18th March, 2013
After over seven months, the Nigerian Premier League, NPL, now the Nigerian Professional Football League, NPFL, finally kicked off at various venues across the country on 9 March, 2013.
The new name was given to the league by the Nduka Irabor-led Interim Management Committee, IMC. Since the 2011/2012 season ended last September, the start of the new season had to be moved forward due to issues relating to sponsorship, television rights and petitions against the current management board of the league over removal of the erstwhile chairman of the league board, Victor Rumson Baribote.
The long drawn disagreement that occurred between Total Promotions and Nigerian telecom giant, Globacom over title sponsorship of the league also caused the delay of the kick off of the new season.
Total Promotions and Globacom were believed to have reached an out-of-court settlement, as the latter was announced as the new sponsor, but for several months, the two companies continued to trade blames over a breach of trust in their agreement.
Consequently, Total Promotions refused to relinquish its position as sponsor of the league, angling for a N1.5b settlement by Globacom. In a bid to allow peace to reign and forge a new course for the NPL, the Sports Minister, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi waded into all the lingering crisis and was able to appeal to all parties to sheathe their swords and peace finally returned.
Thereafter, on 15 February, 2013, the league board came out with the fixtures for the new season.
Though the commencement of the new season has brought joy to the faces of fans, players and other stakeholders of the league who had been eagerly awaiting football action at different stadia across the federation, the usual problems and challenges associated with the Nigerian league are still much around.
In a bid to rebrand and improve the quality of the NPFL, the IMC proposed an abridged league season, but the clubs kicked against the plan. The new season is now being played in its regular format, with midweek matches retained in the calendar.
The challenges such as transportation and other logistic challenge which the clubs will be facing in the midweek matches pose big problems in the new season.
Considering the fact that all the teams make use of road transportation in conveying players from one venue to the other across the country, it is believed that the bad state of most of the roads in the country, coupled with the security challenges that these clubs face on these roads, especially when travelling at night, would result in some of these teams missing their midweek matches. This will definitely lead to walkover and points awarded to home teams on a platter of gold. There is no doubt that this will have an adverse effect on the league as the eventual winners at the end of the season might not be the best team in the country.
Another problem the new season will be facing is funding, especially with no sponsor to pick the bills of currentthe season. There are doubts about how long the matches will continue to hold without funding as the management committee is yet to receive the government’s N200 million (about $1.3m) bailout.
The league secretariat had revealed that it needs the cash to pay for referees’ indemnities and other logistic considerations as sponsorship wrangling has persisted despite assurances that this has been resolved.
The immediate past season was played without a title sponsor and home teams were forced to foot the indemnities of the match officials.This situation led to many away teams accusing their hosts of bribing referees to secure home victories.
It is our belief that both the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, and the NPFL would come together to address all the grey areas in the league especially now that more people have taken interest in the local league after the splendid performance of the local talents that were part of the Super Eagles’ victory at the Nations Cup in South Africa in February.
The allegation of bribery against match officials and insecurity at some league venues need to be addressed as a matter of urgency if truly we want to attract corporate bodies to fund the league.
Also, there is need to organise sensitization seminar for club owners and their fans in order to discourage them from the win-at-all cost syndrome of some of the clubs. This situation that has seen opposing fans and match officials under attack at match venues in previous seasons.
Starting the league after several postponements is a welcome development but there is a need to ensure that all the loose ends are fixed.