The Calabar viewing centre tragedy
The recent mishap in a Calabar village, where an electricity distribution cable was severed from a pylon and landed on a viewing centre, killing no fewer than eight of the football fans watching the Europa Championship League semi-final match between Manchester United of England and Anderlecht Football Club of Belgium, was an avoidable tragedy. As in many cases of preventable death, it is a sad reminder of carelessness, negligence and continual regret. Had necessary pro-active measures been taken to address the proliferation and management of viewing centres, had agents of the state been up and doing, calamities such as this one might have been greatly reduced if not completely prevented.
Police reports, witnesses and survivors, who recounted their experiences, stated that the fatal incident occurred at 55 Nsak Effiom Lane, Nyahasang Village, on the outskirts of Calabar, ìwhen a high tension cable running across a numbers of shops and houses, was severed from the pole following an explosion in the ‘first transformer’ located at the junction some 50 metres away and landed on the viewing centreÖî
In situations like this, it is usual to find many causes and trade blames over the incident. One could attribute the cause of the electrocution to the effect of infrastructural decay and the painful absence of municipal facilities. Others could blame it on the lack of foresight of authorities and stakeholders to capitalise on Nigerians’ love for the game, in creating a proper leisure industry as some private organisations are doing. Again, others, just as some spokespersons for the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) and the Nigerian Institute of Mechanical Engineers (NIME) had remarked, might also point accusing fingers at the negligence of electricity regulators who failed to anticipate the consequences of a faulty distribution cable on a make-shift corrugated iron shack of a viewing centre. Whilst the cause-finding, blame-trading and reactionary stance may go unending, Nigerians should learn from the lessons of this tragic experience.
In today’s globalised existence, no one would doubt the socio-economic and political benefits of sports, especially football. Driven by the concourse of media technology and the global consumerist economy, football has become a cultic phenomenon, with adherents and patronage from diverse places of the world. The unifying power of the cult of football has attained the status of a religion, so much so that the absence of proper organisation often leads to dangerous fanaticism. Nigerians, like other people in the football-loving world, express the same passion and exhibit the same fanatical temperament in an incredible manner. On the occasion of a good match, the effervescent passion of adherents fills the surrounding area; sorrows are forgotten, perceived enemies are united, emotions run high, and often only a thin line separates genuine excitement from uncontrolled fury. Such is the mercurial temper created by the cult of football.
Beyond the negligence of relevant authorities and regulatory institutions, what played out in the Calabar viewing centre was the power of passion over personal safety, the power of solidarity with one’s team over concern for municipal facilities, and the power of the love of the game over the small niceties of life. Nigerians could translate this passion, solidarity and love into productive use for the betterment of the country. When people speak of resources, they often ignore these lofty qualities of life which are uniquely Nigerian. This same passion frantically expended to celebrate the sophisticated leagues of Europe could be harnessed to develop Nigeria’s local leagues and turn football into an enterprise for socio-economic development as some passionate football lovers have done.
As people with their individual passions and aspirations, Nigerians are entitled to the enjoyment of temporal facilities that promote the quality of the good life. But they must do the needful if they are to rightfully enjoy such temporal goods. Tragedies, especially avoidable ones such as this, would be greatly reduced had some conscious safety measures been put in place. If such safety measures had never been contemplated by any concerned organisation, the Calabar incident should now act as a prompter and a wake-up call to citizens’ need for self regulation on such matters.
In this regard, Community Development Associations (CDA) should organise themselves to periodically monitor viewing centres. This is not only to pre-empt mishaps, but also to address the nuisance value of viewing centres to their neighbourhoods. Like beer parlours and eateries, viewing centres have now become a means of socialisation, attracting all manner of characters to an apartment. With a watchful CDA, complaints about activities of viewing centres are likely to be better addressed.
It is for this reason that the admonition of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and other concerned citizens makes sense. In their reaction to the incident, they stated that government agencies should ensure that places of relaxation and viewing centres across the country meet all safety standards before they are allowed to operate. In furtherance of the safety standards demanded of viewing centres, private organisations could set this standard by establishing standard viewing centres as part of their corporate social responsibility. Although some ‘corporate’ viewing centres exist in the cities, they are often regarded as elitist and beyond the reach of the masses. Well-meaning corporate organisations could do well to replicate such viewing centres in the outskirts, and, in collaboration with CDAs and regulatory authorities, ensure and enforce safety standards.