I am wondering if this should be about Nigerian football generally, or the Nigerian League because I am here thinking that Nigerian football is okay.
After all, the Super Eagles have qualified for six out of the last seven World Cups and they were in the AFCON semi finals last year. We also project that they can get to the semi finals of the World Cup in 2022 so times are good, really good.
Our players in Europe are doing well- Victor Osimhen just signed a mouth watering deal to join Napoli and many of our foreign born players are scrambling to play for us so how better can our football be?
So, it is easy for us to fold our arms, rest on our sofas and beds, then smile to ourselves and say, “All is well,” right?
But, no! Football is dead in Nigeria. The league is gone and I believe I know the grave where it was buried.
Let me tell you something.
The media destroyed the League
As much as journalists in Nigeria like to blame “Incompetent” club chairmen and government for the death of the Nigerian League, it is them, the media that is to blame.
I have been watching English football since 1979 and I must tell you that it was not pleasing to the eyes at that time. It was a borefest, but we watched it anyway, those of us that had access.
Did you ever hear of kick and follow football? They played the worst form of it. It was not even just about the unattractive nature of their football, but the violence in the stands before, during and after games.
When the English, in those days asked a question like, “Will there be a bit of bother?” it was like the Nigerian asking today, “E be like hand go touch person for stadium today.”
There was hardly a game that passed by without bother or fans violence, but did you see the media in the UK turn around and disparage their league? No!
They rather convinced themselves that it was the best and most exciting League in the World and continued to push their campaign. Their players were/ are always the best; their clubs the best; their league the best; their organisation the best.
And you must agree that people will have a way of believing what the media continuously says to them.
But let us look at the Nigerian situation.
The Nigerian media will accuse their English counterparts of over hyping their players and league, yet what do we do here? The complete opposite of that.
Our media basically blacked out the Nigerian League. Back in the day, Complete sports would give us catchy headlines from the League, same as Sports Souvenir and the others, but now? You will struggle to see one page of the Nigerian League in the newspapers.
One thing I know is that a war that is fought by the media may be won, but as soon as the media gives up on a cause, it is a lost one.
I believe the media in Nigeria gave up on the League long ago. Can I show you the grave?
The corporate world
The question of the media and corporate world would be like the argument of which came first between the chicken and the egg.
The corporate world began to look towards foreign and National Team football rather than the league, while the media house owners would tell you that they are here to make profit and cannot do it when the big companies would not put their money except on foreign football.
The corporate world would tell you that every time they read about the league online it was stories of fans violences, referees who were on the take, court cases and all other negatives you can imagine, hence their decision to look the other way.
But did the telecommunications companies, betting, beverages and foods see the League as their project? Certainly not.
It was easier and safer to put their money in Europe that had some safety, rather than in the NPFL which was their own.
ITV held exclusive rights to English football having paid forty four million pounds for a four year period between 1988 and 1992, but BSkyB came in the early 90s with bid worth more than three hundred millions.
They did this, not because they had assurances that it would be a success, rather it was a project they had to be part of.
Every time I watch cable television I see Nigerian banks, betting companies, hospitality concerns, beverage companies etc advertise their products and services. It is clear where the grave of Nigerian football is.
A lot of people want to blame government for the death of the League but I have struggled for a long time not be be part of the bandwagon.
Government have provided infrastructure for these clubs, just like it is in other climes. The same government here have owned clubs and did not at any point stop Nigerian business men from doing same, so where did government go wrong?
What is that tired old cliché used by the Nigerian media (Those people again?).
The media will say something like, “Putting square pegs in round holes” and that has been the problem of sports and football in Nigeria.
There is the case of an influential politician in a south south state in Nigeria who was promised a role as commissioner for one of his sons if a particular government wins the elections and they did.
He wanted one of his sons to be a made that commissioner and when it was time he went to the young man to tell him he was going to be appointed, his ward asked him what ministry it would be and he responded that it was sports.
From the way we heard it, the young man revolted that he could not be a well schooled lawyer and be given an appointment into what he called an “Area Boys’” ministry so he rejected it.
The shocked father, hearing for the first time that sports was for area boys, looked around his other sons and called up the one that mostly behaved like an area boy to submit his name to be a commissioner in that state and he was soon announced by the governor and sworn in.
Whether this story is true or not is none of your business, but just get the moral of the story. Sports ministry is seen as an area boys ministry so most governors are not careful over who they appoint there.
The football clubs in Nigeria have some astute men running them, but a lot of times they hit a stumbling block in policy with the man that finances them.
Have the government put the right people to run sports and football in their states? Who are the state FA chairmen? Where did they come from? What was their track record?
I see a grave. That is where Nigerian football has been buried.
The club owners
By the club owners, I am talking about the real ones, not the club chairmen or the club General Managers, but the real people who own the club and this is no disrespect to the gentlemen we currently know.
Those who argue for government killing the league will attest to the fact that it is a ratio of 18:2 in favour of government ownership of clubs in the league and will tell you that the individual cannot survive in such an environment where he is being chocked by the government club and their massive spending, but let me take you back, down memory lane.
There was a time in the Nigerian top division that the most influential clubs were owned by the private sector and not the government.
In the 80s, the Nigerian League had such clubs as Abiola Babes, Leventis United, Iwuanyanwu Nationale, Stationery Stores, Flash Flamingoes and Julius Berger FC ruled the local scene, but they never cared about structures. They never built legacies that would last. Later there were the likes of Jasper United, Obanta United, and Udoji United.
The owners of these clubs could have changed the face of Nigerian League football just like the English Football League changed to the EPL, but they were either more interested in mainstream party politics or they were just completely clueless regarding how professional football should be run.
The actions or lack of it by the real club owners paved the way for the mess we see today.
The privately run clubs could no longer sustain themselves and continued to disappear from the scene. Today’s privately run clubs in the NPFL have been a sorry mess.
I see a grave.
The fans in Nigeria are not different from other Nigerians so what happened to them did not in any way surprise me.
In the 70s and 80s, we had packed stadiums for our league games then suddenly, they began to disappear.
Was it the entry of European football? Was it the media who began to push a different cause, or was it just that the fans got tired? Got tired of what, really?
Remember when Europeans first came into West Africa more than eight hundred years ago? It was easy to abandon everything that belonged to us to follow them.
We abandoned our way of life for theirs, our religion for theirs, our education for theirs, and our language for theirs.
Everything they did was good, and everything we previously did became bad. For more than 800 years we have been following the European way of life against ours, so what made any of you think that we would not abandon our league for that of the European. I see a grave.
The Nigerian League is dead. Whatever we try to do now is an attempt at resurrection. The Christian Bible tells us that Jesus Christ died and rose after three days. It has taken a while for the Nigerian League to do so, but we wait, hopefully.