Kill us all in Kano – Kill us all!

Chapter One
It was like a war zone, with missiles flying in all directions. The heavily-armed anti-riot police around us were trying to cordon us from the surrounding danger. It was certain death for us all unless a miracle happened, but even that seemed a bleak possibility.
There were angry faces all around us baying for blood. They wanted us dead, and what was our offence? Suddenly, the leader of the police team shouted clear instructions to us:
“We can no longer protect you. It is now every man for himself. Run for your lives! Go through the tunnel. One or two of you might get hit but that is the only route to safety,” he screamed out. We were in the main bowl of the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano and fans of the home club were angry that we had secured a draw in that game.
In 2010, Dolphins FC was bustling with life and had high hopes that they could win something in the league, and perhaps the Football Association (FA) Cup: a very ambitious club it was and every season, there was hope that we could win something, and we went all out too. In fact, Dolphins always had hopes that they would win, right from their days as Eagle Cement.
Remember, I was the Media Officer of this club and I was not just a staff, but a fan and the custodian of its history, having followed them from when they were just a recreational club for staff of the Eastern Bulkcem Company in Port Harcourt.
We were off to Kano for a game against Kano Pillars FC who had not lost a home game in God knows how long. But as usual, we were optimistic we could win; optimistic as a team, but not me. Because of what I had seen on road games in Nigerian football over the years, I am not so optimistic when I travel with my team; at least in a bid to preserve my sanity. Any member or fan of a Nigerian club that continually hopes they can win away games will eventually suffer a nervous breakdown. I knew this already and was guarding my mind and blood pressure with all diligence just as the good book advises. For me, I will just enjoy a good game and see what happens thereafter, but on no account would I be holding my breath that Dolphins could get away with win in Kano.
Now, Stanley Eguma, our Head Coach, was a different sort of guy. He believed, and still does, in a lot of superstitious things like many Nigerian coaches. For example, if the club stays in a particular hotel on the road and gets a good result (that is either a win or a draw), it would be seen as a ‘lucky’ hotel, so the club would keep staying at that hotel whenever they are in that town or city. But if the club stays in a particular hotel and loses, it certainly means that on the next trip to that town, the team’s lodging would be changed because that one would be believed to be jinxed.
To be fair to Stanley Eguma, this pattern was not started by him but was the norm with Nigerian coaches and sports administrators in the league. At least, I had seen a lot of that and even worse.
There is this other thing clubs always do before an away trip: they would call the last club that got a “good” result there to ask what hotel they stayed (since it could also be termed a “lucky” hotel) and also stay there. That was the case as we went to Kano.
Between 2003 and 2008, I visited Kano five times for League and FA Cup games, and each time, we stayed at the Kabo Guest Inn off Airport Road. However, since the Eguma era, we stayed at Kano Durbar Hotels twice but this time we lodged at a funny place in Sabon Gari. This place was a ramshackle and seemed like what people might call a “short time joint” (a brothel), but obviously some club that stayed there got a good result in Kano, so there we were at the place.
On match day, we got a visit from Abubakar Musa who had played for us as a midfielder between 1997 and 2007. We had signed him on from Jigawa Golden Stars after we (Dolphins FC was named Eagle Cement at the time) played against them in an FA Cup match which they won. He went on to captain Nigeria’s U20 Team in 1999 until the World Cup. He took us out for brunch; me and the club Secretary, Ahmed Abdulrahman, and we just talked about old times before we returned to the hotel to prepare for the game.
Going to the stadium in Kano was always different. The people in Kano loved their football. By the time we got there at 2.30 pm, the terraces were already filled and there was a large crowd outside still trying to get in. How could so many people always want to get into a stadium every week? That was Kano for you! There was hardly ever an empty seat, no matter who was playing.
We managed to make our way into the car park and then to the dressing room before the players got out for their warm-up. I found space for myself in the VIP area and as the media tribune was already filled, there was no need to even try going there. It was actually Abubakar Musa who called out to me from the VIP area so I sat next to him. He was a real Kano bloke and a local legend there, even though I do not remember him ever playing for Kano Pillars.
Not long after the game started, we got a goal and you could hear a pin drop on a ground that had at least thirty-five thousand fans. They could not believe it: Dolphins had scored! They probably thought beating Dolphins would be child’s play but Dolphins meant business that year.
Over the years, I had learnt not to celebrate a goal while on the road, so I just kept a straight face as if I either did not care or I was a fan of Kano Pillars. In fact, I had perfected that poker face act when my team scores on the road.
Abubakar Musa nudged me with his elbow and went, in his jocular way, “Acheru, una get mind to score here o [Acheru, you guys had the guts to score here]. These fans dey vex o [These fans are not pleased]. Make dem no chook person dagger here o [I hope they don’t stab someone here],” and we both laughed, but it was more serious on the pitch.
I knew he meant it as a joke, but one could not rule out that possibility if Dolphins eventually won the game or got a draw. There had been fans violence at stadia across the country, especially whenever the visiting side got a good result. I had seen lots of such violent scenes in my time watching the Nigerian league, though none yet in Kano. As for me, I was not, like I said earlier, going to hold my breath, because in my experience watching the league, I know it takes just three minutes for the away side to lose a game they were comfortably winning.
I remembered Gusau in Zamfara State early that season on Match Day 4 on October 10, 2010, when we were comfortably leading 2-1 against Zamfara United until the 89th minute. I remember receiving phone calls from colleagues in Port Harcourt who were interested in the game, and when I told them it was 2-1 in our favour, they asked for the time and I said 89th minute. The next response I got was almost the same:
“We don collect this one naa [We’ve already won this one]. Anyhow e bad, we go draw [However bad it gets, we’ll get a draw].”
In the minds of the people calling me, there was no way we could lose a game that we were 2-1 up in the 89th minute. By the time the game ended, it was Zamfara United 3-2 Dolphins!
Again in 2008, we took a 2-0 lead to Kumasi ag ainst Asante Kotoko in the first leg of the CAF Confederation Cup knockout stage game in Calabar. In Kotoko, we scored first and led till the second half but eventually lost 4-1 and got knocked out 4-3. So I understood road games.
Dolphins, however, refused to concede an equaliser and Pillars tried as hard as they could but could not find a way through Dolphins’ defence as the fans got more agitated. Late in the second half, Pillars got a penalty and scored, easing tension a bit, but the fans wanted a win. That was where the drama started. The tension in the terraces was so thick, you could hang your coat on it, but Dolphins players soldiered on. The Pillars’ horde of fans were intimidating, and the few Dolphins people became uneasy with each passing minute that Pillars had not scored the winner.
The referee, Gabriel Adigwe, signaled for five minutes of added time and I saw the most shocking thing of my football writing career yet…

Did you read the book, ‘A Thousand Times On The Same Road?’ Do you want to read it?
You can get a copy by hitting on Twitter and Instagram at @Ikwerreman, On Facebook at China Ikwerreman Acheru or via my email
You can also buy it at any Roving Heights bookshop in Lagos and Abuja or Bookville in Port Harcourt

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