted transparency, and wanted the end of nepotism and favouritism endemic in the Immigration Department. The President ordered return of N1000 to each applicant, and “automatic employment of affected families”. And there the matter ended. It is only in Nigeria that a President could order the employment of the affected families. Would he appoint the dead applicants? And we wonder why we have ghost workers in Nigeria!
The Senate did nothing further. Few people would want to waste their money and time attending to a Senate hearing from which nothing would result. From experience which Senate hearing has resulted in anything? The rest of civil society was muted in its response. Abba Moro continued in office and even contested the gubernatorial seat in Nasarawa. What he meant by accepting responsibility was never questioned. How could he get away with the death of 30 people, and over 500 injured?
Why did Abba Moro sell the forms for N1000 and set up a consultancy that would make several billions in imaginary industrial schemes meaning nothing? Why did the Ministry of Agriculture spend billions buying 60 million handset for farmers? Why did the Minister of Industry make a lot of noise about an industrial revolution – spending billions? Why did the Niger Delta Ministry spend billions on projects we did not see? Why did NNPC not return money to the Federal Government, if the NEITI, the Governor of Central Bank, the Ministry of Finance are to be believed? Why did the Ministry of Transport and its parastatals spend all this money which are now being returned or people prosecute for? Indeed why did the NSA have to pay so much money to so many people? The answer was that election was near and PDP needed money. But at what cost?
The parents of those who died have been unable to organise to seek justice for their loss. Civil Society has been unable to mobilise itself to seek legitimate redress for those unwanted killings. What is the prize of life for a Nigerian? Obviously nothing. If 30 cows were killed in an accident, the reaction would have been more than there was for the death of these 30 graduates!!
• Dr. (Ambassador) Cole, OFR, wrote from Lagos.