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‘Before now Nigerians were left with no choice than to watch foreign leagues’

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leagueGodwin Enakhena is a foremost sports journalist and Director of Sports of Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, owners of MFM Football Club. He speaks on challenges and prospects of the Nigerians Professional Clubs

Why has Nigerian league lacked the usual followership that made it stronger in the eighties?
The fans are back watching good football. The turnout of football fans at the various stadia across the country during last season’s Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) is a yardstick to measure the newfound love of Nigerians for domestic football. Kudos to the League Management Company (LMC) led by Mallam Shehu Dikko and his team. This cause was helped by the return of Premier League Football to Lagos State, which has been starved of top-flight football for almost two decades. With the promotion of Ikorodu United FC and Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries football club to the Nigerian Premier League, Lagos is enjoying good football matches. The fans have cause to throng the Agege and Onikan stadia midweek and weekends to catch a glimpse of their favourite players and teams.

Why the rush for foreign leagues by Nigerians?
Before now, Nigerian fans were left with no choice than to watch foreign leagues, because they had a relationship that was established through live telecast of games from the top leagues in Europe, England, Spain, Italy and Germany. The average Nigerian football fan can name almost the entire Barcelona, Real Madrid or players in the Premier League in England, all because of television. This is changing gradually because of the presence of television coverage in the NPFL. We’ve not gotten there yet in terms of match day television coverage, but I want to believe it will be better next season. Nigerians want to know their stars and have a relationship with them. If you don’t know your players what then will be the attraction going to the stadium?

From the look of things, can you say that Nigerian league is regaining its lost glory?
Definitely, you saw the crowd that was always present each time games were played at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu, home of Enugu Rangers. You saw how nightlife returned to Enugu each time games were played on Friday nights. Befittingly so, Rangers were crowned league champions after 32 years. The excitement generated by night football was replicated in Lagos and Uyo, the turnouts were always massive because these games were on television. How can we forget how the league brought back peace to Maiduguri with matches played at the stadium, despite the threat of the dreaded Boko Haram in that part of the country?

As a club manager, why do individuals and organisations float clubs in Nigeria despite the challenging state of the country’s league?
It’s often said that you can only be part of the solution if you’re inside. Sponsorship of clubs by government is an abnormality the world over. The job of government should start and end with the provision of infrastructure, equipment for athletes to train and grants to sporting federations to prepare for major events and training the trainers. It should be a big relief to the government to have the private sector and individuals invest in sports. They should be encouraged with tax waivers and other forms of support like the building of stadia etc.

How do the investors in clubs recoup and sustain their investments?
Investing in football in Nigeria is more of corporate social responsibility to youths of the country, who need avenues to showcase their God-given talents. The structure isn’t right for a sponsor to reap any sort of profit, but it’s just a matter of time. It’s a systemic challenge that will give way when there’s stability in the polity.

From experience, what are the challenges of owning and managing a club in Nigerian leagues?
The challenges are enormous, from poor infrastructure to attitudinal issues. Sports shouldn’t be isolated from Nigeria as a country that is going through very difficult times right now. If the economy is not buoyant, how do you expect football fans to buy merchandise and pay to watch games at the stadia? Like I said before, Rome wasn’t built in a week. We will get there, but how soon is what I can’t tell.   

Do you think that the working condition of players in our local league is good enough?
Things are changing gradually. Most of our players earn good salary now. The minimum stipulated monthly salary of the NPFL player is N150, 000 and the truth is that majority of the clubs have complied, but because they’re owned by state governments, there is the problem of paucity of funds which lead to salaries not being paid as at when due.

‘We Have Been Able To Resolve The Problem of Players’
Sign-On-Fees’

From Lawrence Njoku (Enugu)

Nigerian football, especially the local league, is faced with multiple challenges that have affected its growth and development. Apart from facilities, the league is gradually losing followership because many no longer invest their time in it.

A football fan, James Aneke, said that Nigerians have become foreign clubs supporters than supporters of the local league, stressing that the development was caused by the poor quality officiating, low quality football as well as inadequate facilities among others.

He said that government’s disposition towards football brought the apathy, stressing that football would have died completely in the country, if not for the intervention of private individuals and organizations.

For Nigerian league to improve, Aneke suggested that government should provide the enabling environment that must include training of coaches, referees, match officials as well as provide quality playing pitches that should serve the need of the clubs playing at different levels.

Aneke’s position was similar to that of Enugu State Chairman of Football Association, Chief Chidi Offor Okenwa, who listed facilities, equipment, poor training and motivation as part of the problems hindering the development of Nigerian football. Okenwa told The Guardian in an interview that: “I can tell you that good football facilities beget good football, but we are very short of it in Nigeria. If you go to places where football matches are hosted, you will weep for Nigeria, because some of them are more or less killer grounds.

“We have 38 week games in the English Premier league and 45 league games in Nigerian National League. We have above that in the Professional league before you talked about other games like the Federation Cup. If we can get our facilities fixed, if we can do the games with necessary equipment, we will improve the league”.

He continued: “Nobody is talking about the welfare of the players the way it should be. The issue of players’ transfer, which is the movement of players from one club to the other, the ownership of players and what have you. When we get all these things done, the league will improve because we have the quality players to do so.

We have been able to handle the issue of players’ sign-on-fees. It is no longer a problem now. If you can recollect in the Uyo Congress of the Nigerian Football Federation, we argued the matter at length. One of those that spoke to the congress explained the difference between paying somebody sign-on-fees and paying somebody’s salary. If you say that the value of Christiano Ronaldo is N100million, the first question is for how long? How will he be paid? The money could be divided into five years. He might like to take the money weekly or monthly unlike in Nigeria where you have a sign-on fee of N5million and you are paying the player the salary of N50,000 in a month.

“At the end of the day, before the maturity of that contract, you would have paid that person N200,000 or anything below. Nobody has ever completed the payment of sign-on- fees before the expiration of the contract and so what did we do? We queued into the European system of enhanced salary scheme, where a player can earn N500, 000 or N600, 000 today.

“The welfare we are talking about has nothing to do with the salary package. That is why the league in its wisdom took a decision that the Premier League player is not supposed to be in a salary of less than N150,000 monthly. There is also a stipulated payment for players in national and amateur league. On Club ownership, he stated: “I have to tell you that Nigeria is generally a capitalist state. Every club owner wants to maximize profit. In every game played they want to pay little. But we are thinking about a situation where everybody will be on the same page, where a club owner will be thinking like a stakeholder in all ramifications.”

‘There Has Been A Lot Of Tremendous Improvement In Nigerian Football’

From Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu, Benin City 

Speaking to The Guardian on the state of the Nigerian Football League, the Edo State Chairman of the State Football Association, Frank Ilaboya, lamented that the state of football in the country was pitiable considering the numerous talents that abound. He said that there was light at the end of the tunnel going by the tremendous improvement noticed since the coming of the current leadership of the League Management Company.  

“There has been a lot of tremendous improvement especially last season, I must tell you. With the coming of the new League Management Company, I think we have seen some great innovation. We have to applaud them for that, but despite that I think we are still very far from where we are supposed to be by now. We should be comparing our league with EPL, La Liga and Bundesliga based on the fact that we have the talents and football is about talents. It is about skill so I think we are far from being there, but the template on ground now shows that we can move forward.”
 
On the low turnout of fans to watch matches, Ilaboya said he does not believe that Nigerians are not interested, but also called on the media to re-invent its reportage where focus should be on the players and coaches who do the work on the pitch and the administrators of these clubs.

“You recalled that the same Nigerians were attending matches those days and I remember in Ogbe stadium here, it used to be very full whenever Insurance was playing. The same thing like in Enugu like when Rangers were playing, the same thing was happening in Ibadan when Shooting Stars is playing, Kano Pillars and Mighty Jet. That was those days, the same Nigerians. But, again the world is a global village. It has opened up. Those days we were not used to satellite television, but now everything has opened up. We are seeing a very good football. An average football fan wants to see the best of football.

‘No Club Is Competing In Nigerian League Today’

Tina Todo, Calabar

In Cross River State, investigation reveals that corrupt practices in Nigerian football has made fans less interested in watching the leagues.

Before now, it was pools betting as prediction of matches has crawled into football. People predict matches so they can enjoy financial benefit apart from watching the matches. This has also been introduced into Nigerian football.   
 
The Assistant Secretary of the Cross River State Football Association, Mr. Talabi Oke, however, blamed this on social media. He said Nigerians are not interested in their local league because it is not close them. It is all because of what has been brought into Nigeria football league. The social media has taken the day. People no longer go to the stadia to watch football matches because of the era of television. They would rather stay in their parlour or visit viewing centres.
 
“Again, fans believe that when they go to Nigerian stadia, there is every possibility of crisis erupting among fans. You cannot be beaten or have any problem for supporting a particular team. Anything that has to do with match officials has consequences. They try as much as possible to avoid such problems because FIFA has made it clear that the lives of the fans and players should be free from any form of danger.
 
“About five years ago it was difficult for a team to win at away, but in the last three years we have witnessed and seen a lot of teams winning at away. It really shows that Nigerian league is coming back from its lost glory.”
 
Oke said despite those challenges, Nigerian football has transformed from amateur league to professional football leagues as well as producing professional players who play in foreign leagues.
 
Speaking on challenges, he disclosed that the government of Cross River State has made its policies unfavourable to the football association in the State. 

His words: “In Cross River, government policies have made the football league not to get to a certain level that the association wants it to be. We have 18 local council teams in the state; none of them has been participating in the national league. About 10 years ago, we had about 10 teams in the state competing in the national leagues.”   

‘Nigerian Leagues Deserve Everybody’s Support’

From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos

The Director of Sports, Plateau State Sports Council, Mr. Gurumjwak Logan Dapur, said that the state government is sponsoring Plateau United Club and Mighty Jets of Jos in the national league. He also disclosed that there are also private clubs at the amateur level.
   
On why Nigerians are not too keen on watching Nigerian League matches, Dapur stated that the problem is two-fold. According to him, some of these fans act out of sheer ignorance and lack of patriotism.
     
He is of the opinion that it is only a window-dressing, when Nigerian team is playing against the opposing team, everybody will say they love Nigeria.

“If you love Nigeria, you should also love our own league and love our own players so that we can give them the necessary support. You will find out that mostly, when you say supporters, hardly can you find them outside the shores of the country that they are there to support Nigerian players. The support will always end at the home stadium.
   
“When they are going for away matches, they depend on government to sponsor the clubs and then sponsor the supporters to go and support the teams. In that case, you can just say they are supporters because if you are supporting, you are supposed to come out with your own widow’s mite to give. This attitude has to change, although it is changing now. What is happening in the stadium now is far more encouraging than what it was before. Nigerians are realising that there is the need for them to come home and support their own.
  
They have seen the need that they don’t expect anybody to come and support it for them. They have to do it by themselves and then we will get support from outside,” he said.
   
Dupur emphatically disagreed with the notion that the welfare of the supporters’ club is the sole responsibility of the government.
“Certainly, I will disagree with that because government is taking care of the facilities, salaries, and others, we can’t leave everything for government. We must try to give government the support.”
‘I Preferred Watching Foreign League Matches To Local League’

By Temitope Makinde

Is it not surprising that these days, children know the names of international footballers more than that of those playing in our local leagues? That shows the extent we have taken preference of foreign leagues to our local leagues.

This situation may never change until our local leagues are internationalised. I prefer watching foreign league matches to our own local leagues. Unfortunately, most times our local television stations do not even show our local leagues matches. People watch foreign league matches because of one player, not even for the whole team. There is need for improvement and development of Nigerian local leagues.
Samuel Joshua, graduate of Mooshod Abiola Polytechnic, Abeokuta

‘My Personal Schedules Stop Me From Watching Local League Matches’
I appreciate the fact that there are great footballers in our local leagues, because I know what it takes to play football. Most times, my personal schedules like my business and others things always stop me from watching local leagues.

If Nigerian league matches can be played at night and we can watch it across all television stations, I will love it. I think most of the mini stadia do not have facilities for night matches. All these things really count.
Bankole Jamiu, student and entrepreneur

‘Nigerian League Matches Are Boring Most Times’
I tried to develop the habit of watching local leagues, but the truth is that they are always boring. Most times players play as if nothing is at stake. I can share the players’ pains, considering that they are not being taken care of very well. That is why I don’t waste my time to watch Nigerian league matches.
Seun Rafealio, student


In this article:
Godwin Enakhena
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