On 9 May 2001, 127 football fans died at the Accra Sports Stadium, making it Africa’s worst ever sports-related disaster.
It’s been 16 years now since the May 9 disaster tragedy that saw 127 Ghanaians who travelled to a football match and never came home in what happened to be Africa’s worst sporting tragedy
Everyone has dates that are etched in their head for entirely personal reasons, be it birthdays, weddings or anniversaries.
And while I didn’t know any of those who perished in Accra, May 9, 2001, it is a date that never leaves my mind.
I also hope that every year it comes around, anyone with an interest in sports or compassion for life itself, even allowing for the busy lives we all lead in the modern world, should take at least a few moments to remember The 127 and those they left behind.
Ghana Premier League clubs always observe a minute silence at the various league centres in remembrance of the lost souls and as usual it was observed yesterday when match day 11 of the Ghana Premier League was played.
However, the big question is that has sports fans learnt a lesson from what happened on May 9 or they just say with their mouths, while their hearts are far from the incident?
Since May 9 2001, there have several violent acts instigated by some club officials and supporters that resulted in certain forms of confusion and in some cases people lost their lives. Example in February, 2009 some fans lost their lives in Kumasi in a game between Kotoko and Hearts of Oak.
In the year 2000 Accra Hearts of Oak on their way to winning the Ghana league title beat Asante Kotoko 4-0 and the May 9, 2001 was a revenge time for Kotoko and to Hearts of Oak, a time to prove their dominance on Kotoko once again.
On May 9, 2001, the rains have just subsided. The sun announced it’s presence briefly and left. A bright sky hanging over a tension-packed Accra, the capital of Ghana. The streets were dead, but the buildings were alive with thousands of football fans waiting to flock to the Accra Sports Stadium which was once christened Ohene Djan Sports Stadium.
A football rivalry was in the waiting. Old foes Hearts of Oak [based in Accra] and Asante Kotoko [Kumasi-based team] were battle-ready to set Accra alive in a midweek league game. It was May 9, 2001. A sea of fans drenched in hot red took one side of the stadium to ransom while bright rainbow colours decorated the other half.
Hostilities had unfolded within the white lines of the stadium. Ironic cheers and boos filled the atmosphere. Applause and chanting diffuse the tension intermittently, but none of the sides was prepared to go home a defeated unit. However, there was a loser and a winner. The scoreline ushered in the unexpected.
The Phobians [Hearts] were leading the Porcupine Warriors [Kotoko] 2-1 with only five minutes to stoppage time. Agitated fans hurled missiles on the pitch. The police responded with tear gas into the stands. Gates were locked tightly. The fans had nowhere to seek refuge. They were trapped. Stampede ensued. Hell broke loose. Death was on rampage.
On 9 May 2001, 127 football fans died at the Accra Sports Stadium, making it Africa’s worst ever sports-related disaster. It was one of several such incidents in Africa over a period of less than a month, including similar disasters in South Africa (43 killed on 11 April), the Congo (14 killed on 29 April), and the Ivory Coast (39 killed on 6 May).
The fans were in Accra that night to watch a match between hosts Hearts of Oak and rival club Asante Kotoko. The visitors were up 1-0 near the end of the match, but Hearts of Oak scored two late goals to take the lead. With about five minutes left, frustrated supporters in agitation that Ishmael Addo scored the equaliser from an off-side position began ripping seats out of the stands and throwing them onto the pitch. The police responded by firing tear gas into the crowd, causing a panic. Most of the victims were crushed in the ensuing stampede, while a few died from suffocation.
Although six policemen were charged with manslaughter, authorities later determined that the tragedy was compounded by the fact that several stadium gates were locked at the time, preventing the crowd from escaping.
The Ghanaian government established a special scholarship for children of the victims and also erected a memorial statue at the stadium.
The Okudzeto Commission
And so the disaster came and passed and even though Ghana’s spirit was shaken to the core, the country needed to move on with the business of life. A commission was set up to look into the disaster by President John Agyekum Kuffour. The Chairman of the commission was Lawyer Sam. Okudzeto, other members of the commission where Professor George K. Ofosu Amaah, former Director of the Special Branch, Professor Agyeman Badu Akosa President of the Ghana Medical Association (GMA), Professor Akua Kuenyehia, Dean of the Faculty of Law, Legon and Mr. Ken Bediako, a veteran Sports Journalist. President Kuffour, who inaugurated the commission,
asked the commissioners to determine their own procedure and not feel limited to stay at the Teachers’ Hall for their operations but inspect the scene of the disaster and invite experts on the suitability of the structures at the stadium. He remarked further: “As you take the oath of office, we thank you for accepting to serve the nation. Do not leave anything behind since you appreciate the gravity of the situation that led 126 people dead and over 200 injured”.
The commission among other things recommended the prosecution of six police officers, which a government White paper upheld. Police officers, Chief Superintendent of Police, Koranteng Mintah, ASP Frank Awuah, ASP Faakyi Kumi, ASP B.B. Bakomora, ASP John Naami and ASP Frank Aryee were each charged with 127 counts of manslaughter.”
The Defense Counsel made a submission of no case, in their submission of no case, they prayed the court presided over by Mr. Justice Yaw Appau to acquit and discharge the officers as the Prosecution had failed to prove its case. The court in its ruling on the submissions of no case, stated that the Prosecution could not prove the acts of the Officers as those who caused harm, kill or maim the 127 fans at the Stadium on May 9. The Court also held that the Prosecution had failed to prove the essential ingredients of the manslaughter charge against the Officers. The ingredients of the charge were: that there weredeaths; that the deaths were caused by harm; that the harm caused was unlawful; that the Officers caused the death of the 127 fans and that the harm amounted to reckless disregard towards human lives. It maintained that the Prosecution had proved that there were deaths but could not prove that the fans died as a result of harm caused by the Officers.
Mr. Justice Appau was of the view that the Officers did not cause the deaths of the 127 fans as the Pathologists had attributed the cause of deaths to traumatic asphyxia and not through inhaling of tear gas. This, it said occurred as a result of inadequate air for the fans to breath and stated that the Officers should not be blamed for that. Mr. Justice Appau, however, attributed the cause of deaths to the failure of the Stadium Officials to open the gates, coupled with the light going off and the narrowness of the stairway where most of the fans forced their way through.He mentioned that the fact that the Prosecution failed to prosecute the junior officers, who fired the tear gas, meant that the use of the tear gas was lawful.
The Judge noted that the Officers were duty bound and were acting lawfully by dispersing the rampaging fans that were destroying public property.” The Police in preventing crime ought to apply maximum force and as such did not have in mind what was happening at the gates.” And so the trial ended without anyone held accountable for the death of the many people who lost their lives at the stadium on May 9 2001. A ‘Stadium Disaster Fund’ was set up to raise funds
for the upkeep of the families and dependent of the victims of the disaster. Members of the committee were Ms Helena Cobbina of the Ghana Police Service, Mr. KwesiEssel Koomson, the managing director of KEK Insurance Brokers and Mrs. Regina Apotsi, the Judicial
Secretary. The Commission also recommended among other things that children of the victims should be supported through Senior Secondary School in addition to a daily wage for their upkeep.“Children of pre9school age be supported each with the minimum daily wage,” the report said adding “to supplement the fund on a permanent basis and to commemorate the occasion of the disaster each year, the two clubs, Accra Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko should play a charity soccer competition on a convenient date near May 9, at the Accra Sports Stadium for a trophy donated by the fund. Part of the recommendations also stated that the “in case of the 54 victims who did not have any children, a one-off ex-gratia payment of ¢10 million be made to the victims’ parents or accredited legal representatives of their family.” The report also asked government to contribute at least ¢2 billion in the first year of the fund to supplement the capital of the fund and sustain.
The purpose disbursement scheme. The White Paper endorsed the commission’s recommendation that a series of training programs should be organized for the police to equip them to deal with flashpoints not only at the various stadia but in all aspects of the Ghanaian society. Henceforth, policemen who were not assigned duties would no more be allowed entry into any of the stadia throughout the country. The management style of Enoch Teye Mensah, former Minister of Youth and Sports as the political head of sports promotion also came in for criticism. The White paper endorsed the findings of the Commission which established that the overbearing presence of the former Minister intimidated officers of the National Sports Council to the extent that most officials of the NSC shied away from taking major decisions on their own apportioning part of the blame on the indecisiveness of leading officials of the Council. One casualty of this perceived timidity is the Acting Chief Executive of the Sports Council Brigadier George Brock. The retired army officer is to be dismissed from his post with immediate effect.
The Government wondered why clubs using facilities provided by the Sports Council for league matches paid only a pittance of gate proceeds towards the maintenance of the various football arenas and other properties of the NSC. To this end, the White Paper ordered a review of the share of the proceeds of the Sports Council at football matches. The Government view facilities provided by the Accra Sports Stadium for major sporting events as woefully inadequate in the construction of the National construction of the National Olympic Complex, ( the site of which was said to have been acquired by the Rawlings regime at a place near the Accra Tema Motorway). The White paper slammed the quality of chairs at the
Accra Sports Stadium which were easily torn apart by irate fans and ordered a thorough examination to establish their suitability, or otherwise, to accommodate sports fans.