8 December 2012

Nigeria: Ezekwesili's Premiership Alarm - You're Right But...

During the week, Former World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region, Mrs Obiageli Ezekwesili showed that she is not just at home with facts and figures concerning economies, but was also very knowledgeable when it comes to the world's most popular sport - football.

Speaking at the launch of a new amateur football club, TEAP FC in Abuja, Ezekwesili, who was one of the driving forces behind the reforms of the Obasanjo Administration, warned that the excessive passion for foreign football could stunt the development of the game in Nigeria.

She has a valid point, but the million naira question is: "so what can be done to stop this trend?" And the answer: "not very much".

Chief Oyuki Obaseki had tried to solve this riddle when he headed the Nigeria Professional League (NPL). The Benin High Chief had tinkered with a number of solutions including mounting giant screens at various league grounds in the country in an effort to bring fans to the stadia to watch their beloved EPL and hopefully see them stay on to watch the Nigerian league!

He also considered changing the kick off times or even the actual days the NPL matches are played so that they do not clash with EPL matches.

At the end of the day he and his board were unable to come up with a practical and workable solution to solve the riddle.

However, the simple truth is that there is no easy solution to the problem. Advances in technology have meant that almost everyone can not only watch the Premier League from the comfort of their homes (or viewing centres), they can also easily follow the goings on in the Premier League and other foreign leagues easier than the Nigerian league.

Besides who are the players here (in Nigeria) that fans can identify with? Once the player shows a little talent he is already out of the country trying to find a club anywhere but Nigeria.

One remembers the days of Henry Nwosu, Austin Eguavoen, Aloysius Atuegbu, Collins Ibitemi (aka 'Barbed Wire'), Christian Chukwu and others who made the domestic league a joy to watch.

But then of course back in the day there was no saturation coverage of the EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A to tickle our fancies.

For once I'm at a loss as to proffer a solution to this very difficult NPL problem; but I do know is that it is not just a Nigerian 'thing' European football is a global phenomenon.

I remember travelling to Morocco with Dolphins in 2005 where they played FAR, Rabat in the second leg of the Confed Cup final and the match fell on the same weekend of the El Clasico.

In a smoke filled room of a Rabat hotel full of fans speaking Arabic along with the commentary we were all united by the beautiful game and watched the giant screen as Ronaldo and Eto destroyed Real Madrid in a 3-0 rump!

I never understood a word of what was being said in the jam-packed room or a word of the commentary but I still enjoyed a great game of football.

And so current NPL boss, Victor Rumson Baribote and his board really have a huge task on their hands trying to figure out how to rekindle the good old days of the Nigerian domestic league. Once they are able to do this and bring fans back to the grounds getting sponsorship will become much easier. I don't envy you but if you are able to unravel this Pandora's box, you will enter the annals of Nigerian football as the man who saved the league.

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