Nigeria Premier League is Nigeria’s elite league. Aiming at capturing the interest of the larger society, the embattled NPL is striving within its power to achieve its mandate of producing good players. KINGSLEY OPURUM writes that the harder the managers of NPL try, the more difficult the realization of the dream becomes.
The Nigeria Premier League was established in 1972 under the auspices of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) with the principal intention of running football at home. But the NPL, as the highest level of domestic Nigerian football, is yet to live up to expectation of Nigerians.
The distinct idea behind NPL is to return the interests of Nigerians from European Leagues into their own league. Sadly, this idea has not been achieved.
Some Nigerian football analysts have faulted the astronomical level of interests Nigerians have shown in European leagues especially, the English Premier League, as the reason the league is still crawling rather than walking. They believe Nigerians should also show similar level of interests in the local league.
It is common knowledge that the European leagues are well organized so deserves the attention. No wonder the level of entertainment and excitement. Due to their level of organization, European Leagues are regarded as the pacesetters and trailblazers.
Painfully, Nigeria Premier League has fallen short of the international football standard in all ramifications. It is indeed wallowing in shambles and lacking in organization. A lot of work needs to be done to thoroughly rejig the structure of NPL.
The composition and method of entry which is based more on clique mentality than professionalism must be addressed. Because of that, both officials and clubs owners are now the chief architects of the league’s fall in standard.
Originally, Nigerian music never received much attention and interest from Nigerians. Foreign music was the craze sweeping Nigeria in the 90s, but today, the story is completely different. Nigerians are crazy about their music. Nigerian music receives a tremendous global attention and interest.
Nigerian music has outshone foreign music and precipitated it into oblivion in Nigeria. Another example is Nollywood. Nollywood has also made a far-reaching global impact that has catapulted it to the third largest movie industry in the world.
This is the same idea behind the establishment of the NPL; to supplant European leagues in Nigeria, to stimulate Nigerians to be supremely crazy about their domestic league but that aim is being defeated.
Nigeria is never lacking in football talents. As a matter of fact, there are exceptional football talents in Nigeria but bereft of encouragement and husbandry. These prodigious football talents in Nigeria are vividly scarce in some countries of the world where the little they have are well harnessed and maximized.
One of the underlining factors retarding the development of Nigeria Premier League is the alleged endemic corruption in the system. NPL and NFF officials are believed to be more enthusiastic about enriching themselves at the expense of the growth of the league.
Last month, an NPL accountant was apprehended by the Nigerian police over a missing N12m and other previous embezzlement cases that has plunged the body into financial quagmire. It is mind boggling to note that the clubs have been shouldering the responsibility for match expenses.
Another disturbing problem militating against the improvement of NPL is lack of implementation of stringent rules and regulations. NPL matches have become the epicentre of violence and bedlam. In as much as there are strict rules guiding Nigeria Premier League, violence has continued to rock NPL matches.
Players and fans assault match officials and go scot-free. Players attack their co-players with impunity. The frenzy of violence and lawlessness in NPL matches is assuming astronomical proportions. Indiscipline among players and clashes during football matches are becoming an institutionalized custom in the league.
The Supervisory Minister of Sports, Abdullahi Bolaji promised sweeping reforms in the sector. Most importantly, he said he has detected some major problems with the NPL and has vowed to address them decisively by retooling the entire system. Nigerians are anxiously waiting for the invigorating and revamping of NPL by the minister.
The latest spate of football violence in the league is the match between Gombe United and Heartland FC last week Sunday, where the Gombe United fans invaded the pitch immediately after the match and attacked Heartland Players, but the good news was that no casualty was recorded.
The match between Kwara United and Sunshine Stars FC on Saturday, which was said to be worse than that of Gombe-Heartland violence because it involved severe fisticuffs and use of weapons is also another. Match officials and Supersport crew were also assaulted at the scene.
There were a lot of casualties and vehicles were damaged in the course of the bedlam. It was revealed that NFF fined Kwara United the sum of N2m for violence and assault of match officials. It has banished Kwara United from its home stadium to Abuja stadium indefinitely. NPL also deducted three points from their 18 points; this has made the club drop from fifth to seventh position on the table.
In the same vein, NFF have fined Sunshine Stars the sum of N2m for confiscating the Supersport crew’s camera and the video clip of the match while Sunshine Stars manager has been suspended indefinitely over last week’s match violence. In the interim, their matches will be played behind closed doors, according to the NFF and NPL.
Observers believe if the NPL fails to address violence in match venues, especially with the increasing wave of security problems in the north, Egypt’s recent experience where almost one hundred fans died in a stampede may occur.
To serve as deterrence, erring clubs must be allowed to face sanctions. Moreso, if Nigeria Premier League really wants to be extricated from its nadir and attain at least 60% of international football standard, there has to be an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability within its fold.