• Fri. Jun 14th, 2024

BALLPOINT: NPFL AND THE AMERICANA WONDER SYNDROME – ‘THE MORE YOU LOOK, THE LESS YOU SEE’

The Moustached Journalist says;

Many concerned Nigerians like myself have been restless over the upheaval flinging out the once famous Nigeria Premier Football League and the consequences. The heap of problems, these days, are now becoming odd and worrisome to comprehend with the littlest of knowledge. This has so far submerged us to the bottom of all mediocrities where we now accept anything for something, all for the sake of reviving our football from a nearing end.

The Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL), over the years, has yet to record too many remarkable feats that will sustain its reputable establishment in terms of legal, political, administrative and pecuniary businesses both in the regional, continental and world football allies. Having gone through a numberless phases of transitions and evolutions; with a lot more in regards to investments, developments and infrastructures continually going under the pipelines – rebranding, grants, TV rights, partnership and sponsorship deals, increments of league prize money just to mention a few.

The Nigerian top-flight football division, emphatically, has long been drenched in the cold hands of financial deviations, political brouhaha, thuggism, maladministration, mismanagement and misappropriation of public funds, abuse of power, power tussle, anarchy, and lots of dwindling fortunes since the late 2000s. These, however, have suffered the essences it embodies, which to an extent, may have reduced its ranking through the assessment of overall performances in the result of classification conducted by the International Football History and Statistics (IFHS).

Nevertheless, with the chaotic situations that may have incessantly diverted the NPFL in recent times, it has been able to maintain a fair bit of rating in Africa. This, seen, shows that there is quite much enormous potential left in our elite football league that requires only a little constant sanity in the organization to take it way beyond what it seems at the moment.

It is popularly said that the NPFL had once made history as the longest league in the world of football during the 2010/2011 season, when it ran for over a year, due to unnecessary pauses and litigations that rocked the defunct Nigeria Premier League. Since the end of the tenure of the inaugural chairman of the NPFL, Chief Jackson Oyuki Obaseki in 2010, the league has known no peace. It has been one problem or the other centred on power tussle and sponsorship brouhaha.

In that same period, there was a sponsorship tussle between two companies with each aided by a separate group of administrators which almost spiralled the Nigerian topmost league down. This, especially, caused the competition a long drought of sponsorship. In response to that, teams had to solely rely on their respective state governments for survival, as no corporate body wanted to put its resources into such disorderliness.

After so many problems had fazed out for years, the league spawned a new leaf until July 2018 when it hit the rock and was postponed indefinitely following the leadership crisis of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) between two powerhouses – Amaju Pinnick and Chris Giwa. The brawl at the former NFF secretariat Glass House, now moved into the Sunday Dankaro House, suddenly became a blessing in disguise to Lobi Stars who were declared as the sole representative of the league in the 2019 CAF Champions League as the team was at the top of the standings.

Prior to the scrapping of the League Management Company (LMC), it was the journalist turned politician, Bolaji Abdullahi, as the sports minister who began moves to reconcile the football body with the support of the Alhaji Aminu Maigari-led NFF Board in 2012 following the crisis that engulfed the league after the removal of Chief Rumson Baribote as Chairman of the NPFL. While the defunct LMC was a successor-in-title to the Nigeria Premier League Limited and was alleged at the time to avoid and evade existing debts and other obligations owed by the organisation it succeeded.

Fast forward to September 2022, the Ministry of Youth & Sports Development eventually dropped a bombshell on the LMC through the declaration of its establishment as illegal and not recognised by the Federal Government. In an official statement released by Ismaila Abubakar, its former Permanent Secretary, and signed by the then Honourable Minister, Sunday Dare, ordered the NFF to immediately withdraw the licence given to the LMC and set up an Interim Management Committee (IMC) to oversee the affairs of the league going forward.

The press statement released through the preceded Permanent Secretary of the Ministry said: “To avert further chaos in our domestic football, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) is hereby advised to withdraw the licence given to LMC, and in the meantime, set up an Interim Management Committee (IMC) to include the current Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer of the LMC to oversee the affairs of the league until a professional league board is constituted in accordance with the statues of the NFF”.

The office of the LMC in Maitama, Abuja, was heavily sealed off by the Department of State Security (DSS) with immediate effect to the orders of the Federal Government after its standing rights were nullified by the ruling court. However, rumour had it that the Shehu Dikko-led LMC board did all in their best to disclaim what was contained in the press statement that it was a legal body that was fit and proper to manage the league.

This ruckus that ended a 10-year administrative dispensation of the LMC in the affairs of Nigeria’s top-flight football league denied our football a fresh restart for months. Teams, coaches, players, fans and every other person affiliated with the country’s topmost division remained redundant, stadia were completely in lock and key; all was in limbo. Our revered Nigeria’s football championship was stale and lifeless.

With this repugnance being paraded, many concerned fanatics, old and young, caped for a return of the NPFL all over the media. We had no other choice than to grab whoever was deemed responsible for the pain and suffering by the collars and make them cough out answers to these hard questions about the retrogression of the Nigeria Premier Football League was just the absolute best.

Sunday Dare, in collaboration with the then President of the NFF, Amaju Pinnick, birthed a committee of technocrats chaired by Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye to supersede the administration of the NPFL for the next year. After the new Interim Management Committee has toppled the status of the defunct LMC in the NPFL propelment, what’s next? I presumed that many other persons like myself at the earliest stage of its takeover had begged for a genuine answer to this aforementioned but to no avail.

It is better late than never for the new board of the NPFL to start afresh, rather not to search after what can be saved from the ruins. The Nigerian elite football league was already a laughing mess; an outright eyesore to the nation’s ever-beautiful scintillated competition we known it to be at its inception. The motive behind its establishment was to rebrand the league which has remained stagnant for years due to bad management and insufficient finance.

Moreover, because of the need to model the NPFL after that of mainland Europe with regular football seasons and fixtures, the IMC and the club administrators agreed to go ahead with an abridged league format as against the usual full-season format that has been used over the years. The 2022/23 NPFL season that saw Enyimba crowned champions following their triumph in the NPFL Super Six Championship Playoffs held at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena (Onikan Stadium), Lagos, was earlier scheduled to kick off on December 28, 2022, but did not see the light until January 8, 2023.

Despite the efforts of the now-disbanded IMC last season to reinstate the league for a smooth campaign going forward, there was a cloud of fears on the minds of the Nigerian league stakeholders and followers ahead of the 2023/2024 season. The current season had already suffered three postponements amidst the proposal for an abridged league format for the consecutive time, with Nigerians displeased by the delay may find consolation in the fact that this is not the first of its kind.

However, the Chief Operating Officer of the NPFL board, Davidson Owunmi, in a press statement, finally confirmed September 30 as the date for domestic actions in the league to return with lots of exciting goodies from multi-sponsorship deals, increments of prize money, proper TV rights and broadcast partnership etc. Getting started on a brighter note is not rocket science, Nigerians may have to endure more than patience with the new NPFL administration and its sole proprietors, the executive board of the NFF led by Alhaji Ibrahim Musa Gusau until we can get it right with our league to an extent, perhaps.

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