On February 16, 2020, the bus conveying team members of Wikki Tourists Football Club of Bauchi, one of the clubs participating in the Nigerian Professional Football League, NPFL, caught fire along the Jos-Bauchi Highway. Members of the team were on their way to Uyo for a week-10 league match against Dakkada FC of Uyo. The journey was aborted.
Again, on February 20, 2021, the bus transporting players of Adamawa United Football Club was attacked by bandits along the Benin-Lagos Highway. Although the players were spared, the bus driver, simply identified as “Alhaji Kabiru”, was abducted by the bandits.
According to the Permanent Secretary, Adamawa State Ministry of Youth and Sports, Alhaji Aliyu Jada, the bandits demanded a ransom of N59 million for Kabiru’s release. Before these recent incidents, various clubs had experienced similar disasters travelling by road.
It is sad that in the 21st century, Nigerian football clubs still travel thousands of kilometers by road to play matches only to hit the road again within a few days.
A road trip between Maiduguri and Lagos, for instance, takes more than one and half days. Subjecting players to such agonising trips, given the poor state of Nigerian roads, not only exposes them to the prevalent insecurity in the country, but also to physical, mental and psychological torture which have negative impacts on their performances.
Considering the crowded nature of NPFL match schedules, it is our opinion that Nigerian clubs emulate their overseas counterparts by flying their players to distant match venues. That would solve a lot of the problems associated with road trips.
We recognise that finance may be a crucial factor in clubs’ choice of means of transportation, but considering the risks involved in road travels nowadays such as payment of millions of naira ransom and loss of lives, it may be more ‘cost-effective’ to fly than to travel by road.
Club managements need to be more innovative. Not long ago, Akwa United players were flown to match venues by an airliner which was their official sponsor. With the Nigerian Professional Football League now on television, clubs must seize the initiative and market themselves to global audiences by creating windows for multiple sponsorship.
Apart from sponsorship, football clubs can go public in order to attract the huge funds available in the capital market. This is how clubs abroad, with over 30 players on their payroll, are able to pay a player more than $500,000 a week and still survive.
With such innovative thinking, Nigerian players, who are as good as their counterparts abroad, can enjoy enhanced working conditions and avoid death and being kidnapped on the roads while travelling long distances to play matches.
It is time to make our local league safer and better.