The 2015/2016 Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) has come and gone, leaving fond memories, especially for the accompanying theatrics that left indelible marks in fans’ memory.
It is obvious that the league is gradually worming itself back into the hearts of the football fans in the country which was not the feeling before when the league went to its lowest point.
The league’s matches began in Nigeria in 1972 with six teams with Mighty Jets of Jos winning the maiden edition.
On 12 May 1990 at the Onikan Stadium Lagos, the league was renamed “Professional League’’ with the goal to reposition the game and make the clubs self-sufficient.
Decrees 10 and 11 of 1989 that set up the defunct NFA also codified the introduction of professional football in Nigeria stipulates that professional clubs run as limited liability companies with each governed by a regularly constituted board of directors.
It also required it to hold annual general meetings, present independently audited accounts, cultivate youth/feeder teams and own
their own stadium within five years of registration with the Pro League Department.
In order to assist Pro League clubs in the timely achievement of these stated goals, all 56 professional clubs that constituted the inaugural Pro League First and Second Division were granted a five-year tax moratorium on all income starting from 1990.
The premier league era in Nigeria began in 2003 when the defunct Nigeria Football Association (NFA), then chaired by Ibrahim Galadima, inaugurated an Interim Committee to run the league.
After the 2006 competition, the league changed its calendar to more closely match the common European format regular season structure
starting around August and ending around May.
In 2012, the League Management Company was formed following the collapse of the Nigeria Premier League, organised by the Nigeria
Football League (NFL) as result of intractable legal, contractual, administrative and financial impediments.
The NFA, owner of the NPL then issued the League Management Company the license to organise and regulate the topmost tier of the league.
It is also saddled the LMC with meeting global technical and commercial standards. Consequently, Nduka Irabor became the first Chairman of the League Management Company.
At incorporation, the promoters of the LMC were allotted 25 per cent shares in compliance with the provision of the Nigeria Companies and Allied Matters Act, 1990.
The LMC at inception brought in innovations, including improved and better managed match indemnities for match officials and sanctions on clubs that failed to pay salaries and allowances to their players.
It also helped to get sponsorship deals from corporations such as telecommunications giant, Globacom Nigeria as well as TV Rights from SuperSports.
It also created live scores platforms where fans can follow and get update on match scores using their Twitter and Facebook accounts.
In 2015, the LMC solicited for financial support from the government to upgrade existing grounds and provide required broadcast equipment and facilities in the stadiums.
In 2012, the NPFL was ranked as the best in Africa and 24th best in the world by the IFFHS, the rating puts it a spot above the Scottish
Premier League for the year.
It must, however, be noted that on May 2013, telecommunications giant, Globacom signed a three-year contract with the league to become its title sponsor. Thus the league was officially known as “GLO Premier League’’
The last sponsorship agreement of Globacom started in the 2012/2013 league season. In the course of the season, the telecoms firm spent over N8 billion to promote the league.
With the coming of Shehu Dikko-led management, the league started a new ascendancy and innovations came into the competition.
The LMC increased the merit bonuses. In the 2013/2014 season for instance, the league winners, Kano Pillars, were awarded N15m while second placed Enyimba FC International of Aba got N11.25 million.
This translates to every club having 50 per cent more than what their league position earned in the 2012/2013 season.
It is, however, worthy of note that Enyimba and Rangers International of Enugu are arguably the most successful clubs in NPFL winning it seven times among them.
While Enyimba has won the league 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2015, Rangers followed with six league cups, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1981, 1982, 1984, and recently 2016.
Shooting Stars of Ibadan with four in 1976, 1980, 1983, 1995, 1998, and also, Iwanyanwu National later known as Heartland has won 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1993.
Heartland, which unfortunately, was relegated this year from the topflight since their debut in the Nigerian league in 1976, never left the competition.
It is also worthy of note that the last two league seasons witnessed a lot of fire power between the newcomers to the league and the old powerhouses.
The latest revelation is Giwa FC and Nasarawa United that defied all odds to have good records of away wins which has not been the
tradition of the league in Nigeria.
Statistics show that away wins by clubs rose to 33 per cent, the highest ever in the history of league matches in the country.
The 2015/2016 also witnessed the lowest number of crises by spectators.
In 2015/2016 league season, Enyimba had five away wins followed by Giwa. This showed an increase in the away wins.
However, the league in 2015/2016 also witnessed little setbacks as Giwa was expelled from the league on May 20.
Giwa’s sanction came on the heels of the club’s Match Day 12 fixture played on April 17 in Jos, where the club resorted to civil court to seek redress which distracted the league but LMC was able to curtail their excesses.
Another issue about the league is the allegation of biased officiating and highhandedness of which fans and clubs complained about the
Although crowd trouble at various league centres were reduced, fans claimed that violence were induced by poor officiating.
For instance, the match between Lagos-based MFM against 3SC of Ibadan was almost abandoned as a result of poor officiating which eventually earned MFM three match closed doors sanction.
Another example is Lagos-based Ikorodu United against 3SC which was also inconclusive due to crowd trouble over alleged poor officiating. Ikorodu was also banished to Abeokuta, Ogun as a result.
However, other school of thought believed that match officiating has greatly improved and so the standard of the league.
On the positives, the Nigerian league is now ranked as the best in Africa; in fact, it is a delight to watch league games on the Pay TV Supersports which beams it live on its dedicated channels.
Match venues now witness overflowing of spectators as fans now troop to stadia to cheer their darling team as against the former apathy
showed to local league matches.
Another highlight from the just-concluded league was the promotion of the two Lagos-based teams; Ikorodu United and MFM to the premier league which obviously returned premiership football to its base, Lagos.
The two Lagos-based teams presented the fans in the cosmopolitan city the opportunity to watch their darling teams play without necessarily travelling to their respective states before watching them.
A vivid example was the match between Kano Pillars and MFM in the Match Day 8. The match witnessed overflowing influx of spectators to Agege Township Stadium. This is a positive development for the league.
As part of its efforts to also improve the standard of the league, the LMC on April 26, 2016 signed a five-year technical and commercial
partnership with the Spanish League Board (LFP) in Abuja.
On the gains of the partnership, the LMC Chairman, Dikko, said it “marks the beginning of a journey through a new road hitherto not travelled in an effort to deliver on our mandate to improve the quality and fortunes of the NPFL’’.
The first gain of the partnership is the playing tour of the NPFL All-Stars team against some Spanish clubs which obviously provided the right exposure to the players and the technical team.
“It will transcend beyond football to other areas and while we shall be relying on the expertise of the La Liga to improve our league, we
also have something to offer which will benefit the Spanish league,’’ he said.
Lastly LMC was able to improve on the prize money for the winners of this year’s league which is also good.
The winners, Rangers, got N40m from the Merit Award of the LMC totalling N200m, pool set aside by the body as reward for final position on the league table at the end of the season.
Last season, the highest pay-out from the Merit Award which went to Enyimba International was N30m from a total pool of N150m and this
year’s figure of N200m represents an increase of 25%.
The Merit Award pool has been witnessing an annual progression from N50m in 2012/13 to N75m in 2013/14 and now N200m.
The top three clubs on the final table usually received the chunk of the Merit Award which supports the clubs financially in their
preparation for the CAF Club competitions the next season.
According to figures released by the LMC, the champions received N90m in all direct payments for the 2016 season.
This includes the Basic Award which comprises of pool of funds shared equally amongst all the 20 participating clubs, the Merit award
paid to clubs based on their final position on the table.
The Football Development and the Bonus award which is paid to clubs based on performances, including incentives for improving match attendance, away wins/draw, fielding players under the age of 18 and hosting live broadcast matches.
The lowest placed team in the NPFL this season, thus, received up to N55m in direct payments from the LMC from all payment
The LMC explained that “in addition to the direct payments clubs also benefit from other indirect payments such as free registration of players and officials.
The package will also include free insurance, payment of match officials’ indemnities and hotel accommodation as well as sponsored
seminars and other engagements funded by the LMC.
The fans, clubs and players alike are happy that the welfare of players has been adequately catered for and there seems to be no rancour between the employers and the employed.
Obviously, good times are here again in the annals of football in Nigeria and it is hoped that LMC will keep up the momentum for the growth of professional league in Nigeria.