16 May 2018

Nigeria: Helping Nigeria's Players' Union Thrive

Followers of the domestic football in Nigeria must have felt some relief when the combatant members of the factional players' union came together under the umbrella of National Association of Nigeria Professional Footballers (NANPF) led by Dahiru Sadi as President and Austin Popo as Secretary. It saw the absorption of the likes of ex internationals like Clement Temile, Larry Kubeinje and others into different strata of leadership in the unified body.

A lot of credit must go to the leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), led by Amaju Pinnick, which continued from where the last board, led by Aminu Maigari, stopped in resolving the divisions within the ranks of the union members. On another level, the League Management Company (LMC), the superintendent body of the league where majority of the active members of the union are drawn from, keyed into the NFF intervention to support various activities that aimed to solidify the new found unity and also position the union to the role of a true players' representatives.

However, certain activities of a few members of the union have of late given rise to the need to examine some features of trade unionism as enshrined in the country's laws and also compare notes with activities of similar unions globally. The understanding derived from this will no doubt help the union and their members to properly channel their energies to attain beneficial conditions for both players and their employers-clubs.

To paraphrase the Trade Unions Act, Cap 432, laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 20 a trade union is any combination of worker or employer, whether temporary or permanent, the purpose of which is to regulate the terms and conditions of employment of workers. Unions are not necessarily set up to antagonize employers but to support employers to provide the best possible working conditions for their members. We won't go into the history of modern day trade union activism which could be traced to Solidarity, the Polish workers union led by Lech Walesa, who will eventually rise to become President of Poland.

Some scholars have narrowed the membership of Trade Unions to state services but the Trade Union Amendment Act, 2005 by the National Assembly was very clear on membership of unions and, in sub-section 4, states that, "Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Act, membership of a trade union by employees shall be voluntary and no employee shall be forced to join any trade union or be victimized for refusing to join or remain a member".

The above background has been set to properly situate on-going agitation by NANPF on myriad issues, including the foisting of a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) on the LMC for all players of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL). The Union is in a hurry to run without, as it were, first crawling, as it has yet to establish that it has the mandate of the players and clubs of NPFL and Foreign-based Nigerian players to represent them. Also, how would signing such an agreement benefit players based outside the country and those who are no longer actively playing in the NPFL?

To assist NANPF comply with the sub-section 4 of the Trade Union Act, the body should as a matter of urgency provide a membership form to all players in the NPFL and those abroad that they can reach for completion and creation of a data base of members. Remember that the quoted section states that membership is voluntary and it is very possible not every player will be disposed to joining, as membership will also attract dues.

Prior to this, NANPF should through their state chapters embark on enlightenment campaigns to educate the NPFL players on the imperatives or benefits of joining the union and the requisite modalities. They should take advantage of national team matches to reach out to some of the foreign-based players to share the same message and eventually provide identification cards with registration number to those who subscribe. The present posturing of forced representation flies in the face of the law and a constructive approach to the NFF and LMC can facilitate this process.

It is after this has been established that NANPF can approach the respective clubs (employers) of the players and not the LMC for deductions from the wages of every member to be paid into the union account. This is in compliance with Section 16a & b of the Trade Unions. Act viz, "Upon the registration and recognition of any trade union specified in the Third Schedule to this Act, an employer shall-

(a) Make deduction from the wages of the every worker who is a member of any of the trade unions for the purpose of paying contributions to the trade union so registered; and

(b) Remit such deductions to the registered office of the trade union within a reasonable period or such period as may be prescribed from time to time by the Registrar

We are in a country governed by laws and it will not be right for any group to knowingly or ignorantly side-step the laid down laws. The cause of NANPF will be greatly helped if it focuses more on due process than on anticipated benefits. The union has had a chequered history that has at some point threw up factions. It endured such in-fighting that was not helped by the repudiation of their international affiliation by the global Professional Football Players Association (FIFPRO).

The issue of CBA is one that the union needs also to approach from a knowledge-based agitation that will yield the expected result. Again, the Trade Unions act is clear on the process of collective bargaining. Subsection 24 (1) of the act states "for the purposes of collective bargaining all registered Unions in the employment of an employer shall constitute an electoral college to elect members who will represent them in negotiations with the employer".

It is also important that NANPF should sign a CBA with a body that can enforce such agreement. The LMC is not the employer of players and does not pay their salaries but NANPF has provided in their draft CBA for LMC to remit to the union, the dues to be deducted from NPFL players' salaries. The CBA can only be rightly signed with individual clubs or association of club owners for it to be enforceable while the LMC and NFF can only play the role of supervisor. As has been argued elsewhere, the Trade Union Congress to which NANPF belongs cannot go to the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) to sign a CBA for their members that will be binding on all telecommunication network operators

Again, the draft CBA contains a requirement for the LMC to allocate 10 percent of its total earnings to NANPF as royalty, another idea that is neither supported by existing realities nor any precedence anywhere in the world. The NPFL revenue share of the 20 clubs from sponsorship cannot deliver even 10 percent of the running cost of the clubs that bears the brunt of the wages of the players and coaches. It will be in the interest of NANPF leadership and the players if they work with the LMC to create an enabling platform to generate more revenue for the league such that the clubs' share will be enough to improve the welfare of their players and in turn ensure regular contributions to the union purse by the subscribing members.

The present circumstance is that the activities of NANPF is shrouded and thus breeds suspicion in the minds of the players they seek to represent. There must be real effort to sell the vision of NANPF to the young and active segment of their target membership and they should also recruit the highly visible and successful ex-players who the young ones identify as role models to sell their package. The cartel-like mode of operation should be transformed to an all embracing and all-inclusive approach. The labour of our players will not pass unrewarded.

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