COMMENT

LMC v Kano Pillars: Deficit of bravery and moral authority means fan violence will never go away

The LMC's verdict on the latest episode of unrest on behalf of Kano Pillars lacks gumption, will deter nothing, and is a clear indication that NPFL stadiums will never be safe

Kano Pillars fan violence

You have no doubt seen the shocking scenes that unfolded in Kano over the weekend, as Pillars hosted Katsina United in Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) action.

It was Sai Masu Gida's first match back in their home stadium in Kofar Mata, having previously been banished to the Ahmadu Bello Stadium in Kaduna after the League Management Company (LMC) found the ground to be unfit to host matches. The four-time league champions were then forced to play the entirety of the 2021 season away from their fortress, a state of affairs that, according to club chairman Surajo Jambul, cost the club upwards of 1.5 million naira per matchday in gate revenue.

Well, this was quite the way to mark the return, was it not?

It is important to acknowledge that there is a simmering rivalry between the clubs involved here. Kano and Katsina are contiguous after all, and so in many ways this is a derby. These are fiercely contested the world over, with emotions frequently bubbling over at the best of times and with the best of wills.

For it to devolve into all-out violence like it did at the weekend was highly regrettable though, and no amount of self-exoneration on the part of the Kano Pillars' establishment can alter the stark reality of precisely where the buck stops. The club's press officer "condemn(ing) the act by those hoodlums" and "saboteurs" means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme – in failing to provide adequate security to their visitors, the club failed in their duty of care. Penalties were inevitable.

However, the LMC's verdict (still subject to appeal, by the way), which was delivered on Monday morning, leaves plenty to be desired, as it suggests someone is urinating on our heads and telling us it's rain.

To be clear, 9 million naira in fines, banishment to Abuja (and the indefinite closing down of Kano as an NPFL match venue) and a 21-day mandate to repair damage done to Katsina United's bus and equipment is fair enough, taken at face value. However, docking only three points (with a further three suspended) is not only a slap on the wrist, but fails to take into account Kano's history when it comes to stadium violence.

One need not go too far back even. As recently as last month, following a league meeting with table-toppers Rivers United in their adopted Kaduna home, Kano Pillars were fined 2.5 million naira for encroachment and failing to provide adequate security for match officials, who consequently suffered harassment. Ironically, in the wake of that incident, they were sent away from Kaduna and directed to host home matches in Katsina of all places.

Beyond this most recent occurrence, Kano has acquired a reputation for unruly behaviour during league matches. In 2013, a meeting with Enyimba was cut short on account of encroachment, and the LMC hit the club with a 5 million naira fine and banishment to Lokoja. In 2014, following a 1-1 draw with Heartland, match officials were attacked, leading to – you guessed it – stadium banishment. These are only two incidents, but their timing is important.

Long-term league followers will remember the club's monstrous unbeaten home record, which stood for an eye-watering 202 matches and 12 years starting from 2003. A proud achievement, no doubt, but few will have the gumption to deny it was propped up by the wildest shenanigans: intimidation of match officials, threats (and actual use) of violence, coercion, the works.

In his riveting memoir 'A Thousand Times on the Same Road', veteran journalist China Acheru recounted an experience in 2010 when visiting Dolphins FC were set upon by irate fans in Kano for having the temerity to come away with a 2-2 draw. The episode, complete with a club official refusing to allow the fourth official put the board up for added time, was representative of the reign of terror that was Kano.

The point of this trip down memory lane is not that the league's other teams are angels by comparison, of course. Far from it. Here is the thing though: none of this behaviour on behalf of Kano Pillars is new. And whether or not one holds the view that their fans act of their own volition (this is untrue, but let's play devil's advocate), that is hardly important: it is simply the club's duty to create a sanitised environment for, not just football, but safe ingress and egress before and after for all parties concerned.

Knowing this, why exactly is the club getting the benefit of the doubt in the form of a suspended points deduction? It's bad enough they have only been docked three points for this latest act of chicanery; to then add a suspended sentence as though we are dealing with rookie offenders is disingenuous in the extreme.

While Katsina United will have their bus fixed (it is government property, after all), we already know that the monetary fines will not be paid. (Think about it: a lot of clubs in the league are hardly profitable, so it stands to reason that, at some point, some club should have been unable to pay a fine. Ever heard of any club being found in default? Exactly.) The LMC still owes clubs prize money for more than one season, so where is their moral authority to demand fines anyway?

In any case, what this tells anyone who cares to pay attention is that these deterrents simply do not work for that purpose. Why, with so much previous, should Pillars get away with only losing three points? That's frankly measly, and will not affect the club in any meaningful way. What more has to happen before the LMC grows a pair and truly hits hard?

If the political machinery behind these clubs, being government-owned, makes it impossible for any weightier punishment to be meted out, then let them come right out and say so, and let us be done with this charade we call a league. But let no one insult the intelligence of Nigerians in this way.

Paying lip service to the issue of stadium violence, especially when the eyes of the world were recently on the country as a result of the fall-out from the World Cup Qualifying playoff against Ghana is unfortunate, but also it tells us all we need to know: this is a problem for which there exists no will to address.

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