Sports Minister Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi
By Duro Ikhazuagbe
Sports Minister and Chairman of the National Sports Commission (NSC), Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, took another bold step Tuesday to return sanity to domestic club football.
Against a backdrop of players and coaches being owed backlog of salaries and sign on fees and decision on infractions overturned by the Organising and Disciplinary. Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), the minister warned Tuesday that such behaviours must stop for the league to make progress.
At a meeting with the League Management Company and the NFF in his office at the Abuja National Stadium Tuesday evening, Abdullahi expressed anger at how such actions have reduced the value of the domestic professional league.
He therefore directed the NFF to ensure that all football clubs participating in various football leagues in the country pay the backlogs of salaries owed players.
According to him, teams that are unable or unwilling to pay should be barred from participating in the leagues as from next season.
“This has to stop. We cannot behave as if we live in a jungle. Every kobo owed the players must be paid. Players must have proper contracts.”
He made these comments against the background of a news report about the FCT Queen of Abuja players who are owed 18 months salaries and who, according to the report, have resorted to begging to make ends meet.
On the decisions taken by the LMC regarding teams that manhandled match officials but got such decisions reversed by the NFF's O and D committee, the minister insisted that such irrational actions were unacceptable and capable of driving away sponsors and partners of the league.
Chairperson of the Nigerian Women League, Dilichukwu Onyedinma, who incidentally is also Chairperson of the FCT Queen, explained while making a presentation at the meeting that the players had not been paid because of bureaucratic bottleneck, the same problem confronting most of the state government funded teams in both the Glo Premier League and the Nationwide League.
She however hinted that the FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed had approved the salaries of the players but didn’t know why they had not been paid.
Onyedinma further disclosed that though the Nigerian Women League faced many challenges, it was making steady but slow progress.
"For the first time ever, we have started the first Women Premier League in Nigeria,” she said.
Chairman of the League Management Company, Hon Nduka Irabor, said that the LMC was putting systems in place to ensure that clubs pay sufficient attention to the welfare of footballers.
“I have pictures of the living condition of some of our footballers, it is shameful and makes mockery of the professional league. It is no wonder that our players keep going overseas to seek greener pastures.”
He however stated that the LMC was considering several measures to improve the welfare of footballers including implementing a minimum wage.
“By the rules, no club should pay a footballer less than N100, 000. Although that may not be very sufficient with inflation, we will start by implementing that,” Irabor, who was at the meeting with LMC members Salihu Abubakar, Shehu Dikko and Seyi Akinwunmi, also spoke of the progress the league body had made, including designing a corporate governance structure for the league administration, producing a guidelines for restructuring of clubs to function as legal, corporate and commercial entities, and ensuring that premier League clubs have feeder teams.
Other members of the NFF board at Tuesday's meeting with the minister include, Chris Green and Emeka Inyama.
Meanwhile, the NSC boss has earlier in the day reassured stakeholders that the Abuja National Stadium will be ready for use by the end of August.
The minister who gave this hint in Abuja was however quick to note that he would have no say on where the Eagles would play their World Cup qualifier against Malawi in September.
"I had pledged that the Abuja National Stadium would be ready by the end of August and God willing we will keep to our promise," Abdullahi said.
"As you can see the stadium pitch is taking shape every passing day.
"However I cannot say whether or not the Eagles next game would be at the Abuja Stadium. It is up to the Eagles coach and the NFF to decide where to hold the game."
Nigeria takes on Malawi on September 6 in a decisive World Cup qualifier that will determine who grabs Group F ticket to the last knock out phase of the African qualifiers. Winners of the 10 groups are to be paired for a two legged knock out matches to decider the five representatives of the continent at the Brazil 2014 mundial next year.
Eagles have so far played all their homes games in the series in Calabar.