Five professional footballers have fled their team camp in Nairobi in the wake of what their club management has termed consistent harassment by police officers.
The five, attached to National Super League (NSL) team Northern Wanderers, are said to have returned to northern Kenya after police officers thrice raided a house where the team has been staying in Buruburu to conduct searches in a span of one week.
Northern Wanderers are playing in the NSL, Kenya’s second-tier football league, for the first time. The team was forced to relocate to Nairobi at the start of the season as there is no stadium in the counties of Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit, Isiolo, and Garissa that meets Football Kenya Federation standards for hosting NSL matches. The relocation forced the team’s financiers, among them National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale, to rent a six-bedroom house in Buruburu to accommodate the players numbering 18. The club has also leased a training ground in Nairobi, with Camp Toyoyo grounds in Jericho Estate being the team’s home ground.
“We never enjoy the home ground advantage. We actually experience home ground disadvantage every time we play in Nairobi,” Wanderers team manager Noordin Babel told Nation Sport.
Wanderers have so far competed in two league matches in the 2019/2020 season, losing both. They lost their first match 8-0 to Nairobi Stima season, and fell 2-1 away to Fortune Sacco last Sunday.
Babel believes the team’s results could have been better if his players had not been subjected to harassment by police officers. He said the presence of his players in Buruburu must have been a source of concern to neighbours who tipped off police officers.
“On August 20, the house where we have been residing was raided by about a dozen officers from the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU). They handcuffed my players and ransacked the house for hours,” he said.
“They requested us to avail ourselves at the ATPU offices the following day where they took our fingerprints and interrogated us for the better part of the day, leaving my players traumatised. Three players left for their homes the same day. A few days later, officers attached to Buruburu Police Station raided the same house and took the players back to the station for questioning. They were released without any charges being preferred against them. Days later, the players found themselves in trouble with officials conducting national census and were questioned by Administration Police officers. Two more players fled thereafter, leaving us with 24 players,” Babel said.
This development has left the club with only 24 players to count on for the first half of the season but the biggest blow is the departure of the first choice keeper whose identity Babel says he will not reveal for security reasons.