ABUJA — As the World Cup in Brazil approaches, Nigerians are looking forward to watching their team compete for the fifth time in the country’s history. Recent attacks on football "viewing centers" have cast a shadow on the event, however, and many fans in Nigeria say for this World Cup, they will stay home.
In February 2013, members of Nigeria’s national football team, the Super Eagles, literally jumped up and down with glee and kissed the golden medals hanging around their necks. They had just won the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in 19 years.
In homes, restaurants, bars and viewing centers across Nigeria that night, the country celebrated.
Africa’s most populous nation will take another shot next week at football fame at the World Cup. But in northern Nigeria, the excitement has been met with gloom after an attack at a local match early this week killed at least 40 people.
Two weeks before, an attack on a viewing center was thwarted -- but three people, including the bomber, were killed.
Across Nigeria, crowds regularly gather at viewing centers to watch matches. Fans pay between 10 cents and 30 cents for entry. In a country where most people live in abject poverty, football is a needed distraction, according to Paul Orude, a fan in the northern state of Bauchi.
“I prefer watching it in the viewing center because it’s more fun there, but now I don’t think I will be doing that again,” he said.
In April, two people were killed when another viewing center was attacked in Yobe State, one of three Nigerian states that have been under emergency rule for more than a year.
No one has claimed responsibility for the football attacks, but insurgents known as Boko Haram are widely blamed, having killed thousands of people under the guise of rejecting all things Western.
In recent months, the violence has gotten worse, with near daily attacks in the north. And despite assistance from the international community, Boko Haram has held more than 200 schoolgirls captive for nearly two months.
Sparse viewing centers
Mohammad Nasser owns a viewing center in northern Nigeria. He said beyond disappointing fans, growing fear is harming his business.
“The people that we were expecting to come here to watch football, honestly now they are not coming, honestly, because of this problem," he said. "We are trying to do everything that is enforceable to tackle this problem.”
Nasser said customers are searched upon entry, and bags and vehicles are not allowed near the viewing center. Strangers are discouraged from attending matches.
Police in northern Nigeria also say they will beef up security during the World Cup by deploying more men and by setting up a hotline for the public to report suspicious activity.
Bauchi State Police Spokesman, Haruna Mohammad, said, “We also educate members of the public to be security conscious to themselves, their environment, both physical and social, especially in shopping malls, the view centers, market places, recreation centers, hotels, parks, etc.”
Boko Haram says it wants to install Islamic law in northern Nigeria, and ban Western education. Analysts say the haphazard nature of the attacks and constantly shifting tactics, though, indicate that while the group may be powerful, it also is fractured and without any clear goals beyond violence.
Ardo Hazzad contributed to this report from Bauchi State, Nigeria.