By Harry Iwuala
Change is a guaranteed constant that is naturally bound to be consistently resisted by the ever present forces comfortable with the status quo. Nigerian clubs returned from continental campaigns last week soiled by humiliating defeats arising from the crisis that has bedeviled the domestic league since May last year when powers higher than Chief Victor Baribote decreed he must leave the office of the now defunct Nigeria Premier League (NPL) Board Chairman.
The crisis actually began with the reluctant exit of Chief Oyuki Obaseki, the pioneer Chairman of the NPL Board but came to a head when the Sports Minister, Alhaji Bolaji Abdullahi insisted that the 2012-13 season must not kick-off with Baribote as Chairman. The Board got kicked out and the Minister drew a master stroke by setting up a Management team that even his hardest critics acknowledged to be first rate.
Expectedly, there have been forces campaigning underground to scuttle the fresh breath of administration that has shown excellent signs of delivering the needed reforms to the league administration. Using all manner of subterfuge including induced media harangues, these forces which have held the league down for years are rallying to truncate the objectives of the proposed reforms.
It is very evident from the advertorial recently placed by the Chairman of the League Management Company (LMC), Mr. Nduka Irabor that the reform is positioned to inject a transparent process that will confer integrity to the league.
But it appears that we are either not listening sufficiently or have deliberately refused to understand and accept the new direction. A number of irritant questions keep popping up despite repeated clarifications from the LMC. At a recent Media Roundtable with members of the Lagos State Chapter of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN), Irabor endured the stress of sounding like a broken record over the same issues.
What is emerging now is that some tendencies often referred to as Club Owners have become jittery over the business plans of LMC which is not in tandem with the way they are used to doing business. They are still living in a world where decision affecting the league business is discussed at a Congress and not at an Annual General Meeting (AGM).
It may still come down to mean same thing but the fact is that Congresses are held in football by Federations, Confederations and the world governing body, FIFA. In the operating manuals of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and as is well known in commercial enterprises which the League is situated, it is the AGM that approves policy directions.
Here are men, majority of who are political appointees liable to sack at the whims of state governors parading as owners of football clubs and instigating rebellion against moves to properly dimension football as a profitable business. They know that the moment football is placed on the right commercial pedestal, their subterfuge for collecting scarce government resources to run the clubs will be exposed. Rather than work towards making the clubs less dependent on government funding, they team up to frustrate every effort aimed at organizing football the global way.
It would have made sense if these folks have withdrawn their teams from the league to drive home whatever point they are making. But they will not do that because it will equally mean their government subvention will be put on hold as it was done since May 2012 to last month.
It is only Baribote and Senator Bukola Saraki that can truly lay claim to the sobriquet, Club Owner and are the only ones who know what it takes to finance a club. The rest are caretakers and agents of government who treat club business the same way government property tend to be treated. But the LMC is even saying they want to encourage a more enduring club ownership that will move away from government or one-man ownership to public ownership through investments by interested businessmen and fans.
Despite the grumblings and misrepresentations that the company is working to deny existing clubs of places in the reformed league, the position as explained at the roundtable in Lagos is that a new threshold is being created which in the next two to three seasons will become operational.
The plan is that only clubs that meet the minimum requirements will enroll to be part of the league and such minimum requirements include evidence of financial capacity to meet obligations, existence of standard youth teams, contract templates for recruitment of players and coaches and guarantees to protect rights of league sponsors.
It is just like the Central Bank’s policy on licensing of banks which requires them to meet certain conditions to operate. As a regulator, the LMC is within rights to insist on certain guarantees especially in a country where club managers have shown a predilection to maltreat players and coaches.
The LMC is also saying that there has to be a reform in sponsorship processes to allow more inflow of fund to the league and clubs. Over the years, we have had sponsorship models that shut out big brands from club deals simply because their competitor has been signed on by the league body.
With the new regime, clubs can sign on with any brand though the number of such will be limited in order not to dilute the equity of the major sponsor. This is already working in Ghana and has been practiced in Europe and with this direction, we can now have a vibrant financial environment to the benefit of brands and the clubs.
The Broadcast right is also being reviewed to conform to international standards and ensure that clubs are adequately remunerated unlike what obtained in the defunct NPL where an agency collects over N750m and remits a mere N150m to the league.
It is easy to understand why there is a fight to stop the LMC and Nigerians must rise to resist these leeches so our players and coaches can enjoy their labour.