Herbert Mensah on the May 9th stadium disaster
Wednesday May 9th 2001
Images of people jumping from great heights to escape the tear gas, the confusion and the stampede, the injured and the dead, the club colours draped on the dead, the living and the hope. The hope came from one supporter alive but injured at the Military hospital. As I visited the wounded he called out to me and told me not to worry…he told me that but for the officiating things would have been different. He was concerned about the club and not his terrible injuries. He wanted to get out so that he could watch our next match. He believed the development and direction was right. I was astounded and could only keep my quiet!
Friday May 11th 2001
This was a sad day. It was a day when the Muslims amongst the dead were buried. They were buried as was their tradition and the afternoon service was attended by His Excellency President J.A. Kuffuor and His Excellency Vice President Aliu Mahama. Also in attendance amongst others was Sheikh I. C. Quaye. There had been threats of disturbance but this was not to be.
The violent rampage by some of the youth in Nima was truly unfortunate. It now appears that it was orchestrated and not representative of the people in Nima at large! Their pain was understandable but the resulting violence was not. The politicising of their feelings was also truly wrong!
It was suggested that E.T. Mensah had been detained at the BNI headquarters on charges of incitement. The alleged acts of incitement in this manner are heinous and potentially destabilising. If they are true then E.T. Mensah has serious questions to answer. Kotoko and Hearts are the two biggest clubs in the country and irresponsible comments and acts could easily confuse some supporters to act against their fellow Ghanaian.
In the current dispensation such actions are totally out of place. Given that it also occurred around the time of the anniversary “Kume Preko” deaths I would hope that this would have reminded the Attorney-General of the need for that matter not to be forgotten!
With the recent attacks on the Police I think that the time has come for us to look at ways of mending the broken bridges. They have become the easy and obvious target for many and in many ways this is understandable. The IGP has made it very clear of the fact that there will be no cover-up. We must give him the opportunity to handle the matter as professionally as I am sure he will do! I am sure that those responsible will be exposed. We do need to move on and there is a need for leaders to start encouraging a situation where it can be understood that the actions of a few policemen does not represent the entire Ghana Police Force. Whilst I cannot and will not condone the actions of those officers at the stadium that evening I think it important to note that we now have an excellent relationship with our force in Kumasi. We have not had the use of tear gas at the Kumasi Sports Stadium during my tenure and I am sure that will be maintained. For our supporters I continue to ask for your patience and understanding in these trying times! We will need to work together as Ghanaians for our total good and the Police are a part of this!
The Management of Sports in Ghana
I am so sad that this tragedy that we have now experienced may be the wake up call that is needed to put us on a programme to ensure that we move forward, never return to this situation and start achieving the targets that we as a nation are more than capable of achieving!
I fully sympathise with the Government’s position although I have been a little concerned about the time it has taken to move forward. Clearly the legacy of E.T. Mensah has meant that it requires a great deal of strength and clarity of mind to take over this Ministry. The man has so violated this Ministry that it has to be fumigated to excess before we can truly move forward. It is not simply a question of replacing him as the Minister in charge. It goes further than this.
I believe that in the short term our sports should be handled in the following way. I believe there is a case for the establishment of a Sports Management Board that could be handled out of the Office of the President. This board would be tasked to manage, develop and run sports in Ghana. I believe that this board could be chaired from the office of the President and include a number of influential and knowledgeable people who would be tasked with a specific area of sports development. The members could be responsible for the following areas;
General policy, planning and finance, marketing and sponsorship, soccer, boxing and athletics, other sports, the youth, the development of facilities. I would include two lawyers and two accountants on this Board to be able to relook at matters left (like the various probes and monies spent on the feasibility plans into a stadium at Prampram etc!)
Although there are existing structures in place there is a need for them to be redirected from a different platform.
With respect to soccer the time has come for the Government to move. I believe that they should present a number of candidates (more than usual) to the Executive Council for consideration. Given the seriousness of our recent tragedy it is important that the backgrounds of the people to be considered are taken into account. We shall all make our opinions known and would hope to be able to influence the final decision!
The Stadium Disaster Fund
On Sunday the Government launched a stadium disaster fund with the first monies being donated by Ghana Telecom. The Government also announced that all the families would be catered for by the Government and that their medical bills as well as the sum of c2.5m would be allocated to pay for the cost of funeral preparations!
Before the establishment of this fund we had been fully supportive of the Joy FM fund, which was set up immediately after the tragedy. Indeed we had asked a number of organisations who had come forward to donate directly to this fund. Collecting money for a worthy cause can sometimes be easy but the disbursement can be tricky! There is a need for major decisions to be made and these include the establishment of Trustees to ensure that whatever is agreed in terms of disbursement and management is carried out.
At this stage the Joy FM management will have to decide on what to do with their fund which apparently has raised close to ¢200,000,000 (two hundred million cedis). There may be a strong case for incorporating their fund into that of the government’s. There may also be a case for the Government appointing someone from Joy FM onto their own team, which will determine how the monies will be disbursed!
I wish to thank all the companies who have made the contributions they did. It shows the unique qualities that we have as Ghanaians. I have taken note and I hope that all do the same and realise that this is our future…our ability to work together in times of distress. Our culture dictates that we care for every human being and this has been proven to be the case!
Saturday May 12th 2001
Whilst watching the English FA Cup between Arsenal and Liverpool I received a visit from a young Hearts of Oak supporter. He is a member of the famous / infamous Chapter O. He had been at the stadium the night of the tragedy and he had seen us all working hand in hand to try and save the living and removing the dead. I later saw him at the Military Hospital the same night. This young man restored a lot of my faith in soccer. Even though some people should know better but don’t this young man clearly did know better. It was a revelation to hear this young Hearts of Oak supporter exhibiting the kind of objectivity that will ensure that we all get through this. He recognised the need (as we do) for us to come together to make things work. He appeared to have the foresight to also recognise the need for the two teams to be seen to be working together in certain specific areas which would be of mutual benefit! He comported himself with class! He surprised me by indicating that he saw me carrying closer to 30 bodies and that he had visited some of the people saved to tell them of how they were saved. He also pointed out that one lady in particular had later died!
I watched Arsenal lose to Liverpool in the FA Cup final. This is a match they had won and only chose to lose! They outplayed Liverpool throughout the match and missed when it would have been easier to score.
My telephone did not stop ringing throughout the day. The need to be in touch with as many affected families as possible was key!
Sunday May 13th 2001
Last Sunday afternoon I attended a special inter faith service on the forecourt of the state House. The service was organised by the Government to honour and remember the dead. The event was both poignant and emotional for me and when I had to give a brief speech I could hardly contain my feelings!
A brief summary of my speech is outlined as follows;
“I am truly humbled to be here today. In making this short speech I would like to start by quoting Ecclesiastics 9 verse17.
“No one can anticipate the time of disaster. Like a fish caught in a cruel net or birds caught in a trap, so are humans caught at a time of calamity when it suddenly falls upon them. [Ecclesiastics 9 verse17]
“This is not a personal tragedy for Hearts or Kotoko: it is a national disaster for all of us. That is why the nation mourns and that is why the global football community is grieving and that is why we as indi¬viduals can only weep more loudly.
“The death of 126 young men, women and children in circumstances, which could and should have been avoided, is particularly personal and painful for me and for all the country. It is an unimagined tragedy, unsurpassed at the international level. The trauma of haying to save the dead from the crush will haunt me forever. I still wake in the morning haunted by the events of that fateful Wednesday night. I carried over twenty bodies and never for one moment considered whether they were Kotoko supporters or Hearts supporters. I only knew them to be Ghanaian football supporters who may well be alive. I knew I had to try my best to save them. We all did what we could in our own way on that fateful night. Sadly it was not enough! But that does not diminish the tragedy. Lessons will have to be learnt to prevent such a dreadful event from ever happening again.
“Our thoughts are particularly with the families and friends. Those young men, women and children, Hearts and Kotoko supporters alike, are in our hearts and in our minds. Just as we do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother’s womb, so we do not know the work of God who makes everything and takes everything away.
“The 126 young people are gone, but they will never be forgotten!!
In the meantime…
Public announcements from a section of Hearts supporters from Nima that they were going to attack me were unfortunate. I was not worried but only saddened because they simply DO NOT represent the views or feelings of the majority of their supporters. I have received great support from a large number of them and I was touched when some of the people I saved at the stadium (Hearts supporters) came to congratulate me later.
The violence that arose afterwards and the threats against me, Kotoko supporters in Legon etc. must be contained and stopped. Alhaji Grunsah once said that if people do not take care we could have a civil war, which could start from or between Hearts and Kotoko. An attack on Kotoko or me would be reciprocated before commonsense could take centre stage and peace must therefore be maintained before we reach this stage!
I am bitterly disappointed by the irresponsible statements made by some Hearts officials. Their public attempts to apportion blame are both distasteful and irresponsible. If their actions and statements succeed in motivating a small section of their supporters to take to arms then the consequences of the actions must be on their conscience forever! We at Kotoko harbour personal feelings which I believe would be counter productive and inflammatory to make public at this point and it is for this reason that we have and are keeping faint on the specific behaviour of individual supporters before, on and after that infamous night! Maybe if either of them had had to participate in the body carrying of supporters and had been subject to the IMMEDIATE suffering and sight of blood and dying supporters they would have tempered the statements they made on air!
I found the advertisements in one of the dailies at the weekend in which specific donations were being made only for the use of the victims from Hearts very distasteful! I believe that it is also very disrespectful and divisive to all of the dead! We have made sure that all the companies, which came to us prior to Sunday made their commitments directly to the Joy FM stadium disaster fund irrespective of who, the direct beneficiaries are! The fund is supportive and not a profit centre for the families and therefore all affected would presumably benefit equally!
It is now time for the FA to move ahead. All over the world where we have had stadium related disasters the league has quickly resumed. I believe that this must be done with haste and that we must observe all the protocols that go with the remembrance and respect to the dead and their families that is culturally and internationally accepted. I would also ask the FA to consider formulae of fund raising that would ensure that specific monies could be raised and allocated from our matches. I would like to propose that the FA and its affiliates including the Sports Council take a 50% reduction in their match fees. The clubs to support an educational and rehabilitation programme could then apportion the monies from this specifically for supporters at base.
I understand that whilst in BNI custody E.T. Mensah said that he was going on hunger strike! He should be very careful because his keepers might just take him seriously and stop sending him any food. Mr Mensah must understand that there are those who blame him for a number of things and who have very little sympathy for him. From the Kume Preko deaths and including the mismanagement of Sports in Ghana, he has been blamed for most things! The fact that the stadium reports and the Gbadegbe reports were not acted on during his tenure also confirms for most people his responsibility for the sad state in which Ghana finds itself. His sacking of Coach Dossena when he had set us on course to qualify for the World Cup and his manipulation of players into believing that if they did not play for his club they would not be invited into the national team is totally unforgivable. Indeed some of his assigns such as Afranie endorsed a programme which as Minister he could have stopped but didn’t but which led to the current situation in which over aged players are used to win competitions etc! E.T. Mensah’s legacy is what we are living with today!