How Brazilian Legend, Pele Was Trapped In Lagos During 1976 Military Coup, Disguised As Pilot To Escape From Nigeria

By NewsBits

Pele, the Brazil football legend, and three-time World Cup winner, was among foreigners who were trapped in Nigeria during the 1976 coup when Lt Col Buka Suka Dimka murdered the then Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed.

It was like when Frederick Forsyth, the British novelist, was trapped in Guinea-Bissau, a West African country, during a coup. Pele died on Thursday at the age of 82.

According to the Africa News, in February 1976, Pelé, who played for Cosmos in New York, travelled to Lagos again on a trip sponsored by Pepsi. He went to play a friendly game there and participated in the inauguration of football schools.

But the Brazilian was not the only sports personality present in the Nigerian capital. Tennis players Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith participated in a tournament and stayed in the same hotel as Pelé.

On February 13, 1976, General Murtala Mohammed, then in power in Nigeria, was assassinated by armed men. The lead coup plotter is Bukar Dimka, a 33-year-old lieutenant colonel, whose attempt to seize power would be quickly crushed. But tension remained high in the city where checkpoints had been erected.

On February 16, the match between Arthur Ashe, winner of Wimbledon the previous year, and his American counterpart Jeff Borowiak, was interrupted by five soldiers who ordered the players and the public to evacuate. The tournament participants returned to their hotel under protection and left the country by plane the next day.

But Pelé, who had taken refuge in the Brazilian embassy, would have to wait three more days to escape. The Brazilian authorities then conjured up an escape plan: he was to be disguised as an airline pilot and managed to fly out of Lagos. It worked and he returned safely home.

It was like when Frederick Forsyth, the British novelist, was trapped in Guinnea during a coup. This was captured in a 2009 report by The Inquirer, entitled “Author Frederick Forsyth gets caught up in a real-life thriller in Guinea-Bissau.”

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