From: JUDEX OKORO, Calabar
Football fans in Calabar have voiced their strong objection to the intention of the Cross River State Government to ban unregistered soccer match viewing centres that dot the city.
The proposed plan is in response to the tragic fire incident, which occurred last Thursday, about 9:00pm during one of the Europa matches between Manchester United of England and Anderlecht of Belgium.
The fire incident was attributed to a high-tension electricity cable, belonging to the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC), which snapped and fell on top of the viewing centre building.
After PHEDC restored power supply while the match was on, the current that surged through the cable caused a huge spark, setting the building on fire, trapping football fans inside.
In the aftermath of the fire, the Deputy Governor of Cross River State, Prof. Ivara Esu, visited the scene and assured that the government would take steps to prevent a re-occurrence of the tragedy.
However, an aide to Governor Ben Ayade, Mr John Emmanuel, stated that the tragic incident might compel the to clamp down on unregistered viewing centres.
Emmanuel said: “Before we used to have community viewing centres. Maybe we will return to this and ensure it is monitored and well equipped to avoid a future ugly incident. For those who operate substandard viewing centres, we will close them and force them to do the right thing before they are allowed to operate. There is a law for all those things and it has to be enforced now.”
In reaction to the move mooted by the government, the Vice Chairman, Cross River Football Association, Mr Oswlad Atuaeke, said: “We should not ban viewing centres completely, rather they should be regulated because football is the in-thing now that engages our youth. I can tell you that football has come to stay and government should now take the opportunity to build standard community viewing centres across major towns and villages where the youths can go and watch matches safely. And it should be closely monitored by community relations officers.”
He suggested that private viewing centres should be made to register with the relevant government agencies, stressing that no viewing centre should be built in an area that is not conducive.
On his part, a cleric, Pastor Val Alloysus, said: “The best thing is not outright ban. We should take them away from under high-tension cables. If you ban the centres, you create more trouble in the society because those centres now serve as recreation centres which government has neglected over the years.”
Also insisting that viewing centres must be regulated, Mr Emmah Nsisuk, a public servant, chipped in: “Standards should be set as to location, size, basic amenities, security, etc. Location should not be near or under high-tension cable or too close to highways to avoid trailer/car accidents. Besides, sitting arrangement should be done to prevent overcrowding while watching matches.”
Agreeing with Nsikuk, Ms Hope Bebe, a staffer of the University of Calabar said, “Viewing centres should be located in a very good and healthy environment. A place that is free of violence and accidents, not under an electric pole or where there are cables because an accident doesn’t ring a bell. I hold the view that the government check the location of viewing centres, to ensure the safety of our people.”
Speaking in the same vein, Mr Emma Ulayi, an aide to Governor Ayade, said that a total ban of the viewing centres would be counterproductive because the centres have become sources of livelihood for many families and employment for teeming youth in the country.
“It is high time government showed more commitment to ensuring safety of the lives of Nigerians. It is very sad to lose lives of people who were trying to relax by watching a football match on television. Importantly, this is an eye-opener for us on the danger of building under a high-tension wire and it has further exposed the failures of PHEDC.
Meanwhile, the Commissioner for Lands, Dr John Inyang, has given an indication that the government would embark on massive public awareness campaign on the dangers of building under high-tension cables. The intention is to prevent similar tragedies in future.
He advised developers to observe the 10 to 12 meters set back from the edge of the road, and to always seek advice at the Department of Town Planning, to ensure that they follow approved plans.
His added: “With this unfortunate experience, the Ministry of Lands and Urban Development intends to embark on a sensitization exercise aimed at creating awareness of regulations on buildings/development. It also intends to demolish illegal structures particularly those under power tensions.
“This will no doubt have economic setbacks for some persons but will definitely save more lives. We urge developers to obey building regulations and equally obey the commonsense. The commonsense guide is better than officers of the law chasing you.”
Investigations revealed that there are over 100 viewing centres within the metropolis. The centres are located around Anantigha, Ekpo Abasi, Mbukpa, Edgerly, Egerton, White House, Bedwell, Chamley, Target, Goldie, Edgerly, Mayne Avenue, Nelson Mandela, axis of Calabar South.
Within Calabar metropolis, the centres are located in Ette-Agbor, Statelite Town, Mary Slessor, Barracks Road, IBB Way, Akim, Edim Otop, Nyakassang, Marian Road, State Housing Estate, Biqua Town, Diamond Hill, Itok Ansa, Parliamentary and Highway-Eight Miles.
It was equally discovered that while some viewing centres are installed with digital satellite TV with modern facilities so as to attract more fans, some are ramshackle structures built with wood and roofing sheets with no facilities at all.
Besides, while those with facilities charge between N200 and N500 and offer drinks and spirits for sale at high prices, the makeshift viewing centres charge between N50 and N100.