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Violence blights Nigerian League Football


Enyimba captain, Mfon Udoh, scores from the spot in a recent NPFL game

Incorporated in 2013, the League Management Company (LMC) has as its mandate to “develop and exploit the commercial assets of the NPFL.” There can be no denying that, since it began to oversee the league, giant strides have been made in building a product of which Nigeria can be proud.

Of course, Rome was not built in a day; nor was it built in four years. However, the sense remains that, for all its hard work, the LMC continues to be undermined by a deep-seated lack of professionalism and a culture of entitlement and brigandage within the clubs in the league. They have dragged the horse to the stream, forced its nose into the flow, but are sometimes helpless to prevent the same self-defeating practices that undermined the league for so long.

Case in point: this past weekend, when it seemed like all hell broke loose in the NPFL. There were two huge flashpoints: in Kano and Katsina, each distinct in its circumstance but reverting to the same conclusion—violence.

In Katsina, there was extensive damage to the team bus of visiting Enyimba FC, who had given up a first half lead to lose 2-1 to Katsina United in a tense encounter. Dissatisfied with their victory, the home fans reportedly laid in wait in traffic just outside the stadium, before unleashing a hail of rocks, shattering the windshields on the bus and causing injury to several players and officials. It’s unclear what led to the attack, but a section of the local media alleged that Enyimba goalkeeper – Ghana international Fatau Dauda – had assaulted a ball boy during the game. However, Dauda maintains his innocence vehemently, insisting he merely took the ball off the ball boy.

The league organisers reviewed videos of the incident and charged the experienced goalkeeper with violent conduct – capable of inciting others to commit violence.

“Enyimba’s goalkeeper Fatau Dauda is suspended for one match and fined N50,000 naira for aggression towards a ball boy during their match against Katsina United,” a LMC statement read.

On their part, Katsina United have been fined N2.5 million with N500,000 compensation to Enyimba, as well as footing the repair bill of the damaged bus, which is yet to be determined. Katsina have also been ordered to play their next three home games against Plateau United, Abia Warriors and El Kanemi Warriors behind closed doors.

Kano saw the assault of players and officials of visiting Akwa United, including the use of tear gas, for having the temerity to defeat Pillars 1- 0. Journalists covering the game were molested and their equipment forcibly seized, and this by officials of the home side; reportedly, the match stewards, charged with the safety of the attending fans, joined in perpetrating these acts.

Add to this the happenings in Sagamu on Matchday 15, with journalists assaulted while in areas of restricted access, and even to the extent of match officials harassed in their hotel accommodations. What we have, is a very ugly picture of a league within which there is a blatant disregard for the safety of match-going spectators.

This is not the image a budding league wants to be painting. Much of the LMC’s work since coming on board to manage the NPFL has been to improve attendances at stadia and ensure a better, healthier Matchday Experience. Incidents of violence, such as these, do nothing to help the cause. One cannot sell league games as family-friendly outings on a cool weekend afternoon when people are getting maimed and vehicles smashed.

This is a reminder that, for all they can try, the LMC cannot do this alone. It behoves the clubs to pitch in, educate and sensitize their fanbases against this sort of wanton violence. The very essence of sport is the competitive spirit in which it is played: if there can only be one outcome, then it ceases to be sport. The idea that the home team should always win is inimical to the development of the league, and should be done away with by the management of the clubs.

As it stands, the LMC has meted out sanctions to the offending clubs. It must continue to do so, and impose even stricter penalties. In conjunction, the clubs themselves must also move to sanction violent individuals and send out a message to would-be hoodlums. Anything less is a tacit endorsement of hooliganism in football.

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