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The story behind Pele’s stopping of a war in Nigeria

The story goes that in 1969 the great Brazilian footballer Pelé and his club, Santos, stopped the Nigerian civil war for 48 hours

In the 1960s, Nigeria was one of the countries faced with war and famine, and this was as a result of its tussle with the Biafra state.

There was a huge civil war when Biafra declared its independence from Nigeria, resulting in millions of deaths, most of whom were women and children.

While the war between the two factions was deadly, there a mythical story suggesting Pele and his all-conquering Santos side helped stop the war, albeit temporarily.

There are different accounts of what truly transpired in Nigeria in 1969 when Santo embarked on a tour to the West African country.

The Brazilian giants, who boasted the likes of Pele, Coutinho, and Pepe, were scheduled to take on the Super Eagles in a friendly game.

At the time, Santos was like the best team in the world, having won five consecutive Brazilian championships, two Copa Libertadores and two Intercontinental Cups.

And with the Brazilian government passing a bill which declared Pele a national treasure, it officially made it impossible for him to be sold to a foreign club.

This empowered Santos to make the most of their star-studded side, touring around the globe and cashing in big time.

When they arrived in Nigeria, though, the civil war stood in their way. However, reports suggest the troops from both Nigeria and Biafra agreed to a cease-fire for two days, until the game between Santos and the Super Eagles was over.

Santos’ official website claims one of the military governors decreed that persons from Benin be allowed to attend the game, in which Pele’s double sealed a 2-1 win for Santos. The two factions reportedly returned to war after the game.

“Having stopped a war was one more point in our favour to show our supremacy,” Pele’s former teammate Lima later told Gazeta Esportiva in an interview.

“We could have easily turned around and said, ‘War is all around us – why would we enter that mess?’ But we didn’t. We wanted to do it and we said: ‘We are not obliged to play, but we want to and we are going to do this.’”

To date, there are conflicting reports on what truly happened, but what is clear is that Pele and Santos really had sway on fans across their world at the time.

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