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The NFF has not shown much commitment to ensuring a buoyant league while paying lip service to accountability and fairness in the running of the NPL

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By Akinbode Oguntuyi

The Nigeria Football Federation wastes no time in telling all that cares to listen, that “We are the custodians of anything football as it pertains  to any and all activities within the territories of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”, whenever the issues that concern football come up.

The NFF do not just stop at that declaration. The body, or its board as the case may be, have consistently shown it meant the business of “being in charge” at every opportunity: cue the zeal with which the NFF ‘stepped in’ and ‘ensured’ that “the right thing was done” in the matter of the Nigeria Premier League chairmanship elections; follow that with the way the board successfully intervened in the elections into the offices of the Nigeria National League; and top it up with the way the NFF used its considerable muscle to twist and bend congress resolutions and Football Constitution stipulations into shape, to carefully select who represents Women Football interests on the board.

What all these tell us, is that when it suits the purposes of the Nigeria Football Federation board members, certain decisions are easy to take, and they are taken speedily too. However, when it does not suit their agenda, it is okay to either completely ignore events that even the rhetorically blind can see, needs correction.

And this is where the case of Nigeria Premier League chairman, Victor Rumson Baribote comes to the fore.

Now, we are not accusing the Bayelsa chief of any misconduct, far from it: every man is innocent until convicted; but when those who can legitimately ask the questions (“…custodians of anything football as it pertains to any and all activities…”) refuse to even acknowledge that there is a problem, then stakeholders (please pardon the use of that abused term!) must say something.

A popular saying in Nigeria goes thus, “there is no smoke without fire”. Every rumour, no matter how silly, will have roots in one ridiculous fact. And the rumours flying around about Victor Rumson Baribote are plenty; and while it is no crime to have ‘enemies’ spreading rumours about you, it is almost criminal if the rumours are the only major things that are available as news, without any positives to counter the rumours.

That is where Baribote and the NFF stand accused.

The stories about the complicity of the NFF is the ‘removal’ of Davidson Owumi, and the ‘enthronement’ of Rumson Baribote on the NPL have been told over and again, there’s no need to rehash them here. But while many will agree that Owumi is not a saint – none of us is one by the way, it cannot be denied that while Owumi temporarily occupied the NPL chairmanship office, there was a degree of sanity in the way the affairs of the board were run.

Can Rumson Baribote claim the same?

The only news that has come from the offices of the NPL since Baribote won the elections has been bad news: money magically disappearing from the account of the NPL, and the accountant confessing but not prosecuted; the indemnity of referees not being paid; violence resurfacing in our venues again, after some years of calm; teams accusing each other of fixing matches; clubs complaining of being made to play too many matches; in-fighting between board members of the NPL; sponsorship matters still left hanging; the NPL chairman accused of plotting to have teams relegated and the NPL chairman almost engaging in fisticuffs with club officials…

If these are not reasons enough for the NFF, the body that has the oversight function on NPL, to look into that body, then what is?

All these while, the NFF had done the ostrich and buried its head in the sands, pretending that all is well with football at home. In fact, it can be argued that the sudden support and praise singing that Stephen Keshi enjoyed in the early days of his ‘home-based’ experiment was done so that the pollution that was in the NPL could be papered over: who would dare say the Nigeria Premier League is not doing well, when its players are travelling the globe, displaying raw skills to the admiration of the world? Maybe that is even why the Nigerian League was recently “declared” the ‘Best in Africa’ and ’24th best in the world’!

The fact of the case is: unless the NFF are prepared to concede that maybe they made a mistake during the process of electing the NPL chairman, and are willing to scrutinize the body, the Nigerian Premier League will be dragged back several years by the time Baribote’s tenure is over. Unless we see a radical change next season; this season is already a lost cause.

But it must be said; it didn’t start this way. The first and one good thing that the Baribote board did, was to ensure that the League kicked off on the day it was announced it would. That was a first in the recent history of the NPL. The league had never started on the advertised date before. However, the urge to ensure that the league ends in May/June, and thus be aligned with European Leagues, meant that the teams had to play a punishing schedule, despite having little time for close season and rest.

Now, with the season dragging to a close, many teams are still complaining about the shambolic way this campaign has been run from the NPL offices. How can Baribote salvage his tenure? How can the NFF help him, and by extension, help themselves?

The first obvious thing to do, is to start planning for next season NOW. If the lone good work of starting the season when it should, and ending when the rest of the world stop playing is to be achieved, the planners in the NFF and NPL MUST take a good look at the CAF and FIFA calendars, and draw up a schedule for the League and Federation Cup, with the FIFA and CAF dates in mind. These dates include date for CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup matches, as well as the qualifiers for the Nations and World Cup.

The shambolic fixtures we witnessed this season must never be allowed to repeat itself.

The second thing the NFF must do is to ensure that the 2012/2013 season does not start without a sponsor. It is disgraceful that “the best league in Africa” has gone almost two seasons without sponsorship. If it means the NFF and NPL will call the bluff of some companies and blacklist them, then so be it!

The third thing the NFF must do, is to closely monitor the activities of the NPL. At this moment, certain officials of the NPL parade themselves as tin-gods, behaving as if they are above the law. The NFF must know that for every bad decision the NPL takes, they get 80% of the blame.

The Nigerian league may not be the best organized in the world, but for the sake of the talented lads, coaches and families that make a honest living out of it, we must make it better.

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