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Nigeria football at crossroads

By Wale Ajayi

On Thursday August 30, the congress of the Nigeria professional football league rose from a meeting in Abuja and decided among other things, to end the league abruptly in week 24, citing CAF’s deadline for registration of continental teams as reason for their action.

Nigeria’s Kelechi Iheanacho (14) celebrates with teammates after scoring the team’s first goal during an international friendly football match between Argentina and Nigeria in Krasnodar on November 14, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOV

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The NPFL Congress also crowned Lobi stars of Makurdi champions of the 2017/2018 football season while also declaring that all 20 NPFL club sides will stay put in the division, meaning no team will be relegated while four will be promoted from the NNL, to increase the number of participating teams in the 2018/2019 season to 24.

These decisions were greeted with mixed reactions at birth. While some vehemently criticized the move, others felt it was the best solution under the present circumstance.

The Nigeria National league on their part frowned at the manner with which the elite league came to what they termed as “these hasty” conclusions without properly consulting with the NNL, to allow both league bodies work out the best possible solution going forward.

Based on what they describe as disrespect to the lower league, the congress of the NNL, decided that, since the NPFL in it’s wisdom refused to relegate the four bottom teams in accordance with the rules guiding the conduct of the league, they are proposing that eight teams be promoted to the NPFL, jettisoning the season ending Super Eight, a competition that decides the best four teams in the division.

The timely intervention of the NFF Executive committee meeting in Asaba failed to find any meaningful solution. Rather what followed was a detailed communiqué from the NNL Congress in Abuja which clearly points out their position and paved the way for a potential crisis that may drag on for months.

Many may not understand the implication of what their action or inaction may be leading Nigeria football to, but the strongmen in the NNL, clearly understand the game and are ready to play it to extra time and possibly penalties.

There is more to all of this than meets the eyes. The events of the last few weeks are the consequences of bottled hatred, anger, bitterness and conflict of interests between two league bodies that have never done things in common in the last two years.

At the start of the current football season, the NNL went cap in hand to the LMC, requesting for financial support to conduct their pre-season congress and play the first few games of the 2017/2018 season.

Promises were actually made, but were never fulfilled. This was where the problems began.

From that day, the NPFL and NNL have lived like cat and mouse; they have gone about their activities with lots of bitterness and hatred, waiting for that day when they can pour out their bottled anger.

This latest crisis provides a perfect setting for war and has been fully ignited by the resignation of Bukola Olopade, the hardworking and erudite Chief Executive Officer of the NNL who resigned early this week, setting the tone for what promises to be the mother of all crises.

For a man who single handily brought in sponsorship deals worth over 300m naira to a league that had one leg in the grave after the exit of chief Emeka Inyama in 2016, it is very difficult to question his decision to take a bow when it became obvious that things are no longer done the way they should be done.

Olopade is not one man that can be taken for a ride, he is presently one of, if not, the biggest sports marketer in the country as available statistics show that the former Ogun State commissioner for sports has generated over 600 million naira from corporate sponsorship of the Assess bank Lagos Marathon, an event that started like a child’s play but has suddenly become a main feature in the Nigeria athletics federation calendar.

The chairman and chief executive officer of Remo Stars FC of Ogun State, Otunba  Kunle Soname is another individual who has invested so much in the round leader game and will not allow some persons who  make money from the system rubbish a reputation that has taken him years of hard work to build.

The owner of Bet9ja, is presently one of the biggest investors in Nigerian sports especially football. Soname is one of Nigeria’s human capital developer and strong investor in grassroots sports.  His company Bet9ja has been the title sponsor of the NNL for close to three years and to imagine that such a man is not taken into consideration by the NPFL before arriving at their decision not to relegate, has left him to carefully rethink his investments and possibly decide what next.

His club is the first of six, to pull out of the proposed NNL Super 8 billed to hold at the Enyimba international stadium Aba, Abia State on the 14th of this month.

Like Remo Stars, Kaduna-based KADA City FC have also decided not to take part in the competition in solidarity with the other four teams who feel seriously bitter that things are not being done properly and must be corrected for peace to reign.

The unfortunate side to this is that it has provided a platform for all aggrieved persons that have scores to settle with the NFF to key into the latest crisis and voice their anger.

There are others fanning the embers of war. They are the forces behind the stubborn stance from some of these club sides who have now offered themselves as a ready made tools of confusion.

The bone of contention here however is that those who genuinely invest their money in the league or those who have gone out of their ways to attract sponsorship for the league now feel they deserve equal rights in the running and administration of the game they have given so much to. To whom much is given, from him much is needed.

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