Daily Trust (Abuja)

15 December 2012

Nigeria: Baribote's Fall From Power

The recent fall from power of former Nigeria Premier League chairman, Chief Victor Rumson Baribote, a high chief from Bayelsa State, Nembe Kingdom to be precise did not come to many as a surprise because his inglorious exit from office was foretold.

Baribote's rise to power was characterized by intrigues and suffocating power play which set the tone for his eventual removal under unpleasant circumstances early this week in Abuja. On September 15, 2011, Baribote was returned unopposed as chairman of the NPL at an election organized by the NPL Electoral Committee in Abuja supervised by the Nigeria Football Federation.

His emergence as the chairman of NPL did not come on a platter of gold as he doggedly fought for over a year to upturn the election of his predecessor, Mr. Davidson Owumi who was elected NPL chairman on May 8, 2010. An arbitration panel headed by Professor Ibidapo Obe answered Baribote's prayers declared that Owumi was not eligible to contest the election and the panel's decision was upheld by a Federal High Court in Abuja on August 2, 2011.

Consequently, on September, 15, 2011, the court order was obeyed and another election where Baribote emerged unopposed was conducted with 15 NPL clubs in attendance. Five clubs, Gateway FC, Sunshine Stars, 3SC, Enyimba and Warri Wolves stayed away

The emergence of Baribote as the NPL chairman did little or nothing to restore the much needed peace in the Nigeria Premier League. Instead, seeds of discord were sown as the camp of Owumi which accused of the NFF of masterminding the forceful removal of their man vowed to make NPL ungovernable for the 'NFF's anointed'.

In his acceptance speech, Baribote promised to reconcile all members of the Premier League family and work harmoniously with the NFF to bring real growth and renaissance to the domestic game.

Although most swords were not sheathed, those who felt the NPL had suffered enough troubles already called on all stakeholders to give peace a chance. Consequently, Baribote was 'grudgingly' accepted and expectations were that he would to use the period to consolidate his hold on power by ensuring a resolution of all disputes caused by the leadership tussle.

It was also expected that he would tackle head-on the dispute over the title sponsorship of the NPL as well as the vexed issue of the revenue due the league from their various sponsors and partners.

Unfortunately, a year after his emergence as NPL chairman, Baribote found himself grappling with the power he did everything to acquire. Considering the circumstances on which he rode to power and his leadership style combined to make his reign the most acrimonious in the history of the NPL. This did not come to many as a surprise because even in the beginning, he did not command so much support and respect.

For many, especially those who have not had the opportunity to come close to the Nembe chief, he is a bully, a tyrant, an autocrat and intellectually deficient opportunist who intimidated, harassed and bulldozed his way to power. It was with this notion that Baribote's foes relentlessly plotted his fall from power.

Except for those who do not know him, Baribote is a dare-devil fighter who hates to take prisoners when he goes to war. Consequently, instead of extending the olive-branch to his enemies, he consistently returned fire, thereby providing fertile ground for his enemies to till.

Apart from the frosty relationship, Baribote was said to have contributed immensely to his troubles because he failed to fulfill most of his campaign promises. Apart from his failure to get a title sponsor for the league, he was accused of financial recklessness. It was the leading item on the 'sins' he allegedly committed.

Aside allegations of financial irresponsibility and highhandedness, the reign of Baribote as NPL chairman witnessed policies which did not go down well with most clubs and the stakeholders. For instance, never in the history of the NPL were the clubs asked to pay match officials indemnities, transportation, accommodation and feeding allowances. This happened under Baribote and the clubs felt aggrieved especially against the background that they were not getting their entitlements from the NPL.

His indictment by the same auditors that he himself appointed to audit the accounts of the NPL was the last stroke that broke the camel's back. With these and many other reasons, Baribote's days as NPL chairman were numbered.

Things came to a head last week, when a total of 18 clubs met in Abuja at Dennis Hotel on Wednesday and passed a vote of no confidence on the NPL board. The clubs which sacked the board went on to pronounce the impeachment of Baribote.

However, temporary reprieve came the way of the embattled former chairman as the NFF swiftly waded into the crisis and ordered for a proper congress to be held not later than Tuesday. But after he read and deciphered the writing on wall, Baribote made a smart move. Instead of call for a congress, he called for a board meeting and accepted to step aside after he set up a three man committee to investigate the grievances of the clubs.

Baribote's clever move did not hold waters as the determined club owners as the managers of the government owned clubs prefer to be called, went ahead to hold a congress on Tuesday as directed by the NFF. The club owners kept aside some of the articles that would have impeded their actions and fired Baribote. This time, they had the support of the NFF because the three NFF Executive Committee members who were assigned to supervise the congress attended. That was comprehensive endorsement of the congress and the impeachment of Baribote.

Expectedly, accusations are flying left, right and centre as many have accused the National Sports Commission and the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, of masterminding the impeachment of Baribote. It is said the club owners were sponsored by the sports commission and guided by the NFF to carry out the hatchet job.

These are accusations the sports commission immediately refuted through the Director-General, Chief Patrick Ekeji who said the commission had nothing to do with the crisis that rocked the NPL. He said it is the NFF that directly supervises the NPL.

That was how the NSC washed its hands off the ordeals of Baribote. However, the NFF which was also accused of working against Owumi for the emergence of Baribote as NPL chairman has remained a prime suspect in the final fall of the Nembe chief.

As expected, NFF finally nailed Baribote's coffin on Thursday in Port Harcourt where the federation's Annual General Assembly ratified the former NPL Chairman's impeachment and resolved to set up a league management committee pending when elections into the NPL would be held.

A former chairman of the NFA who spoke to Shot! on condition of anonymity accused the NFF of double standard. He wondered why the NFF ordered for congress to be convened by the NPL board but went ahead to identify itself with the congress which was called by persons other than the NPL chairman.

"This is what is confusing to me. It was a good thing the NFF did by asking Baribote to convene a congress. However, in the end, it was not Baribote that called for the congress but the NFF was fully represented.

"There is so much confusion and it is only government that can restore sanity in the system. I wonder so much when the present crisis will end. The biggest casualty in Nigerian football", he said.

This is the conclusion in most quarters as the last of the NPL crisis is yet to be heard. Baribote is not a man who will go down without a fight. The days ahead will surely be intriguing as he has already declared his impeachment as a nullity because as he said, the statues of the NPL did not permit any other person apart from the chairman to convene a congress.

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