• Sun. Mar 3rd, 2024

BALLPOINT: ON THE ROUTE TO STANDARDIZE NIGERIA NATIONAL LEAGUE

The Moustached Journalist says;

The Nigeria National League (NNL) has a very robust, exciting and inspiring historical perspective that over time have come to earn itself a glorious suffix as Nigeria’s Most Important League. This history, particularly, has impacted a great lesson that has immeasurably charted the programmes of Nigeria’s second tier division in recent years. The nationalistic spirit that underlies the historical transformation of the league and its establishment as the breeding grounds for great talents that have grown through the pecking order of Nigerian football and are no doubt sources of great inspiration for the current.

The official logo of the Nigeria National League.

In the emergence of professional football league in Nigeria dates back to 1990, after several years of contemplation and agitation for a professional football league to be introduced in Nigeria, following abysmal performances in international engagements, for example, when Nigeria failed to qualify for the FIFA Men’s World Cup tournaments in Argentina in 1978 and Spain in 1982. The then Honourable Minister of Social Development, Youth and Sports, Air Vice Marshal Bayo Lawal appointed some experts on February 8, 1989 to work out modalities for the introduction of professional soccer in Nigeria.

Nasarawa United edges past Zamfara United in a 1-0 victory at the newly refurbished Lafia City Stadium. Photo Credit: Culled from the official website of NNL.

Chief N.O Idowu was appointed the Chairman of the committee with the following as members: Mr. Effion Ekaha (Secretary), Alhaji Yusuf G. Ali, Chief Ben O.S Umunna, Mr. Segun Odegbami, Mr. Patrick Okpomo, Mr. Chris Okoji and Mr. Gbenga Dalley of Nigeria Football Association pro-league competition.

When many clubs indicated interest to participate in the league, the then Board decided to introduce Division Two of the nation’s top league in 1991. The second-tier football league kept going until 2003 when the defunct Nigeria Premier League (NPL) was introduced. Both the NPL and Division two were managed by the pro-league department of the NFA until 2005 when the now-known NNL gained semi-autonomy and has its own operational office outside the football house.

It ended a point and two goals apiece in Uyo between Dakkada FC and the newcomers 1472 FC of Lagos. Photo Credit: Culled from the official website of NNL.

In October 2020, the then President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick called for harmonization of domestic leagues in the country. The need for synchronization of the various football leagues in Nigeria, most especially, in their areas of operations, programmes and activities at a meeting held between the organizers of the country’s apex men’s league, the defunct League Management Company (LMC) and that of the Nigeria’s second tier division, NNL.

This urgent mission was to close the gap between the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) and its sister league, the Nigeria National League. The then 1st Vice-President of the NFF, Barrister Seyi Akinwunmi who oversees Football Committee of the Federation said that harmonizing the various leagues is needed to put the domestic football on the right footing, which do not exist in isolation to each other. For that reason, there have to be complementary roles between both leagues.

Newly promoted Ikenne-based Beyond Limits survives scars in a fierce 1-1 draw with Madiba FC. Photo Credit: Culled from the official website of NNL.

The wide gulf that exist in the kick- off and closing dates of the leagues must be closed and the only way to do this is for the leadership of both the LMC and NNL to interface regularly, weigh their calendars, to enable them find a go-between them. By doing so, restructuring the leagues is key towards achieving better productivity because without that domestic football in Nigeria will amount to nothing if the league bodies are not properly set up to attract prospective sponsors.

Consequently, a gradual cutting down of the number of clubs featuring in the NNL to a more manageable figure was proposed, saying the present number of about forty six teams the league value is way too much a deal. This canvassed for a phase plan deduction of the number of participating teams in the NNL. With the proposal of a traditional League of about twenty team format for the NNL is to bring in quality, attractiveness and competitiveness.

Vandrezzer F.C nails Coal City FC to a 1-0 loss at the Eket Township Stadium in the curtain raiser game for the new season. Photo Credit: Culled from the official website of NNL.

The Chairman of the NNL at that time, Sen. Obinna Ogba through the Chief Executive Officer, Barr. Sajo Mohammed opined that improved synergy and collaboration with the NPFL in the areas of capacity building/technical support and recognition in all LMC’s future sponsorship/partnership drive is the best for Nigeria’s second most valuable league.

Going into the 2020/21 season, the league board of NNL directed its clubs to ensure the provision of Certificate of Incorporation from the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) as part of the efforts to hold the clubs more accountable in their operations and responsibilities.

Int’l Lagos FC suffers a narrow 2-1 defeat away from home to Ijebu United in Ogun. Photo Credit: Culled from the official website of NNL.

Apparently, football is big business, and the facilitators of the Nigeria’s second important league are keen in ensuring that the clubs see it as such. Hence, it is mandatory to promote the certificate as an essential document that must be presented for sighting and domiciliation during registration. This is aimed at providing the best and most responsible league for all stakeholders including sponsors and fans.

Furthermore, new milestone was recorded in Nigerian football that same season, with the introduction of a new innovative system that will help collate and track the database of players, coaches and referees in the game of football. Without wasting much time, NNL ordered all forty six clubs competing in the 2020/21 season are to conform with the directives of the world football governing body, Federation of International Football (FIFA) on the CONNECT Registration through the NFF.

Solution FC held on to a 1-0 win over TradeSafe FC. Photo Credit: Culled from the official website of NNL.

The FIFA Connect Programme helps member associations (MAs) register all their stakeholders in a systematic way and keep track of players, coaches and referees wherever they are in the world. The Connect Programme provides a unique FIFA ID code for every individual who has a role in the football organisation. This code is like a digital football passport number and has the information of the history of each stakeholder.

Fast forward to 17th of July 2023, in order to steer the ship of the nation’s second-tier football league to new heights and territories, the President of Nigeria Football Federation, Alhaji Ibrahim Musa Gasau in his immensity inaugurated the new NNL Board with George Aluo, a veteran sports journalist as the Chairman; Hon. Khamisu Ahmed Mailantarki as Vice Chairman; Mr. Emmanuel Attah as Chief Executive Officer; with Mr. Yakubu Sama, Mallam Sani Mohammed, Dr. Donald Ikpe, Chief Joseph Uzoma Ebowusim, and Chief Dotun Sanusi as other members at the Conference Room of the Sunday Dankaro Football House, MKO Abioala National Stadium, Abuja.

One of Nigeria’s finest veteran sports journalist turned Chairman of the NNL, George Aluo.

With the vision of NFF leadership under Gusau, in birthing a vastly improved and self sustaining league, Aluo and his team declared their commitment to making the NNL very attractive for the corporate world, to would be sponsors, the fans and everyone out there. While appealing to the business community to buy into the reinvigorated league, and partner with the board in advancing the fortunes of the NNL.

However, the newly appointed chairman of the NNL expressed optimism that he and his board members have what it takes to reposition the country’s second-tier football league. While claiming that the board has mapped out strategies that will see the NNL develop into a competitive and violence-free league in the country.

The Nigeria’s Most Important League.

The first big bang assignment for the NNL Board led by George Aluo did not come until July 2023 which was to organize a successful NNL Super 8 Playoffs at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba. Although, it may have been taken a while or thereabout due to foreseen circumstances, thus, the season had to be concluded in a shorter time to usher in the preparation for a brand new one.

The President of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Alh. Ibrahim Musa Gasau (dressed in sky blue kaftan) with the Chairman and Board Members of the NNL.

After all eight teams were pooled into two groups of four with three matches each played, the two teams with the most points recorded from Group A & B made it through to the semifinals of the playoffs in a one-legged faceoff to book a place into the final. Heartland FC were too much to handle by the Noisy Lagosians, Sporting Lagos. Meanwhile, the Northern derby ended in favour of Kano Pillars to scale through a hard-fought Katsina United.

With the tourney at its tale end, Heartland FC of Owerri were crowned champions after seeing off Kano Pillars of Kano in the final; the Noisy Lagosians, Sporting Lagos, consequently, suffered defeat in the hands of Katsina United of Katsina in the runners-up game. Moreover, all four had automatically earned themselves promotions to the NPFL for finishing as top two teams from their respective groups. But sadly, the rest of Abeokuta Stormers FC of Ogun; EFCC FC of Abuja; DMD FC of Maiduguri, and FC One Rocket of Uyo will have to taste the waters yet another season.

Crown FC triumph victorious over FC ONE Rocket by two goals to one. Photo Credit: Culled from the official website of NNL.

Another achievement in succession was the fact that the George Aluo-led NNL Board was able to organize a high-quality training programme for coaches in the Nigeria National League. The programme was aimed at upgrading the knowledge of all the coaches to upgrade the standard of the league that elapsed for four days between 15th to 19th October, 2023 at the Remo Stars Stadium in Ikenne.

Meanwhile, Chief Operating Officer of NNL, Dr. Ayo Abdulrahman in a press release to all 46 clubs in Nigeria’s second-tier football league issued a stern warning on failure to complete mandatory registration formalities before the commencement of 2023/24 season will result in expulsion from the league.

Sporting Supreme FC of Abuja records the first away win in Matchday One against their host Kebbi United by two goals to one at the Ginginya Memorial Stadium, Sokoto. Photo Credit: Culled from the official website of NNL.

Abdulrahman emphasized the importance of professionalism within the league and pointed out that the registration process began in September 2023 after the NNL Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Jos. The NNL is keen on implementing professionalism and expects participating clubs to adhere to the set standards.

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