Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Eight years after… Parents of dead female players cry out


tiamin rice

Members of the Jos North Women Football Team, Rock City Queens, who were involved in the fatal accident… eight years ago.

December 21, 2016 marked eight years of the tragic accident at Dorowa Dabuje in Barkin Ladi Council of Plateau State, which led to the death of the Jos North Council women footballers, who were participating in the Ngo Talatu Jang Female Football Tournament that year in Shendam.

And for parents of the dead female footballers, it has been eight years of pains and tears.The Jos North Council football team, popularly called “Rock City Queens,” had left Jos on December 21, 2008 to Shendam, venue of the Plateau State First Lady’s Female Football Competition among the 17 councils of the state.

During their homeward journey that evening, tragedy struck as the J5 bus conveying the players had a head-on collision with a Golf car and burst into flames.

Out of the six occupants in the Golf car, only one survived, and of the passengers in the J5 bus conveying the players, 12 were roasted to ashes, including 12–year-old Naomi John, their coach Ganiyu and his assistant Khalid Yero. Others included Augustina Kenneth, Catherine Okpoko, Happiness Primus, Mary Shom, Comfort Agwu, Vicky Joseph, Angela Utuka, Mercy Uwandu and Jummai Ishaku.

The then governor of the state, Pastor Jonah David Jang, his wife, Ngo Talatu (on whose behalf the tournament was organised) and the authority of Jos North Local Government, which the girls represented, all made promises during the mass burial of the children.

But after the accident, the parents of the deceased tried in vain to see Jang or his spouse Talatu. The parents of the children have been molested, mocked at and insulted even by some government officials over the years.

Some of the parents recalled with dismay a particular incident when a government official told them that they were behaving as if they were the first parents to lose their children.

They condemned the attitude of the government, adding that a nation cannot be built without adequate care and concern for the youths, especially those that have volunteered to serve their fatherland.

The attitude of the government is further described as barbaric, inhuman and uncultured.They recall that following the demise of the footballers in that fatal crash, the council and state assured them they would fill the void created by the loss of their children. But eight years after, they are still waiting for words from the authorities.

Mr. and Mrs. Uwandu are the parents of one of the deceased players, Mercy of Alheri in Jos North.With tears rolling down the her cheeks, Mrs. Uwandu recalled how useful and dedicated Mercy was to the family, describing her as “a woman with a man’s heart.”

She said, “I can’t believe Mercy is gone. She was the breadwinner of this family from the little money she made during tournaments and competitions. She was also promising as she was determined to do much in life.

“That determination earned her admission into the University of Jos. Ever since her demise, I have not been myself.“This country is not worth sacrificing for. Imagine, children died in the course of serving this state and government has not deemed it fit to commiserate with us. It is unfortunate.”

Indeed, Mrs. Uwandu looked traumatized. Late Mercy while playing football enrolled at the University of Jos and until her demise was a 400 level student in the Business Management Department.

It was a similar story at the house of Mr. John Oyetego of Anguwan Soya, Jos. He is a consultant with the Plateau State Ministry of Sports, whose daughter, Naomi, the youngest player of the Rock City Queens, also died in the accident. John looked distraught and wanted to be left alone.

The enlarged photograph of late 12- year-old Naomi still hanging on the wall in the sitting room shows the lass smiling down on people. Like Mercy, John described late Naomi as a very hardworking and dedicated child.

“She was the last born of my children, but she seemed to be more concerned about us than the others. Naomi always brought home whatever stipends she made during tournaments. I received the death of Naomi with rude shock and the shock is still in me.

“This is more so that those who contracted her for the assignment that took her life have not expressed sympathy. It is this kind of negligence by government that make athletes even at the national level to demand for their entitlements upfront before donning Nigerian colours at international and global competitions,” John said.

Another parent of one of the deceased players, Kenneth Eze, describes the year 2008 as a year he cannot easily forget. According to him, it was a year of double tragedy. Eze, a mechanic at Farin Gada, a suburb of Jos, said that year, he lost his beloved wife to a strange illness. The corpse was taken to the South Eastern part of the country for burial. Shortly after the funeral rites, family members prevailed on him not to make a hasty return to Jos with his children until the family offered last prayers for the peaceful repose of the soul of his wife, a counsel Eze had no alternative than to accept.

Soon afterwards, one of his children, Augustina, a footballer, informed him about a certain telephone call she received from a sports official in Jos North Local Government Council, followed by another from her then coach, Zakari Ahmed. In her explanation to her father, she said that a female football tournament among the 17 local government areas of Plateau State in honour of the then First Lady of the state, Ngo Talatu Jang, was being organised and she was picked to be among the Jos North Local Government contingent. That news suddenly cut short Mr. Eze’s plan of a prolonged stay in the village and a hurried return with Augustina to Jos.

On December 21, 2008 Augustina bid her family goodbye as she was set to join her colleagues for the onward journey to Shendam, venue of the tournament. “I asked her if they were returning that same day. She said that depended on the arrangement put in place by government,” said Eze.

“All efforts to reach her on her cell phone that day in the evening proved abortive,” he said, adding that on the following day, while he was at his late wife’s shop, one of his daughters called to inform him of an accident involving the bus conveying the female football team.

“Immediately I heard news, I slumped. When I regained consciousness, I learnt that not all the occupants in the vehicle died and that my daughter could be one of the survivors. Hours later, my daughter called again to inform me that many of the footballers in the vehicle had died, including Augustina. I slumped again and was rushed to hospital,” he said.

Just like others, Eze could not believe his daughter was dead. He said sometimes he feels as if he is responsible for his daughter’s death because he hurriedly left the East while still mourning his mother just to allow Augustina to honour a request by government. Yet the same government has not deemed it fit to commiserate with the family.

According to Eze, “With this kind of treatment from government to its citizens, how can citizens develop the zeal to serve their fatherland?”In the words of Miriam Ibrahim, one of the survivors of the accident, “Plateau State has no regard for athletes. I remain to ever regret playing for the local government.”

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