ABUJA (AFP) – Nigerian football club Abia Warriors have asked for their weekend match against El Kanemi Warriors to be moved from the northeastern city of Maiduguri, the stronghold of Islamist group Boko Haram.
The club cited security concerns as a justification for the proposed venue change following waves of attacks by the insurgents both in Maiduguri and in surrounding areas, but league officials have rejected the appeal.
In a letter to the League Management Company (LMC), which runs Nigeria’s domestic league, Abia club secretary Oliver Ndife said “families and friends” of players have appealed for the match to be played elsewhere.
They “are refusing to let their loved ones travel for the match for fear of being attacked en route to the venue,” Ndife said.
“Even though it could be argued that security would be provided in Maiduguri town, our club’s fear is what happens in transit say between (the capital) Abuja and Maiduguri,” he said.
The total distance to Maiduguri from the club’s southeastern base is more than 1300 kilometres.
Nigerian domestic league clubs typically drive to matches due to budget constraints. All commercial flights into Maiduguri were stopped following an attack by Boko Haram on the city’s airport last year.
Northeast Nigeria, including Borno state where Maiduguri is the capital, has been under a state of emergency since May amid the Boko Haram conflict.
The violence has intensified in recent weeks, with more than 500 people killed in the northeast already this year.
LMC boss Salisu Abubakar has insisted that the match will not be moved from the Maiduguri Township Stadium.
“Maiduguri will host the match between El Kanemi and Abia Warriors on Saturday,” he said.
“We have inspected the suitability of the ground and we have been assured of adequate security for the visiting team,” he added, without addressing the Abia club’s concerns over travel safety.
El Kanemi has not yet hosted a match at home this season, so the safety of road travel in and out of the city for a football match have not yet been tested.