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According to Wikipedia there was a 48-hour ceasefire during the Nigerian Civil War sparked by Pele.

Wikipedia, Santos

In 1969, the two factions involved in the Nigerian Civil War agreed to a 48-hour ceasefire so they could watch Pelé play an exhibition game in Lagos.

Did Pele really spark a ceasefire?

However Pele appears to come in for a great deal of criticism from those that oppose him regarding the GOAT debate, and a certain website calling itself Africasacountry, on the first page of google, has claimed that the ceasefire is mythology.

africasacountry

The ceasefire story is a myth, despite the reports of this story on websites like CNN, Time, The Guardian, The Telegraph, Goal.com, Wikipedia, Globoesporte.com,

Below is a list of criticisms highlighted from the article.

(a) One version of the ceasefire story states that the match took place in 1967 while another claims it was in 1969

(b) One version of the ceasefire story claims that the game was played in Lagos while another claims that it was played in Benin.

(c) The Nigerian Daily Times and Nigerian observer made no mention of any ceasefire

(d) The Midwest Governor didn’t mention a ceasefire with Biafra in his account about the Benin match written in his ‘Eighteen Months of Stewardship’ report. This was published a month after the match.

(e) Allegedly Pele has contradicted himself on the matter, by first failing to mention the ceasefire in his first book, then declaring uncertainty regarding the matter in his second book, before declaring the ceasefire story true live on CNN in 2011.

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    A good question. Personally, I'm tempted to invoke the "Liberty Valance/Rule of Cool" on this story, but it would be nice to get to the truth, if possible.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 4, 2021 at 23:15

1 Answer 1

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The story appears to be exaggerated and conflated with other events close in time. It is an unusual topic for historians, and the press has the habit of considering previous news stories from itself as sources, thus propagating legends created by journalists.

But one researcher, José Florenzano, has looked into this: https://ludopedio.org.br/arquibancada/a-guerra-do-santos-50-parte-ii/ https://ludopedio.org.br/arquibancada/a-guerra-do-santos-50-anos-de-uma-viagem-historica-a-guerra-civil-parte-iii/ https://ludopedio.org.br/arquibancada/a-guerra-do-santos-50-anos-de-uma-viagem-historica-a-lenda-do-soldado-nascimento-parte-iv/

And in this blog article, although it appears to propagate the legend, the actual players are interviewed in video. They talk about it from 1:00 to 4:00. https://pelethebest.blogspot.com/2014/09/pele-parou-guerra.html https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uQSXMbuxv8&t=134s

Part of the problem is that the players themselves confuse different countries and places. It does not help that the conversation is not well structured and too informal. If the english subtitles look not very informative and confused, be assured that the portuguese words are not much better.

It is too long, I will only summarize:

Santos did an excursion to Africa in January 1969 - Congo-Brazzaville -> Congo-Kinshasa -> Nigeria (Lagos) -> Mozambique -> Nigeria (Benin city)

When the players themselves talk about the war stopping adventure, they refer mostly to the travel Brazzaville -> Kinshasa. It was only a river crossing, but the border was closed due to political tensions (not a hot war, though), and they needed a special boat with special permissions.

The players explicitly state is that Congo government "asked" them to play to extra games (actually threatened them, play those games or not be allowed to exit the country), and thus they played 2 extra games. It is understandable that the players were scared by the president (who they call 'king', commenting on his many wives) coming in a rich motorcade, contrasting with a very poor country, to threaten them.

The previous two points appear to be true, and some sources also say that that there were a civil war in Congo-Kinshasa, thus they needed a temporary cease fire to move in Kinshasa during these days, or at least an agreement to cease guerrilla warfare activities such as bombings or assassinations, but I am not sure how much of this is legend.

Thus, firstly, it appears that the Nigerian legend conflated facts which happened in Congo. Now, about the events in Nigeria:

Both Nigerian games were not programmed, but the nigerian government paid them well. To play in Lagos was not an issue, as the Biafran war was almost at the end and Lagos was far away from the front.

The second game, in Benin city, was closer (100km) to the war zone, the last remnant of Biafran occupied territory, and it was symbolic, as the city had been captured by Biafra a few years before. Please, do not confuse Benin, a city in Nigeria, with the country called Benin.

For the Nigerian government, the matches had propaganda value to show the return of normal life to Nigeria, and specially to Benin city. The players were scared because the stadium had been shot and still had visible war scars; because the hotel was in blackout during the nights; and because they heard shots during their take-off - strangely, the war was 100km away, would they hear cannons, or bombs, when they were still flying at a lower altitude? Or did they just hear some criminal or hunter shooting something? Anyway, some of they thought that the war had restarted, and it is not surprising that the players remember these Nigerian stories any time they are asked about the African excursion.

But at the end it does not appear that they stopped any war in Nigeria. The legend may be partly true about Congo. About the confusion, I blame journalists, who should be better interviewers, more than the players, who we know to be simpler, less educated people, and should not be blamed for conflating scary events in a very unusual excursion.

José Florenzano adds that a journalist from Santos (the city where the team comes from) was the only journalist who traveled with the team, and his original texts do not tell anything about stopping a war. Neither the first book from Pelé himself. Also, in 1969, Pelé scored his 1000th goal, and the extremely extensive coverage of this fact also did not touch any war stopping adventure. Finally, statements from the Nigerian government at that time are very contrary to any cease-fire, as Biafra was on its last ropes.

In the last part of his article, José lists some early instances of this legend in the press, and theorizes where it may be started.

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