Former NPL Chairman, Victor Rumson Baribote
Once again a major crisis has broken out in one of the bodies governing the ‘beautiful game’ in Nigeria – with the key players in the domestic game, the Nigeria Professional League (NPL) at daggers drawn.
The world’s most popular sport (football) has hardly known peace in the world’s most populous black nation with the game lurching from one calamity after another be it the overall governing body in the land, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), the amateur league body and so on.
Although the NFF is the ‘king’ when it comes to self inflicted woes (remember the ‘Stakeholders’; the pressure group backed by powerful forces behind the scenes that was able to defy even FIFA and oust the Alhaji Ibrahim Galadima-led NFA Board?), perhaps the current peace in the Glass House will see fault lines developing when it is time for the next Board elections?
The simmering feud in the NPL finally boiled over last week Wednesday when a number of club executives met in Abuja before the scheduled Congress to announce to the world that they had removed Victor Rumson Baribote as Chairman.
The ink had barely dried on the communiqué announcing their decision when the ‘parent body’, NFF overruled them saying they had no right to take the action they did. (Of course the NFF Congress in Port Harcourt has subsequently endorsed the dissolution of the Baribote-led NPL board).
Then on Monday the ‘NPL Board’ waded in an asked their chairman to ‘step aside’ pending the outcome of the investigation of allegations of impropriety levelled against him.
According to the ‘Board’ while he (Baribote) is on the side line, the vice chairman, Alhaji Shehu Garba Gusau will assume duty as Acting Chairman, pending the outcome of the report of a three-man investigation Committee.
The decision was contained in the communiqué issued by six members of the board after a marathon meeting at the NPL secretariat in Abuja.
While publically they (Board) will tell the world they are trying to ‘save’ the domestic game in the country, pointing to the fact that the league is still without a sponsor after two years (incidentally it was the same Board that voted to throw open the sponsorship bid after having already accepted an offer from a South African-based telecommunications firm!), the underlining factors are actually far from this.
Like most of the previous ‘football battles’ the bone of contention are bloated egos, jostle for power and the all mighty access to naira!
Baribote we all know came in under a cloud having successfully out manoeuvred Davidson Owunmi, but failed to play the politics properly in order to placate his numerous foes many who will not have been happy with his deft chess move to get the NPL’s top job in the first place.
Ironically even the first ‘official’ NPL Chairman, Chief Oyuki Obaseki also came in under a cloud and also had a long running battle with both the NFF and his own constituency, which eventually led to his ouster in 2010.
Many said at the time that the Benin High Chief was safely able to dance through the minefield for so long because of the enormous resources at his disposal from the original sponsorship of the league by an indigenous telecoms company.
But in the end while he was successful in fending of the perceived encroachment by the Glass House it was his own ‘family’ that pulled the rug from beneath his feet making it very clear that his bid to stay on for a second term would not be welcomed.
While it is clear from my conversations with highly placed National Sports Commission (NSC)/Sports Ministry officials, that the body is not happy with the situation, they are afraid of wading in (at least publically) because of adverse negative reaction from the public (but more importantly FIFA).
However, privately it is common knowledge that subterranean moves are being made to ensure that they play a big part in ensuring the outcome of the ‘NPL battle’ is favourable to them.
And so while the big guns fight it out as often is the case it is the grass that suffers. Thus the new league season, which was originally scheduled to kick off by December 1 had to be shifted while the new date of December 23 was rejected by many clubs as they said it was deep into the Christmas/end-of-year celebrations.
We now know that the new tentative kick off date of February 16 next year has again been tinkered with by the NFF Congress which has ruled that the league should kick off next month.
So is it any wonder why the English Premier League and other leagues in Europe are so much a part of us? We all know when they will kick off and when they will end. Just like clock work season after season the EPL for instance begins in August and ends in May. We don’t hear of any battles of supremacy between the Premier League Board members, clubs or even the English FA.
We all know that Sky and BT have splashed a staggering £3bn on the world’s most watched league for the next three seasons. We also don’t hear of clubs winning board room points in an effort to avoid relegation or win the trophy.
Generally we do not hear or read of the vices that afflict the game in Nigeria, simply because those running the game there are genuinely determined to run a good ship but here we all know what being in position of authority means.
Will things change here? I wish I could stick out my neck and say yes but then we have all been in Nigeria long enough to know that this will always be a million (or billion) naira question not limited strictly to sports.
Are we still not waiting for regular public power supply? We that schooled at Nsukka (UNN) still remember with nostalgia how we used to dash to Ife (now OAU) after classes on Friday to spend time with friends and return on Sunday and even Monday at times, which was made possible because of the very smooth Benin-Sagamu Expressway.
So we can see that football is not the only thing in the country that is having problems and which we would love to see capture is glorious past.
Again one can only appeal to the dramatis personnel to sheath their swords in the interest of the ‘beautiful game’ in the country.