THE NIGERIAN PREMIER LEAGUE: PROBLEMS, PROSPECTS AND A REVIEW OF THE 2012 SEASON
The Nigerian premier league is ranked as the strongest African league for the 2012 season across the continent while also occupying the 24th position in the world. This ranking is as a result of classification conducted by the International Football History and Statistics, IFHS through the assessment of performances of clubs from January 1 to July 10 2012, by adding points in all continental competitions of clubs to rate the NPL as the No. 1 in Africa and 24 in the world respectively. This may not be far from merit as two Nigerian clubs; Enyimba FC and Sunshine Stars FC were named in the top ten African clubs ranking for the year 2012.
These however will be hard to believe of a league that is encumbered by many problems that seem irresolvable. In the 2010/2011 season, the season before, the premier league made history as the longest league to run for almost over a year a season in the world. Due to the infighting that rocked the NPL board & sponsorship tussle between two companies which was aided by the indecision of the football regulators. These and other problems including political influence and control of clubs, hooliganism; fans attacking visiting teams, even injuring players and officials in the process, crowd trouble; insecurity of visiting teams and sometimes the home teams, officials and referees too, have jeopardized the progress of the Nigerian premier league.
The league administrators haven’t done enough to curb the incessant problems affecting the key contributors and benefactors in the league: irregular match scheduling, accusations and allegations of match fixing, litigations; non-TV friendly pitches, poor documentation and unguarded monitoring on players transfers and contracts with their respective clubs; non or late payment of players and officials salaries, allowances and sign-on fees.
Matches are played to empty stands in the stadium cheering the players who should have fans and spectators cheer them. Except for some few teams who have managed to bring their fans and spectators together through community involvement, the stadia is almost at every game empty; despite the effort to bring cheering, support and glamour which make up a live stadium to the stands.
A game like that between Enyimba FC vs. Heartland FC which should fill a stadium full of fans and spectators from each side, is painfully left to half full seats in the stadium and most spectators who do come do not buy tickets. For obvious reasons, the passionate and supportive fans have stayed away from the games.
‘’I feel sorry for the Nigerian Premier League, it is suffering from mismanagement. I used to go to the Jos stadium to watch Plateau United and JUTH FC but I stopped going because of insecurity and poor officiating coupled with poor infrastructure, as well as inadequate incentives for the players… once these issues are addressed and the TV packaging is done properly, then the league will improve and win hearts of fans back.’’ These were the views of Longshak Gotodok, a 300 level student of TV Journalism at the NTA TV College, Jos, Plateau state.
Security worries and lackadaisical displays on the path of desperate teams accused of influencing referees’ calls with (un)solicited incentives, kills fans enthusiasm to pay for tickets and to watch matches. The clubs are also affected by the zero return from ticket sale when fans do not patronize them.
Insufficient funds on the part of the league body; the consequences of a bungled mega sponsorship deal with a giant telecommunication company in the country which left the league management to depend on meagre sums from minor sponsors and clubs serving penalties for offences committed in the league. there is the uncertainty that the winners for this season will get a financial reward for their victory just as last season’s winners, Dolphins FC.
‘’We have no money to run the league but the clubs must be commended for their understanding.’’ The Executive Secretary of the NPL Tunji Babalola confirms. He said that ‘’the obvious reason why we don’t have sponsors is because of the many court cases we are battling.’’ Citing the effects, ‘’No company will want to invest in an unstable environment. The clubs are getting nothing because we have nothing to give them.’’ Babalola added.
Disharmony and infightings between the NFF and NPL in itself did suffer the league development and growth. Litigations against the NFF and the NPL was the reason why sponsors were afraid to partner with the NPL in a statement accredited to Tunji Babalola who is quoted above. Victor Rumson Baribote’s era further heralded issues that crippled the league. There were allegations and accusations of match fixing, favouritism, lawsuits and litigations and the bungled deal that would have taken the league afar off better than it is now, if properly managed. Even these crisis had the Federation of International Football Associations, FIFA concerned.
Stressing the disadvantage to the obvious, the FIFA president, Sepp Blatter said ‘’Football cannot grow in an atmosphere of instability.’’ Responding to the ‘resolution’ of the crisis, he praised ‘’We are happy this is resolved. Now we can focus on the business of football development.’’
Nevertheless, in spite of all the problems that the league faced, some of which it is still grappling with, it also had success stories. In the 2012 season, there were tremendous improvements on the side of players, clubs, managers and coaches. The National team now has a greater influx of local players more than ever in the years past. The coaching crew of the Super Eagles is made up of local coaches and clubs now have their players in international spotlight which could result into interests for the players from foreign clubs, depending on how good they are and the clubs get to make money from the players’ transfers and sale.
‘’For the first time, players from the Nigerian League now dominate the Eagles team, we all saw their performance against Rwanda and Egypt. The National team is a reflection of how strong your league is.’’ Tunji Babalola, the NPL secretary stressing the prospects of the league this season. ‘We have all our teams playing in the CAF competitions.’’ He concluded.
The 2012 season indeed had prospects with it; the local clubs performances in the continental competitions and Sunshine Stars in particular, the team could be playing in the final of the CAF champions league if it defeats its opponent in the semi finals.
The 2012 season is the 41st season since inception and 22nd since the rebranding of the league as ‘the professional league.’ the season originally was to start November 26, 2011., a month less after the conclusion of the previous season. Due to long delays by the disputes in the NPL board, the date was pushed to January of 2012 to give time for proper organization and sorting out of a new sponsorship deal for the league. The league later kicked off in January and was planned to end in July but now ends on September 7, 2012.
During the season, the league experienced some breaks and rescheduling of matches due to some (in)evitable reasons. The general strike on subsidy removal, robbery attacks on teams and the menace of Boko Haram; an Islamic sect in the north, caused the postponements rescheduling and moving of matches from a centre to a safer one.The season also holds the highest record of players and officials striking and opting out of games for reasons of unsettled claims of salaries, sign-on fees and promises made them by club managements and financiers; the government.Players demanded the payment of their salaries and allowances while some coaches resorted to arbitrations and dispute resolution committees to get their contract fees paid them. Unfortunately, some players could not fight for their settlement since their relationship with their clubs were only verbal and wasn’t a valid contract which raises eyebrows over the league body’s documentation of players’ contracts and transfers.
The alarming rate of home wins as against away results in the league also puts a question mark on the fairness of all key players in the league; administrators, clubs, officials and fans too.
With every problems and prospects that started with the league this season, it is sure to end on a very interesting and fiery week 38 games with three clubs in strong contention for the title: Enugu Rangers who last won the league over the three decades ago, Kano Pillars with their volatile fans and supportive followership and Lobi stars who are arguably the most regular club in the league, they always are contenders one way or the other.
Finally, with news around the corner that the sign-on fees practise would be replaced with a salary policy for players and coaches in the league as from next season, the club players and coaches could be looking at better days ahead with a good sponsorship deal and a well run administration. All that is required for this to work is a committed league management with the administrative and political will to implement progressive rules and regulations.