|NPL Chairman, Davidson Owumi|
Finally and after a lot of postponements and disappointments the Nigerian League kicks off today with a star match in Kaduna between Kaduna United and Kano Pillars.
But for a League that was postponed first for no reason tangible whatsoever, then postponed again because the Nigeria Football Federation felt a side that was relegated three months earlier should not have been relegated, then postponed a third time because there was nobody to appoint referees for League matches then you should know that Nigeria’s League may just be one big joke. It actually is.
I am typing this piece on Thursday for publication today (Saturday) and I am here praying that before publication the League will not be postponed maybe because a senator somewhere is about to marry a third wife or a governor’s son wants to use a stadium for his birthday bash.
But I slow down here on disparaging the Nigerian League. After all it is a League I have watched since 1984 and it is one I will continue to watch in a very long time.
I do this every year just when the League season is about to start and the idea is to let the Nigeria Premier League remember the mistakes of past seasons and hope they do not make them again.
Three seasons ago, we saw a lot of “magic” in the course of the league; things that would not happen anywhere else in the world.
In week 1 of the 2007/08 season we saw a player, David Tyevkase get a red card playing for Lobi Stars against Akwa United and he played in week 2 against Enyimba when it was already announced by the disciplinary committee that he would be suspended for the second match of the season.
When the Enyimba people protested, the NPL said they upturned the suspension during the week… without making a public announcement?
In another week, when Enyimba were at home against Wikki, the score was 2-2 and Enyimba put pressure on Wikki leaving their defence open.
A fast break from Wikki saw Ibrahim Babale face to face with Enyimba’s goalkeeper; as he got ready to shoot, a ball boy threw another ball into the pitch.
The referee then disallowed what would have been Wikki’s winning goal in Aba because there were two balls in the pitch at the time the goal was scored.
The ball boy was expelled but it seemed they had all been briefed because Wikki made another incursion and just as Rabiu Baita shot the ball, another ball boy threw a ball into the pitch but this time the keeper parried Baita’s shot for a corner.
The match eventually ended 2-2 and Wikki were the losers because they should have won the match.
In another week in Port Harcourt, Bayelsa United had to come with their own armed police (some say it was the Joint Task Force, JTF which included the army) because they thought they or the referee would be harassed by Sharks fans if they got a result.
The game ended in a draw and Bayelsa thought their decision to come with their own armed police and army paid off.
Yet in another week, a Lobi Stars player, Timothy Anjembe left his football duties on the pitch to slap a ball boy and then other ball boys gave him the beating of his life, all in a Nigerian Premier League match.
In the very first week of the same season, Bendel Insurance had two different teams line up to play against Heartland because of an ownership tussle between Chief Ekhosuehi and the sports commissioner, Brown Ebewele. They were walked over at home and subsequently relegated.
When Enyimba hosted Bayelsa United, the center referee, a certain Philip Afam passed out on the pitch with the game in the 85th minute. He was later diagnosed as being epileptic and one asks how he qualified for his FIFA badge and still remained an active referee?
All that was three seasons ago, now two seasons ago we saw the shame of the century on live television when Enyimba fans pounced on referees in a game against Heartland in Aba.
We watched as the referee was pounded by irate fans. He lost four teeth after that attack and I got calls from outside Nigeria from friends who watched the game asking if that was how we played football in Nigeria.
It was still in that season two years ago that the manager of Sharks, Kadiri Ikhana was beaten up by fans after a league game against Kaduna United in Kaduna.
Rather than sanction the home side, the NPL chairman, Oyuiki Obaseki was quoted as saying “Ikhana was not beaten up, they just slapped him,” and it made me wonder then if slapping coaches and managers was now allowed in the Nigerian league. If so, how many slaps are permitted per game?
Still on that season two years ago, we saw how fans of Akwa United chased out television cameras from their stadium because they did not want the game on television.
Now why would fans of a Premier League club not want their game on television? Why?
That same season, League Champions Bayelsa United did not have any home game on television until their penultimate one.
Even when they clashed with second placed side, Heartland in the course of the season, Supersport, the TV rights owners preferred to show another inconsequential game and you wonder whether there was a racket to have your games played at home without television presence.
The just ended football season was even worse as Enyimba, the eventual champions decided not to continue a league game in Akure against Sunshine because they felt the referee was wrong in some of his decisions.
In less than 30 minutes of play there had been 5 yellow cards to Enyimba, two penalties against them and a red card and while they protested the second penalty decision, the referee called off the game (which was in line with the rules and regulations of the league in Nigeria).
Enyimba appealed and had the game replayed but after that land mark decision was taken by the NPL other clubs started abandoning matches as soon as decisions went against them.
In Enugu, Heartland stopped playing against Rangers because a penalty was called against them; in Bauchi, Bayelsa stopped playing against Wikki Tourists because two penalties were given to the home side, the first was in fact taken three times before Wikki Tourists scored.
In Minna, Ocean Boys stopped playing at 1-0 down against Tornadoes because according to one Ocean Boys’ player, “a Tornadoes player told me on the field that they had it all planned to beat us 7-0.”
In Makurdi, Kano Pillars refused to continue playing against Lobi Stars because, “A fan of Lobi Stars poured white powder on our players’ faces while they were in the bus and since we did not know what that white powder was we decided not to play anymore.”
Some people reading this will doubt I am serious but it is actually the Nigerian horror League. Our League body sanctioned that all those matches be replayed but what did their rule books say about refusing to play a League game that is already started?
Article 4.1(3) If a club refuses to continue with a game for a period of up to one hundred and twenty seconds (120) in a match or till the expiration of full time of any half of the game or walks off the pitch, the club shall be liable to a fine of N10, 000,000.00 (about $66,000) payable before the club’s next match. In addition, 3 points and 3 goals shall be deducted from already accrued points of the club.
4.1(4) the match shall be rescheduled and the club responsible for the abandonment shall pay all expenses in connection with the rescheduled match.
My point here is- did Enyimba pay ten million naira for refusing to continue that game against Sunshine? Did they pay any expenses to Sunshine Stars in lieu of the abandoned match?
Did the NPL at any point deduct 3 points and 3 goals from Enyimba’s haul? No! Because there was foul play and a loop hole which other clubs saw and started abandoning matches immediately a decision went against them.
Maybe if the management of Kano Pillars had any sense they would have protested against Enyimba winning the League because the NPL rules and regulations say 3 points and 3 goals should have been taken off Enyimba’s haul.
But again, Pillars couldn’t protest because they also refused to play a game against Lobi Stars, didn’t they?
The Nigerian League is a real mess and I do not see that changing in the near future unless of course, the Davidson Owumi led NPL board determine to work hard this time.
I can talk on and one about the Nigerian League and I can also mention some positives because there are a lot of positives that come out of the league but I want to focus on the negatives today so the current NPL board will sit up.
I love the Nigerian League and I want it to grow and my cry to the board is- PLEASE SAVE OUR LEAGUE! I look forward to when our stands and terraces will be filled to capacity like in the 80s and 90s because that is where we want it to be.
Davidson Owumi and the rest, please save the Nigerian League. The mess is not your fault, but we will blame you if you can’t rescue the League. The world is now watching and has taken note.