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Nigerian Football

Flashback: Eye witness account with PHOTOS: How Okwaraji, five fans died on this day 34 years ago



Last card!  The yellow card by the Togolese referee Hounnake Koussai may have been a warning to Okwaraji that the end was imminent.


This Saturday marks the 34th  anniversary of the most celebrated on-field death in Nigerian football. The August 12, 1989 Italia ’90 World Cup qualifying match with Angola could had just been another match day.

But it is now ever recalled, not for the result, which was favourable to Nigeria at least in the short run, but for the bizarre happenings.

It was just a day to the 10th anniversary of a previous disaster that claimed 24 lives at the National Stadium, Lagos.

Nigeria desperately needed to win the tie against Angola to be in contention of leading a World Cup qualifying group that also had Gabon and Cameroon.


The result of the penultimate match in Gabon which Nigeria against form books had lost 1-2 made the August 12, 1989 match the more important.

Besides, it was to be the first match after a long closure of the National Stadium, Lagos which was undergoing upgrading for an anticipated  hosting of the then World Youth Championship (now u-20 World Cup) in 1991.


Nigeria had had to play their home matches at the low-capacity Lekan Salami Stadium, Ibadan until the National Stadium, Lagos was reopened.

Expectedly, the stadium was jam-packed for a teeming crowd that appeared to have been starved for close to two years that the stadium had been closed for refurbishment.


The crowd thronged the 40,000 capacity stadium, filling it nearly 20,000 over. About 4,000 others were stranded outside, making rounds to the 12 ramps leading into the main- bowl.

Announcements blared from the public address system directing the crowd outside to gates D, E and F leading to the southern pavilion at the Lagos end of the field. Gates had been opened nearly seven hours to kick off.

The spectators’ stands were overfilled, resulting in jostling and pushing, chokes, suffocation, exhaustion and soon, deaths! Moments before kick-off, some of the spectators around the covered terraces began to faint in ones and twos.

Few people might have noticed the unusual incident of an ambulance moving on the just refurbished tartan tracks to convey the fainted fans after efforts at reviving them by medical personnel had failed.

One after the other, fans fainted and died


Then another ambulance came again. Ambulance movements became a common sight. The stadium’s clinic with only three beds became jam-packed with unconscious people.

It turned a gory site as more and more fans collapsed 

Medical personnel said there were so many of them and they had to be treated on the bare floor. Fifteen of them had to be taken to the General Hospital in Lagos.

One Mutiu Salami, a 14-year old victim who was rushed to the General Hospital and regained consciousness three days later narrated his experience: “As the match drew to an end, everybody was rushing. They rushed me and I fell down. The next thing I knew was finding myself at the hospital”.



He was lucky. It was more disastrous for others. Five of them died. Niyi Mosuro, a 15- year-old schoolboy from Ijebu-Ode was one of the victims identified. August 12, 1989, was the first time he would watch a football match at the National Stadium.

It was the last day he lived. Wale Mosuro, his uncle, said Niyi was not quite a football enthusiast. His body was discovered in the morgue. Others identified were bodies of Shehu Tijani and Okorie Agwu.

Nduka Irabor then the Chief Press Secretary to the Chief of General Staff Vice President in the current situation was on hand to offer helping hands to the dying

Everything went awry that sunny August 12, 1989. Sad incidents that would catch worldwide attention were unfolding. From the sidelines, five football fans were suffocated to death. Football, a national passion, overnight turned a national horror.

The standard of soccer in the Nigeria-Angola match fell below expectation even though both teams paraded a pack of tested professionals. Tackling was rough. Each side lost a penalty kick. Austin Eguavoen lost that of Nigeria.


Journey to the morgue begins for the dead

But the biggest disaster of the day was imminent. As the drab match progressed, an Angolan player slumped.

Medical personnel rushed to administer treatment. It was barely 10 minutes to the end of the match. As attention focussed on the injured player, and while some fans that had fainted by the sidelines were being attended to, the unexpected happened.




Dreadlocks haired Samuel Okwaraji, the Nigerian bubbling mid-field maestro, collapsed and fell face down. Few people would have thought it was mere exhaustion.

The nearest player to Samuel Okwaraji, Samson Siasia, rushed to the prostrate form and tried him to face up. What he saw was frightening as he put his hands on his head in despair.

“The way I saw him, he was gasping and foaming. His teeth were gritty… No one could easily ascertain the cause of his death. It still remains a mystery.

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

Nigerian Football

Nigeria battles with Egypt over signing of Hervé Renard



Terrible Hervé Renard Blow For Cote D’Ivoire -

Nigeria’s search for a coach ahead of the start of the qualifying duels for the 2025 Africa Cup of Nations has been narrowed to two-time winner, Hervé Renard, the Frenchman who guided Zambia and Cote d’Ivoire to victories in 2012 ans 2015 respectively.

 The Frenchman was in charge of Saudi Arabia in their sensational 2-1 defeat of Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina at the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

He is at the moment the head coach of the French Women’s team featuring at the Olympics but intends to step down at the end of the Games next month.

That confirms his availability. But it comes at a huge cost. Sources informed the Sports Village Square that the Nigeria Football Federation has tabled an offer of 2 million euros to the coach believed to have the necessary skill to handle teams from Africa owing to his experience.

  But the NFF is not alone. The Nigerian officials face stiff competition from Egypt who are also interested in Hervé Renard.


The Egyptian FA tabled a salary offer of 1.9 million euros.

Egypt sacked their coach, Rui Vitoria after the last AFCON in Cote d’ivoire while Hossam Hassan is signed as an interim manager.

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Nigerian Football

Class of 2013 Golden Eaglets cry out: “All we’re saying, fulfil your pledge”



Golden Eaglets  coach Manu Garba has yet again  called  on the  government and people of Cross River State to promptly redeem the house gifts pledged to players and officials of the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup-winning team, in United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Manu painfully regrets that the unfulfilled promise remained a sour point for not only the team members, but also that of its late equipment manager Muhammed Kafa, who unfortunately passed away almost a year ago, without getting the house gift promised by the Cross River State Government led at that time by former governor, Liyel Imoke.

“When I remember Muhammed Kafa, one of the things that come to mind was his desire to get the house  pledged to all the  ten officials and 21 players  that won the World Cup in 2013 by the then Governor Senator Liyel  Imoke,” Garba said.” The house gift pledge has gradually paled into becoming an illusion because it has not been redeemed 11 years after Governor Imoke made the pledge in Calabar, and nine years after he left office as governor of the state. 

“To think that it’s almost a year that Muhammed left us after that ghastly accident in Kaduna without getting the house is even more painful because that was one of his dreams.

“As we remember Muhammed, I want to use this opportunity to beg incumbent Cross River State Governor, Bassey Otu, to redeem this pledge that was expressly  pledged to players and officials of the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup-winning team by his predecessor. This is a good way he can help immortalise Muhammed and help ameliorate the pains of his family. Besides, it will be a morale booster to others to always give their best for their fatherland.”


Recall that precisely on 15th   November 2013,Governor Imoke  during  a reception inside the  state’s council chamber for the victorious FIFA U-17 World Cup  team of  2013,offered  house gifts to the 21 players and 10 officials for doing the country’s proud  in the United Arab Emirates.

 “We want to make an investment with you in property,” Senator Imoke  said in front of camera and in the presence of the then Minister of Youth & Sports Development, Mallam Bolaji  Abdulahi and other chieftains of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) led by the then President Aminu Maigari.

He added amid cheers: “We have  a new housing estate  already being developed  and at the end of that  exercise; completion of those estates,  each one of you  would have a small piece of property that is your own and that  would have been fully developed; that  you can  rent out or  occupy.”

But Garba said it  was shocking that  the pledge  made  by Senator Imoke in 2013  on behalf of  the government  and people of Cross River State is yet to materialise.

“Of course, we were all excited  when Senator Imoke made the pronouncement at the Government House in Calabar when he hosted us for winning the FIFA U-17 World  Cup in 2013 but we are yet to be given the houses as promised, even though the housing estate has long been completed and occupied,” Garba said, adding that efforts made during the tenure of  Imoke’s successor, Professor Ben  Ayade bore no fruitful results.


He continued “The  FIFA U-17 World Cup-winning team  of 2013 was the baby of  the Cross River State because we  were camped at  the Princeville Hotel  in Calabar for many months  and we  played all our qualifying matches there but nothing  was done  about  the house gifts during the tenure of Professor Ayade.

“But since government is a continuous process, we are pleading with Governor Bassey Otu  to use his good office  to fulfil this pledge made on behalf of the state by Senator Imoke.

“ I’m also seeking the intervention of Minister of Sports Development, Senator John Enoh, who incidentally comes from Cross River State, to ensure that justice is done on our behalf.

“ We have waited so long and  just last  year, we lost one  of us,  our hard working equipment manager, Muhammed Kafa, but   I think it will be in his good memory if the house gifts are redeemed and show that our labour of winning the World Cup in 2013 is not in vain,” added Garba.

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Nigerian Football

FIFA referee instructor promises better deal for Nigerian referees at major tournaments



Tangawarima (left) makes a point to Gusau

Former FIFA referee, and now FIFA senior technical instructor Felix Tangawarima, has expressed confidence that if Nigeria’s next generation referees receive the necessary support and encouragement from the NFF, the absence of Nigerian referees from major international tournaments will soon be a thing of the past.

Tangawarima, who is at the head of the FIFA team that superintended a five-day training programme for the country’s Young Talents (40 young arbiters) and which is presently concluding a similar programme for elite referees, spoke during a courtesy call on President of NFF, Alhaji Ibrahim Musa Gusau at the NFF Secretariat, Abuja on Wednesday.

“We have seen so much promise and potential from the Young Talents, and as I said last week, there are exceptional talents in there who can easily step up to the plate to replace some of the elite referees that we believe are no longer good enough. It is now our responsibility, and that of the NFF, to keep inspiring, supporting and encouraging those young blood to fulfill their potentials and reach the apogee.

“It is no longer tenable that major tournaments come and go without Nigerian referees. Something must be done and I can tell you that now, we are on to a good thing. I am happy about the new direction that the NFF is taking in the area of refereeing development, the commitment of the leadership to motivating the referees and the personal interest of the NFF President in changing the narrative.”

While commending the excellent work of the NFF Referees Sub-Committee, Tangawarima, who was in company with FIFA Fitness Instructor Mark Mzengo from Malawi, appealed to the NFF President to find the enablement for Nigerian international referee instructors to periodically engage upcoming instructors at the zones with a view to enhancing their capacity.


Responding, Gusau stated that he is always most pained any time there is a report of misdemeanour by a Nigerian referee or a list of referees for major tourneys is released without a single Nigerian referee.

“Personally, I find it unacceptable. At every opportunity, I tell the referees that we will continue to assist those who deliberately step out of line, to stay away permanently. It is a vocation that requires the highest level of integrity, discipline, dedication, diligence and moral rectitude.

“We are delighted at the good recommendation you have given our next generation of referees. We will work assiduously to see that they fulfill their potential.”

The NFF President also used the occasion to announce that the Federation has already procured new gadgets for Nigerian referees to enhance their work on the field of play.

Also at the meeting were NFF Deputy General Secretary, Dr. Emmanuel Ikpeme; Director of Communications, Ademola Olajire; Chairperson of NFF Referees Sub-Committee, Mrs Faith Irabor; Members of NFF Referees Sub-Committee Abraham Zakowi and Waziri Furo Gawe and; SA to General Secretary, Mr. Mohammed Ameenu.

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