Enyimba vs Tornadoes: When legality becomes untenable

By Ufuoma Egbamuno

I haven’t been this angry about issues in Nigeria football in a long time. To be honest, if you follow Nigerian football religiously, nothing would shock you.

After all, we are in a country where thousands of dollars got missing from the office of the Nigeria Football Federation and years after, we still do not know who took the cash.

But, when at a few minutes past 4pm on Thursday evening, I saw a post on a WhatsApp group that Enyimba Football Club had been exonerated by the League Management Company (LMC) after the club fielded an ineligible player, Ikechukwu Ibenegbu, in a game against Niger Tornadoes, my rage knew no bounds.

First, I didn’t believe it so I went to the website of the LMC to read the statement to be certain. Well, as I checked the website, there it was staring me in the face:
 “…suspension notices are sent to both clubs involved in any match in question in order for disputes over eligibility of players to be addressed prior to the match. Note that where a protest is made against the eligibility of a player prior to a match and the other team insists on fielding such player, upon confirmation that the player was ineligible, it would likely be established that the team intentionally featured such a player as envisaged under Rule C5”, read the LMC decision signed by Salihu Abubakar, the Chief Operating Officer.

To break this down, Enyimba fielded an ineligible player; Tornadoes protested after losing; LMC investigates; Enyimba say they didn’t get notice and so exploit a clause in rule which says teams can only be punished if they field ineligible player INTENTIONALLY; Tornadoes lose protest; Enyimba gets reprieve; and we all live happily ever after.

Well, not so fast!

LMC duly acknowledged in the statement that notices were sent to both clubs.
Tornadoes got theirs. Enyimba didn’t.

Was the notice sent by email?
Or was it hard copy?
How did the LMC prove that Enyimba didn’t get theirs?

What if Tornadoes say they only got the notice after the game and so could not have had the knowledge to put their protest prior to the game?

How come the match commissioner on duty didn’t have a record of suspended players since it was one of the issues usually discussed at pre-match meetings?
More so, don’t clubs have secretaries whose duty it is to keep records?

Between 4 pm and 7pm that Thursday, I couldn’t control my anger. It was evident as I tried to ask these questions above on my radio show.

I couldn’t understand how a club can categorically claim not to know their player was ineligible for a game and do so without any form of remorse whatsoever.
Understandably, the wordings of the LMC rule means teams can exploit it. Here’s what the rule says:

“If it is established that, a team intentionally featured a player who had earlier received five (5) yellow cards or red card before the match in question, the affected team will lose 3 points 3 goals to its opponent.”

The key word there is INTENTIONAL!

Enyimba, by claiming not to have received the notification from the LMC, argued that it didn’t know the player in question was on 5 yellows and so fielded the player in error.

How convenient!

Real Madrid were a couple of years ago thrown out of the Copa del Rey for fielding Denis Cheryshev. Their two appeals based on the fact they didn’t know their player was banned (INTENTIONAL) was thrown out by not only by the Spanish Football Federation, but by the Spanish Sports Tribunal.

If that is so far away, Cape Verde defender Fernando Verela was red carded and given a 4 match ban for unsporting behavior. His country fielded him in a shock 2:0 win over Tunisia in a World Cup qualifier when he still had one more suspension. Their plea that they didn’t know (INTENTIONAL again) fell on deaf ears as FIFA’s hammer came down. Tunisia - whose coach Nabil Maaloul had resigned prior to this decision because he felt he had already disappointed his nation – progressed to the final stage of the African qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup.

However, these two cases don’t have their rule books written with the word INTENTION ingrained in it I suppose.

It meant the Spanish Federation and FIFA could take the correct decision to throw out the respective teams from the competition.

And just when I thought I had calmed down, something triggered it again the next morning.

As I returned from the salon on Friday morning, I caught a re-run of Naija Made – The Supersport show that deals with everything Nigeria football.

Thankfully, almost immediately the presenter Chisom Mbonu brought up the Enyimba/Tornadoes issue.

I sat and watched as all 3 analysts – top broadcasters Ralph Chidozie George; Aikhoje Ojeikere and football administrator Dominic Iorfa – all try to put almost all the blame on Tornadoes for not protesting prior to the match as the LMC rules dictate.

As shown above, going by the LMC rules, those arguments count.

But I expected more.

To my greatest shock, not one sentence was uttered to reprimand Enyimba’s negligence.

Not one sentence to criticize the lack of professionalism exhibited by Enyimba and by extension all clubs in the league.

That was when it dawned on me why I was so livid the previous day.

The fact that all three analysts and by extension most of us were more concerned with the legality or not of Tornadoes’ protest and less concerned about the shocking lack of professionalism by a 7 time Nigerian champion and 2 time African King is indeed the height of absurdity.

The last time I checked, ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law.

I can accept the LMC verdict to an extent if the league regulator made the mistake of not sending notice to both clubs. Then we can majorly blame the league regulator since we’ve come to accept the lack of professionalism from our clubs as the norm.

But, it did!

Only that, Enyimba didn’t get theirs. Allegedly, the mail the LMC sent went into the junk folder of Enyimba.

Like I asked earlier, how did the LMC prove this?

Trust me; even my 4 year old nephew won’t buy that line of reasoning or excuse.
But alas, the LMC did.

In an ideal world, if the LMC wanted to avoid awarding boardroom points for this misdemeanor, the least they could have done was to strip Enyimba of the points they got and award to no one or better still, call for a replay.

I know the rule as written now, accepts the decision it took; but common sense should allow that a culprit faces sanction right?

Or we accept that the LMC suspending Ibenegbu for Enyimba’s next game against FC Ifeanyi Ubah and Tornadoes accepting its decision is good enough punishment?

See, when we move two steps forward and one step back, as demonstrated by this legal but ridiculous LMC decision, you understand why our teams cannot be placed in the same wavelength as their North and South African colleagues.

You also understand how Club Africain of Tunisia can sign a sponsorship deal worth a reported $35 million but a reigning league champion in Nigeria would celebrate winning a trophy after 32 years with a truck so dirty, you could literally puke just looking at it.

Bottom line, this Enyimba/Tornadoes tussle should have served an opportunity to enforce discipline amongst clubs.
However, just like El Kanemi Warriors escaped points’ deduction some seasons ago; just like clubs get a slap on the wrist despite continuous violence in some venues; the LMC has gone the easy route: hide under legality and their rule framework and exonerate a culprit.

A REAL SHAME!




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7 comments:

  1. Thanks Fosoko for this article, please no one should complain that our local teams are not doing well in the continent. We are products of our decisions and we will live with them.

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  2. Stuff like this is what makes me skeptical if there's ever going to be real progress with Nigerian football because things like this count but we take it with levity.

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  3. You're spot on my brother I honestly think the Enyimba secretary don't know secretariate job.

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  4. You're spot on my brother I honestly think the Enyimba secretary don't know secretariate job.

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  5. Ufuoma,

    You needn't be angry. The problem with most of us who have criticized the decision has been a failure to appreciate the spirit and letters of that Rule C5 which is simply to avoid entrapment and promote fair play. You have rightly noted that the LMC did not do anything wrong in the application of the rule and you also rightly pointed to the difference between the NPFL Rule and the LaLiga Rule which some others have ignorantly used against the LMC. You will agree with me that even in the most feisty legal battles, each party is expected to make full disclosure and not spring surprises on opponents. This is what Niger Tornadoes attempted to do and you asked what if it came to their knowledge after the match? It still does not nullify the decision which was premised on the act being committed intentionally and this requires that the offending club had been duly notified and reminded. You are angry that a Enyimba, a seven time champion of the league did not show professionalism but you condoned Real Madrid, a global iconic club that by your own reference committed same offence. Application of double standards, I dare say. The problem we always have with some writers is the fixation on blame game rather than contributing to the building of better institution. One of the lessons the LMC learnt from this saga is that like CAF did after the Cape Verde incident, Match Commissioners should henceforth be provided copies of suspended players so that they will be the ones to eliminate such players from the list. This will ensure that whether a clubs is professional or not by your standard, the situation will be nipped from the start. At the moment, the LMC has set up monitoring teams in the office assigned to follow up clubs and match commissioners on particular fixtures. They not only remind clubs of the suspension of any player but also updates the Match Commissioners. There is no perfect institution or individual and on the part of the LMC, it will continue to seek ways to improve on regulatory functions from field experiences and also from developments in other leagues globally.

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  6. Dear sir Iwuala, you're someone I respect a lot and have learnt from. However, it would be great if you represented my comments accurately.

    Here's what I said about Real Madrid:
    "
    Real Madrid were a couple of years ago thrown out of the Copa del Rey for fielding Denis Cheryshev. Their two appeals based on the fact they didn’t know their player was banned (INTENTIONAL) was thrown out by not only by the Spanish Football Federation, but by the Spanish Sports Tribunal."

    I can't find anything here that "condoned" Real Madrid as you stated. Instead I tried to show what fate befalls anyone who doesn't do the right thing.

    As for proferring solutions, I think my piece also asked why match commissioners don't have the required stats. Glad to know this and many others asking has seen a planned change by the LMC.

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  7. How come panelist expect Tornados to protest before the game, the rule says if a club featured a player with 5 yellow cards/red card.can a team featured such player before the match????

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