Nigerian World Cup fans stay home over Boko Haram fears

A newspaper with its frontpage headline on an abduction of women from a village in northeast Nigeria, is displayed at a vendor's stand along a road in Ikoyi district in Lagos on June 10, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A newspaper with its frontpage headline on an abduction of women from a village in northeast Nigeria, is displayed at a vendor's stand along a road in Ikoyi district in Lagos on June 10, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

KANO, Nigeria (AFP) - Danlami Ma'azu stood among a crowd jostling to secure a satellite TV decoder in the Nigerian city of Kano so he could watch the World Cup in the safety of his home - far from the threat of Boko Haram attacks.

The Brazil tournament should normally spell weeks of revelry in football-mad Nigeria as crowds gather in giant, often open-air venues to cheer on their heroes.

But in the commercial capital of northern Nigeria, hundreds of residents have thronged the local branch of satellite provider DSTV in the past week either to buy the technology or renew their subscriptions.

"I'm not comfortable going to any viewing centre due to the Boko Haram threats," Ma'azu told AFP on Thursday, after spending three hours waiting in line.

His fears are well-founded: the heavily armed Islamist militant group has previously targeted football fans in its deadly five-year insurgency across northern Nigeria.

Just this week, officials in northeast Adamawa state announced the closure of all football viewing centres because of the threat of attack.

The ban came a week after 40 people were killed in an explosion at a football pitch, shortly after a match in the town of Mubi, in Adamawa state, which was blamed on Boko Haram.

In volatile Plateau state - where three people died in the state capital Jos in a blast targeting crowds watching the European Champions League final - police also ordered all viewing centres to close "because of prevailing security challenges." "During the World Cup, the tendency is for more people, especially the youth, to be out at odd hours. The closure is to reduce the risk of attacks," government spokesman Pam Ayuba told AFP on Friday.

In April, suspected Boko Haram gunmen also stormed a packed venue in Potiskum, in northeast Yobe state, shooting dead two people as they watched Champions League quarter-final matches.

Kano itself has not been spared from violence, including at popular locations for watching football in the heart of the city.

- A boon for TV providers -

In several videos Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has condemned football and music as part of a Western plot to distract Muslims from their religion and called on viewing centres to close.

Kano's police have recently held talks with officials from the viewing centres operators' union to discuss security measures to prevent future attacks - notably during the World Cup.

"We are taking into account the security situation with regard to football viewing centres," Kano police spokesman Magaji Majia told AFP.

"We have also put our patrol teams on high alert and assigned our intelligence operatives to keep eyes on viewing centres during matches." Despite the reassurances, fans hoping to catch Nigeria's "Super Eagles" and the world's other top teams in action were taking no chances, boosting trade for satellite television vendors.

"Business has been really good in the past week," one DSTV agent said outside the office as private security guards and police intelligence operatives looked on.

"Our sales have jumped over 400 per cent," said the agent, who declined to give his name as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

DSTV declined to comment.

- Crowds stay away -

Crowds were thin at many Kano viewing centres on Thursday as Brazil beat Croatia 3-1 in the World Cup opener.

"We had low patronage last night, with turnout 35 percent lower than usual because many people are afraid coming to watch football due to security fears," said operator Safiyanu Nasiru.

"This is an indication that we are in for a bad business season." Even those who were brave enough to go to the viewing centres were jittery.

"I watched the match in an open-air garden with trepidation because of fear of possible attack," said one fan, Abdulkadir Ammani.

"I chose the open-air garden on purpose so that I could easily escape in the event of attack but I still didn't enjoy the match." Back at the shop, Jamilu Ahmad was renewing his subscription after more than a year.

In football, it is often said the game is more important than life or death but he said watching on the big screen was not worth the risk.

"Life has no duplicate," the civil servant said.

"Once you are dead, you are dead and I can't risk my life going to a viewing centre to watch the matches. That's why I'm here."

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