Let us form breakaway League

By K. C. Omuojine Esq.

The crisis rocking the boat of the Nigerian Premier League is unsurprising.
However, it remains saddening that football administration in Nigeria is still plagued by this recurrent phenomenon.

Every league season comes with acrimonious transition and change in leadership, yet the solution needed to set local football on the path to development remains elusive.

The problem facing football administration in Nigeria is indeed a complex one and resolving it may require a radical approach.

Presently, there seems to be no focus whatsoever on the fundamental problem facing football administration in the country i.e. the legitimacy of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF and the Nigeria Premier League, NPL.

On 20th January, 2012 the Federal High Court, Abuja ruled that the NFF and the NPL are illegal bodies as presently constituted.

According to the court decision, Nigerian law recognizes only the NFA (Nigeria Football Association) established by the 2004 Act.

Until and unless that judgment is reversed, all the current bickering within the NPL could amount to nothing in the near future.

The NPL is threading on thin ice and all the power struggle would only make the ice give way faster.

The world football governing body, FIFA has laid down certain minimum standards that football associations, leagues and clubs are expected to meet, which are not met locally.

These rules include club licensing regulations and are aimed at safeguarding the credibility and integrity of club competitions. For instance, it is a standard requirement that a league cannot have two or more competing teams owned by a single party.

However, in the NPL where teams are mostly owned by state government, we consistently have more than one team from a single state competing in the same league. Also, even though the NPL Rules stipulate that government functionaries must not be part of club management, that rule remains unenforced. With regard to the NFF, as said earlier, the subsisting court judgment declared that Nigerian law recognises only the NFA.

Interestingly though, the law that establishes the NFA also falls short of FIFA requirements. The NFA Act empowers the Sports Minister to direct the Board to carry out such functions as he may consider necessary to facilitate the implementation of the provisions of the Act.

This provision is in clear violation of FIFA regulations which prohibit government or third party interference. The NFF statutes also contain provisions which do nothing to aid its legitimacy. In the first Article, it stipulates to be a public organisation in compliance with the laws of the Federation of Nigeria – a position which the court has made twaddle of.

The NFF statutes also purport to make the body a member of FIFA, CAF and WAFU. The truth however remains that local statute cannot confer membership of these international football regulatory bodies on any association. Football remains privately regulated internationally and it is only when local circumstances meet the minimum standards for membership that such status is accorded.

It is clear that football administration in Nigeria neither possesses legitimacy nor meets international minimum standard. Strictly speaking, football in Nigeria operates in a state of regulatory vacuum! Resolving this impasse requires a radical and audacious, yet simple approach. 

Since there is no legal or viable football regulatory body in the country, it is simply recommend that one be set up. It is instructive to note that a national football body recognisable by FIFA need not be created by law. Football governance is practically a private industry. The FA in England was formed after a meeting of football stakeholders, and as with the leagues and clubs in England, it is run as a private organisation. It is locally practical to have a scenario where a meeting of football stakeholders would be convened and a proper private regulatory body established to oversee the sport.

The new regulatory body, complete with incorporation and explicit rules and articles of association, would have the task of overseeing the sport based on a set of rules agreed upon and conforming to international requirements. The possibility of complexities arising from this approach is greatly reduced by the fact that none of the already existing bodies purporting to regulate football in the country have any legal or legitimate backing. Importantly, FIFA regulations invite confederations and member associations to take into account national laws and to adopt their own structure and relevant organisation according to the minimum requirements. Hence, in the event that a private regulatory body is established to fill the present vacuum and that body meets the minimum requirements, FIFA recognition cannot be hard to get.

On a smaller scale, a private breakaway league - somewhat similar to the English Premier League format – could be established. Elite clubs in England broke away from the pre-existing league body to form the EPL in the 1992/1993 season and the benefits have been immense. Such transition may not be as easy locally because, for instance, teams that competed in the last NPL season rarely met the standard requirements. The NPL Rules for the just concluded 2011/2012 season made the following requirements for participation:

Evidence of incorporation as a Limited Liability Company with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
Bankers full address
Operational and well equipped office with internet facilities.
Audited annual report.
List of management and Secretariat staff with their designations.
Medical certificate of each registered player and official authenticated by NPL recognized hospitals.
Signed copy of each player’s and official’s contracts with club;

Also, it was required that government functionaries such as Commissioners and Special Advisers should not be part of club management. However, apart from ABS FC, no other football club was privately-owned, being all state-owned and government-sponsored.

That alone shows a general distance from compliance with the laid down rules. Thus, in order to participate in a standard league, many clubs would have to completely metamorphose or new clubs registered that meet basic requirements.

Perennially, the local league has failed to attract sponsorship, followership or even cater for the players. A well-run private league enforcing minimum standards would introduce the efficiency associated with the private sector and cure the ills that have retarded the development of the local league.

The success of the South African Premier Soccer League experience is one that a leaf can be borrowed from.

The worst case scenario that could emerge from the above options is that there could be threats of withholding international recognition. However, the bottom line remains that there is a vacuum in football administration in Nigeria and if that vacuum is filled by a private body, jointly set up by football stakeholders, which meets the international minimum requirements, recognition will only be a matter of time.  

FIFA, predictably, would prefer an organisation that meets its requirements to one bedevilled with illegality and illegitimacy.

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  1. Very interesting piece. Its a fact that our local league would gather more followers if it is properly organised.

    The only way forward is through private participation. I hope the plan here comes to alive and EPL clubs become our second teams and not first team.

    All the best with this plan.

  2. A breakaway league is not close to their(football administrators)mind cos they are only interested in the government grants.