Nigeria moves WCup qualifiers over safety concerns

Nigeria moved its upcoming World Cup and African Cup of Nations

qualifiers on Thursday over fears about attacks from a radical

Islamist sect and spiraling religious violence in the nation.

The Nigeria Football Federation issued a statement saying

matches scheduled for June 3 and June 17 would be played at the

U.J. Esuene Stadium in Calabar, a city in the country’s far

southeast. The federation earlier ruled out playing the matches at

the National Stadium in the central capital of Abuja, saying the

grass pitch there had not been looked after and would not be ready

in time.

Nigeria will face Namibia in a World Cup qualifier on June 3,

and then play Rwanda in their African Cup group.

”We looked at all the options available to us and we decided

Calabar is the best choice for now,” the statement quoted

federation President Aminu Maigari as saying.

Maigari said the decision had to be made now as FIFA wanted

Nigeria to confirm a venue for the June 3 match by Friday.

The two qualifiers had been scheduled to be held in Kaduna, a

central Nigeria city where an Easter suicide car bombing killed at

least 41 people. A radical Islamist sect later carried out a bomb

attack on an office building where newspaper correspondents work,

killing at least four people.

A radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram claimed

responsibility for the newspaper office attack. The sect, whose

name means ”Western education is sacrilege” in the Hausa language

of Nigeria’s Muslim north, is waging an increasingly bloody

sectarian fight with the country’s weak central government. The

sect has been blamed for at least 520 killings this year alone in

Nigeria, according to an Associated Press count.

While the sect has not carried out an attack against a sporting

event or threatened to do so, it has struck soft targets in the

past where security is light. Sporting events in Nigeria, except

for major international football matches, typically see little

police or military presence.

Jon Gambrell can be reached at