The state of insecurity and incidents being recorded on a regular basis in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) give cause for concern. On February 18, Wikki Tourists FC players escaped death as the team’s bus caught fire and got burnt completely on the Hawan Kibo Road, along Jos-Abuja Road.
The incident happened on a Thursday morning on their way to Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, for the Match Day 11 fixture of the elite domestic league. Just 24 hours after the Wikki incident, the bus belonging to Kano Pillars was also involved in a fire accident, but efforts were made to successfully put out the fire. Also on February 19, players and officials of another NPFL side, Adamawa United FC, were robbed at gunpoint around Benin- Ore Expressway about 11:45p.m. while on their way for the week 11 NPFL fixture against MFM FC in Lagos.
The driver that was kidnapped during the incident was only released a week later, after ransom was reportedly paid. We must emphasize that this is a very disturbing situation. There is insecurity in the country generally, but the NPFL teams should rise above mediocrity. In the past 10 years, keen followers of the league have advocated air travels for the teams in the elite class. If the entire 18 Match Day players cannot be taken, at least the best 14 players should fly to match destinations nationwide. With good marketing on the part of the club chieftains, some airlines could offer a rebate of as much as 50 per cent since trips will be very regular.
The money spent on logistics of the trip, and daily allowances could be channelled into flight for the safety and comfort of the players. We insist that the stress these players go through for away matches is enormous. In some cases, teams arrive at match venues two or three hours to match commencement. Sad enough, investigations revealed that players prefer road trips because they will collect about N15,000 as allowances for three days.
Teams’ administrators should take the bull by the horns and ensure teams travel by air to cities where the journey is more than four hours by road from base. On Thursday, 18 players and three officials of the Government College Kaduna flew to Lagos from Abuja to keep a date with Igbobi College for the opening game of the National Principals’ Cup competition, which ended 1-1. If this could be done for the young lads, more is expected for the NPFL stars.
Only at the weekend, the players and officials of Niger Tornadoes travelled by air for their NNL match. This is a big challenge to the elite teams in the NPFL. The roads are bad and if the League Management Company (LMC) feels the teams cannot afford to fly, the format should change to regional. We can have the Southern and Northern league and the final winners will be decided in playoffs involving the best two or best four of each league. The incidents recorded recently are not good for the image of the league and the country in general.
Teams are expected to have their buses in good conditions while armed escorts are supposed to travel with the team always for security reasons. It is also advisable that the teams should avoid night travel. The government of Bauchi State did well by buying two new buses for Wikki Tourists, but generally, the administrators of NPFL teams need reorientation based on the state of the nation. We are aware the NFPL suffered a great deal last year. The outbreak of COVID- 19 affected many aspects of human lives, but sport was most hit especially in Nigeria.
The NPFL that was stopped in March only came back on December 27, 2020. Many other major sporting events in the country were either postponed or cancelled. The NPFL has been very exciting with interesting results being recorded week in, week out. Almost on a weekly basis, away results are recorded. Kwara United defeated Plateau United 2-0 in Jos in one of the opening day matches. Abia Warriors lost 1-0 and 3-1 to Rivers United and Jigawa Stars in their home while Akwa United recorded an inspiring 1-0 away win against Adamawa United.
Heartland came to Lagos to beat MFM 2-1 in one of the Match Day 9 games that recorded three away wins. Three away wins also played out on Match Day Six. In all, a total of 13 away wins have been recorded after 12 round of games in the NPFL.
We are happy that some of the matches now go live on television. This is not yet coordinated and managed well to boost marketing and the domestic league image. But it is impressive that some games now appear on television. In all, NPFL teams must embrace safety measures and they must avoid travelling long distances by road. All efforts must be made to realise these as soon as possible.