SPORTS : May 9 stadium disaater, any lessons learnt ?
“It is not good enough to simply go to the mosque or church and say let bygones be bygones. We must look at this to a time where there is a global standard. 126 people lost their lives and over 10 year period, we have not had the self respect to at least honour the memories and ensure that the greatest spirit of saying it will never happen again does not happen again”.
Monday, May 9, 2011 marks exactly 10 years since the worst disaster ever happened in Ghana football, where 126 supporters of Ghana’s two glamorous clubs, Kumasi Asante Kotoko and Accra Hearts of Oak at the then Ohene Djan Sports Stadium, lost their lives.
It is undoubtedly one of the worst ever stadium stampede in the annals of world football, yet Ghanaians seem to learn nothing about it.
It could be recalled that moment after disputed handling of the match, the police started to fire tear gas into the agitated crowd. As the gas spread, fans rushed for the exits, but alas, found the main entrance at the stadium locked. Despite this, the police continued firing the gas; people continued rushing for the exit. In the end it was recorded that a total of 126 people were perished. Many more were also injured.
The opening quote is from Herbert Mensah, one man who has loyally commemorated and honoured the memories of the people who lost their lives that fateful day up until now. And what would one expect from a man who personally got involved in the carting of the bodies.
“I remember rushing down there and shouting at people; I think it was on the third body that one or two others also got involved. It was so pathetic; there was one guy who I was picking up and I remember him telling me in a low tone, ‘leave me I’m not dead o’... How I got through in the end, where all the others got the strength from, I don’t know”.
Herbert Mensah was the Chairman of Kumasi Asante Kotoko as of the time and thinks that a lot more remains to be done to avert the possibility of another disaster in that likeness.
Ever since that day of May in 2001, there have been subtle incidents in our stadiums which clearly suggest we are yet to wake up to the realities on the ground. Noticeable is an incidence at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium, which also claimed innocent lives after a match between Hearts and Kotoko as well as other cases of violence and crowd misbehavior at our league centers.
Speaking extensively on an incidence that is close to his heart, Herbert Mensah believes the deaths would have been averted if the stadium construction was done properly and the security men at post had worked judiciously.
“I know there was a gentleman from national security, I’m not sure if he was totally responsible, but I know that if he had not been removed from his position by the then government at the time, this would have been a regular Hearts-Kotoko game; where you have the police, BNI, military and a whole array of security that must be at the stadium to handle 50,000 people converging in a point; that will also make sure that you got the Medicare facility etc”.
“One of the great things about proper security is that, you have your eye and ears opened for what might be so you don’t wait for it to occur and then react to it. I remember then I had to call the head of national security at the time and telling him that people are dying”.
“I do not believe the situation would have occurred; the construction of the stadium was not properly done, we can talk about the fact that there was that gap between the railing and the wall which was over a meter and that was where a lot of people fell”.
“I look at the way the stadium seats were - provided by Ade Coker… So you cannot cut corners in life, when you do, it may seem as though it’s okay, but when it is you are dealing with the lives of the people, then the decisions that you take that are not of the nature that can stand the test of time, sometimes it takes a disaster of this nature to say who was responsible for national security”.
To Mr Mensah, the big question that has gone unanswered even to this day is; who was responsible for the disaster? And he says “people have got to be brave enough to say who was responsible, we cannot have the loss of lives and just assume that it doesn’t matter. Whoever is responsible, we need to ask him questions.”
“The policemen who were on duty have already been charged, were they the appropriate police men? Were they trained? If they were trained properly, clearly, they wouldn’t have done what they did. What was the security apparatus behind the police to actually run and do the checks to make sure that the stadium was safe? Where was the rapid respond group to react and say ‘now there is a problem, make sure the gates are opened’? What is that structure of which we the citizens of Ghana entrust ourselves to greater politicians to say; we pay our taxes, we vote you into power and we expect you to deliver and to protect us, and you have failed in that?
May 9, 2001 may be the darkest history in Ghana football, but Herbert Mensah believes the onus lies on the ordinary Ghanaian, in holding people in higher offices accountable, to ensure that this thing never happens.
“If we can respect our heroes, we don’t wait for them to die, before we say they are heroes. That in itself is the starting point. Then we have to understand that when we put people into office of authority, they must be truly accountable to the people and serve the people who put them there.”
“If as a nation, we understand that the majority of us are more powerful than the few who move around in the corridors of higher power, then we can make those same people more accountable for their actions, then we can ensure that this sort of thing never happens”.