Daily Trust (Abuja)

8 December 2012

Nigeria: NPL Crisis Deepens, Clubs Groan

For several years now, Nigeria's elite league, the Nigeria Premier League has known no peace. The league has been bedeviled by endless crises which have pushed it to the brinks. The league which began about eight years ago is still battling with teething problems to the consternation of many football followers.

The first board of the NPL was headed by Chief Gaius Oyuiki Obaseki. The board enjoyed enormous financial support from communication giants, Globacom but failed to make maximum use of the huge resources that came its way. For many it's hard to understand how so much money that accrued to the board was spent. In as much as the board raked in billions from the Glo sponsorship deal, the clubs remained impoverished.

Things took a more worrisome dimension when Obaseki's tenure expired and a fresh election was to be conducted. Two gladiators, Mr. David Owumi and the presently embattled chairman of the NPL, Chief Victor Rumson Baribote sowed the seed of total discord in the NPL as they fought to lead the board.

After an acrimonious process, Owumi emerged the chairman of the NPL only to be removed few months later by a law court which ordered the NFF to conduct another election. Following the NFF conducted elections, Chief Baribote emerged as the new chairman. His emergence did not calm flared nerves as the NPL family became deeply factionalized.

While the dirty fight lasted, Globacom on its part began to drop its commitment to the league. Even as it failed to make use of the offer of first refusal extended to it by the NPL, the communication company rushed to the court in search of redress when it discovered that NPL had gone into title sponsorship deal with its arch rival, MTN.

That began another battle that brought the NPL on its knees. Despite several interventions from the government and other key stakeholders in Nigerian football, the sponsorship brouhaha is unresolved and the NPL is still an orphan. Consequently, two NPL seasons have gone without a sponsor. The league's saving grace is the NFF and the clubs themselves. Unfortunately, the NFF itself is perpetually going cap in hand.

The NPL is surviving by strokes of luck but unfolding events are indicators that such luck has been over-stretched as the pressure continues, it may snap at any moment. On Tuesday, 18 clubs in the NPL meet in Abuja and after an emergency meeting held at Dennis Hotel, they passed a vote of no confidence on the board of the NPL led by Baribote. The clubs did not stop at that as they immediately impeached the embattled chairman and then set up a six-man management committee headed by Mr. Mike Idoko to lead the board pending fresh elections.

Baribote in turn described his impeachment as null and void as he said his purported removal did not follow due process. Although he planned to go ahead with the 7th congress which was to hold on Thursday in Kano, the NFF quickly intervened and ordered that the congress be put on hold pending the resolution of all contending issues.

The NFF eventually met with the concerned parties yesterday and attempted to find lasting solutions to the issues on ground but the end is not yet insight as the former board of the NPL is roaring like a wounded lion. If the stories emanating from both camps are anything to go by, the battle is far from being over.

As the adage goes, when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. The 20 clubs competing in the NPL are seriously groaning having been crushed under the feet of the gladiators. Last season, the clubs were over-stretched as they had to step beyond their budgets to keep the league afloat.

For instances, the clubs were compelled to pay match officials idemenities, transportation, accommodation and feeding. This is not part of their responsibilities but they had no option to bear the yoke on behalf of the NPL. In the process of aiding the NPL, most clubs took undue advantage of the situation because he who pays the piper dictates the tune.

Going by the prevailing situation in the NPL, the hope of the clubs getting financial support from the NPL has dimmed considerably. At the moment, nobody can confidently tell which direction the NPL is heading and even in the end the league resumes, the clubs will be in for tougher times.

The clubs are in serious dilemma because in the near future, there may be no sufficient funding from their respective governments. Most of the governors have been educated that football is a thriving business that needs little or no funding from the government.

The General Co-ordinator of Gombe United, Malam Farouk Yarma told Shot that the board of the NPL failed to give direction to the league and the clubs were the worst hit by the purposeless leadership of Baribote.

He said all the clubs in the NPL have faced severe hardship while the board continued to make vain promises. Yarma said the removal of Baribote will usher in a new era of hope for the clubs.

"It was a rough time for the clubs. There was no single financial support from the Baribote led board to the clubs. If you look at what is required to travel for one league match, you will appreciate better what the clubs faced for two seasons".

Football coach and sports consultant, Mr. Peter Oche said the sack of the Baribote board and appointment of Mike Idoko to head the interim management committee is a step in the right direction.

He said the clubs have not enjoyed any support from the past board and so there is every sense in the decision of the clubs to sack the board.

Oche suggested that the Idoko committee should first select credible Nigerian football administrators to help restructure the league and get a title sponsor.

"The decision by the clubs is commendable. The appointment of Idoko to head the interim management committee is a step in the right direction. I urge them to quickly constitute a committee to be made up of credible Nigerians like Barrister Dudu Orumen, Salihu Abubakar and the first chairman of the NPL, Obaskei to restructure the league and get a title sponsor".

The chairman of Nasarawa United, Barrister Isaac Danladi also threw his weight behind the decision to sack the Baribote led board as he said the board did not live up to the expectations of clubs.

He also reiterated that the sack is a step in the right direction because the members of the interim committee are themselves club owners who know where the shoe pinches most and will do everything possible to address the problems of the clubs.

"The decision of the clubs is a step in the right direction. It is one of the numerous issues that need to be strengthened out. Surely, we are moving towards the desired changes.

"Members of the interim committee are themselves club owners and they know where the shoe pinches most. They have to quickly get a sponsor and also a date for the league to commence", he advised.

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