BY: GEORGE ‘Alan Green’ MAHAMAH
On this day 9 May 2001(Exactly 18 years ago) 127 Ghanian football fans died in a stampede caused by the firing of teargas by police following a decision by the referee in a crucial match between arch-rivals Accra Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko
Ghana’s two most successful football teams played that day, the Accra Hearts of Oak Sporting Club and the Asante Kotoko Sporting Club,. Officials were anticipating crowd disturbances, and had taken extra security measures. With less than 15 minutes to go in the game, two goals in quick succession put Hearts 2-1 ahead. Angry Asante Kotoko fans ripped up plastic chairs and hurled them on to the pitch.
The police responded by firing tear gas into the crowd. Panic and a stampede ensued as fans tried to escape. Gates were locked and the stadium’s compromised design left a bottleneck, with fewer exits than originally planned. Ghana Institute of Architects called the stadium a “death trap.” After the hour-long ordeal, it was found that 116 deaths resulted from compressive asphyxia and 10 fans died from trauma.
A fan, Abdul Mohammed, had passed out from the tear gas and moved to a morgue, thought to be dead. He became conscious after someone stepped on his foot, narrowly missing a burial.
Reports claim that medical staff had already left the stadium, as the incident happened near the end of the match. Some gates were locked, preventing escape
An official inquiry blamed police for over-reacting with reckless behaviour and indiscriminate firing of plastic bullets and tear gas. It also accused some officers of dishonesty and indefensible laxity.
The commission of inquiry set up by then-Ghana president, John Agyekum Kufour to look into the carnage fingered six police officers, recommending that they be prosecuted.
All six officers – Chief Superintendent of Police, Koranteng Mintah, ASP Faakyi Kumi, ASP Frank Awuah, ASP Frank Aryee, ASP John Naami and ASP B.B. Bakomora – were each charged with 127 counts of manslaughter, but were later acquitted after a submission of no case was upheld by a court.
The commission of inquiry recommended improvements to stadium security and first aid facilities, and that nationwide rapid response teams should be set up.
Following the event Ghana’s president, John Agyekum Kufuor called for three days of mourning. The Ghana Premier Football League suspended play for a month. Since 2001 corporations and philanthropists including former Asante Kotoko chairman from 1999 to 2003, Herbert Mensah, have memorialized this tragedy with a fund, the Stadium Disaster Fund, and a series of events in Kumasi.
The events include paying respects to families of victims, and their 148 children, their invitation to the Otumfuo’s birthday at Manhyia Palace, prayers in the local Central Mosque, donations to the needy, the laying of a memorial wreath and a memorial march called the “May 9th Remembered Street Walk.” In 2016 an annual memorial “May 9th Cup” football competition was created. Mensah has appealed to the government to memorialize that May 9th, to no agreement. In 2017 the memorial events were themed “Embrace the Day.”
A bronze statue was erected outside the stadium of a fan carrying another fan to safety with the inscription title, “I Am My Brother’s Keeper” in honor of the victims of that tragedy
Fans who attend matches at the stadium now chant “Never Again”! Never Again!” to remind themselves of that day
On this day 9 May 2010 (Exactly 9 years ago) Chelsea lifted the Premier League title for the first time since 2006 after an emphatic 8-0 success over Wigan Athletic guided them to glory in Carlo Ancelotti’s debut season as manager of the club.