New Telegraph

December 1, 2023

NPFL: When journalists become prey to irate football fans

Attack on sports journalists covering the Nigeria Professional Football League continues to reccur on a regular basis with no solution in sight. CHARLES OGUNDIYA looks at some of the victims and the way forward.

Attack on Tobi Adepoju

“I cannot explain how I was able to survive the mob at the stadium in Ibadan because I started running from the pitch until I was able to get to where the police parked their vehicle.” Those were the words of Tobi Adepoju, a sports journalist who was attacked by fans at the Lekan Salami Stadium, Ibadan on June 1, 2022, after the home team, Shooting Stars of Ibadan, had forced their visitors, Remo Stars of Ikenne, to a 1-1 draw in a Nigeria Professional Football League game.

A viral video emerged after the game where the Multimedia journalist was running for his life with some fans beating him as he ran before he was rescued by men of the Nigeria Police who had to fire several gunshots to scare the mob away. Speaking on the escape from close shave with death, Adepoju, who was also a victim of police brutality during the #EndSARS protest that rocked the nation in 2020 said the attack on him was premeditated. He added: “I wasn’t the only one there, I was with the LMC delegates, Atinuke Esan, a journalist as well, but absolutely, I was the main target for the management of the team and the fans, I guess. “I don’t have problems with them (3SC fans). I think they have personal issues with me based on my positive criticism of the club.

I’m a fan of the club, a journalist, and a critic of the club. It is something that has been brewing in the past months. I think that Wednesday was for them just the best time to strike. “We were on the side pitch after the game, trying to get content, trying to get news. The atmosphere was very tense. The mob started from Shooting Stars’ curator and two of their backroom staff. It actually started from their backroom staff. “The Chairman, the General Manager, were sitting a few metres away and the Media Officer was there.

He did his best trying to stop them, not to touch me, but the man couldn’t stop about seven of them. “They chased me from the side pitch to where the video was captured, where the police were. I don’t know how to calculate the metres, but I know that’s a long distance to run from the track or technical bench of the team to where the police were. It was really a crazy experience.”

This is not the first time a journalist would be beaten at the stadium by irate fans or thugs as the managements always distances themselves from the attackers. Even though there was a pronouncement by the League Management Company, the organisers of the league with Shooting Stars fined among other sanctions, and the affected journalist expected to be paid N500,000 damages, many league watchers say there is need to take more tougher measures.

Similar Attacks on Other Journalist

Adepoju was not the first journalist to be attacked at game venue, as this writer has also been a victim at different centres in the past. One of the centre notorious for journalist attack is the Akure Township Stadium, and most journalists already know how to comport themselves anytime they are in Akure. This is a centre where fans will instruct cameramen covering the game to off their camera while others would be monitored if they are trying to use their phone to record anything. Years back, during a league game between Sunshine Stars and Heartland, a journalist attached to Heartland, Cajetan Nwakpara, was attacked while coming down from the Media Tribune to discuss with some officials of the Owerri-based team. In 2015, Sunshine Stars was banished to Lagos after the fans invaded the pitch in a match against Lobi Stars in Akure.

While doing his job during the day, Emmanuel Everett, who works with SuperSports Nigeria, almost had a severe damage to his ear after he was hit with a can of cold can beer. The fans were trying to retrieve the tape in the camera and probably in the process destroyed the equipment, making Everett run for his dear life with several of them pursuing him until he was cornered inside an uncompleted building close to the stadium. “It was like the end has come when I realised I cannot go anywhere again and I started calling the name of Mr. Phemmy Adetula while also holding onto the camera because the office will not even listen to any story,” he said.

“As they were throwing things at me while also trying to collect the camera from me, Mr. Adetula came in and spoke to them, that was how I was freed.” Adetula was SuperSports’ reporter for the day and incidentally, he is from Ondo State and grew up in Akure, so some of the fans are people he grew up with. Current Punch correspondent, Kelvin Ekerete, is another victim of fans attack as he received his first beating on March 26, 2017 from Remo fans. Ekerete was harassed for daring to record the proceedings of the fans against the centre referee, who was alleged to have made a wrong penalty call in favour of the visiting team.

He was not only molested, but also his mobile phone was taken away from him. The case of Enugu State-based sports journalist, Jane Nweze, could be reffered to as a comic relief even though the victim won’t forget the moment in her lifetime as she got a death threat from the fans.

Despite what happened to her, the management of Enugu Rangers and the state’s FA were in a way in support of what happened to the journalist as she was banned from coming to the stadium because they could not guarantee her safety. The management of the club even accused her of singlehandedly being the team’s problem in the attempt to get results just few months after winning the NPFL title after 32 years of waiting. Nweze’s crime was for allegedly supporting opposing teams and reporting them (Rangers) to the League Management Company as being culpable in the violence in the game against Gombe United in 2017. She was said to have celebrated Gombe United’s equalizer, but they failed to remember the fact that anyone can celebrate a good goal and as the LMC match delegate, she has the right to report any incident to the league body.

There was violence at Nnamdi Azikiwe International stadium on the day and the LMC camera man for the match was beaten to stupor. Another sports journalist, Tayo Ogunseye, recounted his own experience in Port Harcourt, how the police collaborated with the fans to manhandle him.

He said: “Those fans attacked the referees including the Match commissioner who is the Plateau FA chairman. When they noticed I was recording with my camera, they swooped on me and it was the police that rescued me and took me away in their van. I was however mandated to delete the video. “Sanipe Tonte (a Port Harcourt based journalist) tried, but the DPO threatened him and told me if I was killed, I would die for nothing. “I was made to sign a statement that my camera was in good order then. I waited to observe for any imminent threat before heading to my hotel. The following day, the LMC CEO called me on my way back to Lagos asking for evidence.

It was a nightmare for me as I cannot sleep all through the night.” While corroborating his story, Sanipe Tonte said he had to involve the police personally to help Ogunseye escape unhurt. According to him, most Port Harcourt boys will not beat a journalist but they usually try their best to intimidate, harass and surely will make sure all the evidence are destroyed. He said most of these boys are being paid by administrators and they must show their paymasters that they are working. He added that most journalists in Rivers State always comport themselves and will not go beyond their boundaries covering games involving the home team, Rivers United, in Port Harcourt. For Enitan Obadina: “I had a bad experience at the Onikan Stadium in the match between Shooting Stars and First Bank. I recorded a First Bank player slap the assistant referee and that one fell like they used charm to hit him.

“They saw my camera and thanks to Wale Joseph who opened the gate to the main pitch to allow me run inside the pitch. They were pointing at me to identify me because I had put my camcorder inside my bag. I left Onikan Stadium half-naked looking like a tout or mad man.” In the Chapter Five of his book, “A Thousand Times On The Same Road”, with the subhead, A Game of Throes, China Acheru, also a sport journalist enumerated several incidents involving him and fans in Port Harcourt.

“Between 2002 and 2008, Port Harcourt was a city low on law and order; a land with a government, but with hoodlums in charge of the streets. Unfortunately, I was a reporter that period, running a beat that was the cynosure of all eyes, especially the gangsters. Sports journalism was a difficult terrain at the time.

“My first encounter with area boys happened in 2003, when I worked as a sports reporter with Silverbird’s Rhythm 93.7 FM in Port Harcourt. I had actually seen them in action back in the ’90s, though not at close quarters. “In 2004, I had another problem with the miscreants after Sharks abandoned an FA Cup match and my report on my sports show put me on the spot again for the wrong reasons, because I blamed Sharks for abandoning the game in Benin against Bendel Insurance. “This time, they stalked me. They would phone to tell me exactly where I was and what I was doing. These guys were watching me and I was no longer comfortable.”

Perspective of a Veteran Journalist Turned Club Manager

While talking on a way out, a veteran journalist and chairman of Akwa United, Paul Bassey, said journalists alone should not be isolated from other people coming to the stadium to watch game. He cited situation whereby the referees, opposing players, home team and the likes experienced such attack and there was need to put proper security to protect everyone coming to the stadium on every Match Day.

“In Nigeria, we have peculiar circumstances in all sectors, it is a general view, we don’t have to single out the journalists. Also in Nigeria, I have seen some journalists so biased, sometimes they will attack you when there is no basis for it, they condemn the team, the management, insult the players and when those people see such individuals at their match venue, they don’t want to care, they just want them out of their game,” Bassey said. “However, that doesn’t give them right to take laws into their hands. And again, I was a journalist and still one, but now managing a club, I have seen journalists that just want to attack and those circumstances are there too.

“We also have some journalists that are objective, they say it the way it is, they don’t have affiliation to any team and they just want to do their job. Those are many in the country, they are professionals and when such journalists go to a venue, because you wrote something about them, they are not happy about it and they attack you, it is very wrong and uncalled for. “Like I said, it is a systemic problem, because you cannot remove journalists from other Nigerians. We have some centres in this country where nobody is safe, whether you are a referee, journalist, player or official, they attack you and nothing you can do about it.

Referees suffer more, it’s a general thing. “The most important thing now is that we must guarantee safety at match venues, so that no matter who you are, you are safe. “Als, there is a fundamental flaw where the State FAs are in charge of the security at match venues, but whenever anything goes wrong, the clubs are made to pay for it even though they are not the ones in charge of the security and I ask myself why, because it is never the job of the club. “What I am saying in essence is that, it is not just talking about the journalists, it’s about guaranteeing that everyone coming to the stadium is safe. The NFF, the LMC, the security force, should make sure the stadium is safe for everyone because if the security is tight, everyone will be okay coming to the stadium.”

Club Owners’ Position

The chairman of the Club Owners Association, Isaac Danladi, said it was most unfortunate that such thing was happening, describing it as one attack too many. The barrister at law said nobody will support violence at any match venue and not just only on journalists, but on any other good thinking citizen.

“My simple take on it is that it is unfortunate that such things are happening, it is one attack too many,” he said. “We as club owners have always wanted the support of other clubs to see how they can stop attack on people who come to the stadium for the purpose of watching matches.

“It is true that some attacks have gone unnoticed because people have tried to suppress or those attacked do not bother to say it because they know that nothing will happen. “What happened recently with the case of Tobi in Ibadan is an eyesore, because I saw the video and it was gory and devastating. The management has come out to dissociate themselves from the act and I feel bad about what happened and I condemn it in its totality. “It is quite condemnable, but the action that has been taken now by the LMC to ensure that we are not attacked is a good one.

“There is no smoke without fire, at times, as I have always said, some of these journalists do not practice journalism as it should be. I have had problems with some journalists to the extent that they stopped coming to my venue. “Some of them have turned into agents and the moment they give you a player or two and you think they cannot fit into your team, it becomes a problem. At the slightest thing that happens, they make it an issue and criticise you. “If you want to be a football administrator, face it squarely.

If you combine the two, you will have crisis. What happened to Tobi and other journalists that have been innocently attacked is quite condemnable and we have to educate our people in the club.” For cases reported to the LMC with evidence, there has been sanctions for the club while compensation given to the victims. While some already received theirs, some are yet to get anything from the clubs involved with the recent in the case of Adepoju, being awarded N500,000. While condemning the attack, the LMC had described the incident as “capable of bringing the game to disrepute.”

“The Club has been fined a total of N3m plus a N500,000 compensation to Mr. Adepoju for loss of valuables and medical bills and the stadium closed to fans for the remaining fixtures of the season, while a further breach will lead to their being directed to play outside the Southwest,” the LMC added in a statement on its Facebook page, saying 3SC breached Rule B13.52 and Rule B8.21 and Rule C1.1 of the LMC Rule Book.

“3SC also stands the risk of two points deduction to last for a probation period ending with the season while the Media Officer, Tosin Omojola, and Kits Manager, Mr. Majolagbe Kolawale have been expelled from all NPFL related activities for a minimum period of 12 months in the first instance.” Others in the past had collected N250,000 each, although some claimed not to have received anything till date.

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