The just concluded season of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) witnessed so many intriguing situations that one cannot comprehend under normal circumstances. Anomalies reigned supreme in the domestic as match officials and journalists were beaten and attacked at different centres while there were ridiculous decisions taken by match officials in many others. Sad enough, we observed that the punitive measures of the LMC on erring teams over the years are laughable just as the league generally lacks good conduct and standard that could grow the game to match international best practices across the globe. Last weekend, the NPFL ended with many dramatic situations in various centres. Rivers United were crowned champions after a well-deserved effort just as six teams competed to beat the drop before the kick-off.
Wikki Tourists, Lobi Stars, Shooting Stars, Katsina United, Abia Warriors, Dakkada FC and Heartland were on the verge of relegation depending on the results on the last Match Day. In the end, Katsina United and Heartland joined MFM and Pillars in going down. Overall, we frown at the soft penalties meted to these teams whose fans displayed hooliganism to bring the game into disrepute. Pillars for example are serial offenders and it was no surprise that they suffered three points deduction to confirm their relegation status before the last Match Day. Only recently, the Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare said it was important to have a strong league to boost the development of the game.
Dare said: “We have laws governing the league but we need to be firm on their enforcement. Look at what Samuel Eto’o is doing at Cameroon. If we must take bank guarantees to ensure players payments are secured, then we should do that. We know that state governments are the owners of these clubs but there must be a way out. “In my speech at the NFF AGM in 2019, I stressed that there is no league without a proper calendar, this is needed to gain the trust of investors, and consistency is key, taking a cue from the EPL and others. Organisations also have budget cycles and this would help them plan.”
We make bold to say the LMC is confused and over the years has failed. The way forward is for the Nigeria Football Federation to design another scheme to rescue the country’s dying domestic league while the football body also battles for the life of the game in its entirety. Nigerians love football and in this age of globalization, nothing is hidden, so the football authorities must go all out to get it right and develop the game. There is need to keep the stadia safe with enough security personnel to protect fans, officials and players. The game generally deserves better and all efforts must be made to ensure there is a total reform to boost the league to the expected standard such that Nigerian clubs will be winning continental titles again. We make bold to say that the NPFL is in a comatose state.
There are too many issues surrounding the league that call for urgent attention and so far in recent years, the help might just be a mirage rather than reality. We are happy to see the new Super Eagles manager Jose Peseiro visit domestic league centres just as we expect more home-based players in the senior national team. The goalkeeping department and the defence begging for attention could be revived with players from the NPFL. There are multiple issues in the country’s domestic league which sadly does not have a title sponsor and it’s not on television yet.
These are some critical areas but over the years, those in authorities feel these are not important issues. There is an issue of calendar imbalance in which the domestic league starts and ends anytime. There is insecurity for players, referees and fans, raising the problem of how safe the stadia are across the country. We also have the problem of administration of the game by the League Management Company, a body that dishes out punitive measures that cannot hurt a fly. The national homebased team for the CHAN tournament is yet to make an impact on the continent just as the top clubs in the country struggle every year to excel in African club competitions.
To cap it all, Nigerian players both in domestic and international stage are nowhere in the evaluation of top players on the continent year in, year out. Nigerians always ask for the inclusion of homebased players in the senior national team but it has been a tough call because of the calendar issue in which the league could be on break at a time many other countries in Africa and abroad are busy in the football season. Going forward, there should be total reform for the domestic league and this will start from the body running it. The LMC has overstayed its welcome and should either be scrapped or overhauled completely.