BY JUDE OPARA, ABUJA
It was a moment of high hopes as the Nigeria League Management Company (LMC) organized the 2014/15 Glo sponsored Nigeria Professional Premier League draws at the prestigious Transcorp Hilton in Abuja, the nation’s capital. The event which attracted the who is who in Nigerian league started by 7.30 pm. Banters here and there. Old friends were meeting again. It was conviviality galore.
Some ex-internationals who graced the local league before sojourning abroad were on hand to add to the glamour of the night. Former Eagles safe hands, Peter Rufai fondly ‘Dodo-Mayana’ led the pack which also had former striker, Daniel ‘de Bull’ Amokachi, Victor Ikpeba (The Prince of Monaco), Dominic Iorfa as well as former Heartland FC goalkeeper, Gbenga Moses.
Notable sports administrators including the Director General of the National Sports Commission (NSC), Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye, the Director of Elite Sports in the commission, Yakmut Alhassan, former secretary general of the Nigeria Football Association, Fanny Amun as well as Chief Felix Ayansi- Agwu who represented the president of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick were present at the draws.
But beyond the numerous adverts of Glo, the official sponsors of the league, there were some acrobatic dancers who thrilled the audience with their near heart-rending performances which forced the master of ceremony to warn that nobody should try such at home.
When the draws began, it was no less exciting as the opening matches of the season in the weekend of March 7 and 8, 2015 were revealed. Top of the bill is the opener between defending champions, Kano Pillars who will travel to Owerri to confront, old foes, Heartland FC at the Dan Anyiam Stadium. That match was instantly tagged the star match of the week.
In the fixtures of the week, current Federations Cup holders, Enyimba International of Aba will welcome Akwa Utd while Bayelsa Utd will play hosts to Lobi tars of Makurdi. Last season’s survivors, FC Taraba will be at home to Rangers International of Enugu while Sunshine Stars of Akure will be in Port Harcourt to keep a date with Sharks FC.
Also El-Kanemi Warriors of Maiduguri who now play their home games in Kano will attempt to ambush returnees, Nasarrawa Utd just as another new comer; Gabros FC of Nnewi will be at home against Confederations Cup hopefuls, Warri Wolves.
Giwa FC of Jos and Abia Warriors will slug it out at the Ram Pam Stadium in another fixture that promises to be top clincher just as Dolphins of Port Harcourt and another returnee, Kwara Utd will try each other for size. It will equally be a battle of wits as two newly promoted sides, Wikki Tourists of Bauchi and Shooting Stars of Ibadan will begin the fight for survival in the elite season when they clash in Bauchi.
In a related development, it could be said that the good times are here again for the local season if the comments of moist of the administrators who spoke to Sports Vanguard on the night were anything to go by. They were all united in their resolve to make sure that the players and their coaches who are the main actors were adequately taken care of.
For the chairman of the LMC, Hon. Nduka Irabor there will be a renewed effort to get the fans back to the stadia. He added that the minimum wage of a N150,000 monthly salary per player will be enforced just as he insisted that clubs who are still owing their players outstanding wages must pay up or risk being thrown out of the league.
“There will be a policy of no pay, no play. If you don’t pay your players, you won’t be registered to play, even if you manage to play, you will be playing in futility because you will lose your points. Nobody can owe players for more than 60 days. If you don’t pay them you lose three points and if it goes further to 90 days, you lose more points” Irabor stated. Speaking in the same vein, the chief operating officer of the LMC, Salihu Abubakar said the league managers introduced the issue of Performance Guarantee for the clubs to serve as a shock-absorber for the clubs.
“The idea behind the performance guarantee is for us to have a guarantee from you or your sponsors that if you fail to meet up with your financial requirements we can use that guarantee to pay your players or settle your other debts so that you can continue to play your league matches. The players who are the main actors must be paid and that is the idea behind the performance guarantee”. In some goodwill messages, all the stakeholders pledged their continued support for the league.
The Director General of the NSC, Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye in his own message tasked the LMC to continue in their quest to truly develop the domestic league. He gave them thumbs up for what he termed the transformation of the league to a level where teams now go away and record victories which he added has a multiplier effect of having quality players from the league who are now part of the senior national team.
“I know that in some years back it was not as good as it is today. Now we have teams winning matches away, some quality players are now joining the Super Eagles from the domestic league. On our own we will continue to give you all the support. I also want to thank your sponsors for realizing that government cannot develop the game alone, please keep it up” Elegbeleye added.
NFF president, Amaju Pinnick who was represented by Felix Ayansi-Agwu commended the LMC for the ability to organize the league so far. He assured that the federation will continue to assist the body in the development of the game by formulating quality policies that will enhance the development of the domestic league.
The Regional Director (Marketing) Glo, Achuta kuti said his organization will continue to support Nigerian football. He also expressed his hope that very soon a larger number of Super Eagles players will be chosen from the domestic league. For Felix Awogu, Director Super Sports West Africa, his organization knowing that Nigerians always wanting something to celebrate will continue to bring clear pictures of the nation’s sporting events including the league matches. He however called on other corporate bodies to assist the country in the development of football.
All said and done it is yet to be seen if the pledges and promises made on the night were not mere promises which were inspired by the glare of television cameras. We sincerely hope that the administrators will live up to their billing by implementing all what they have promised for the development of the Nigerian domestic league.