NPFL: Thumbs Up for LMC

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Tayo Balogun

It is so easy to fall into and stay in the pit of perpetual complaints. You don’t even need to exert an effort. All you need do is just be… You are watching your football team play on TV and your wife wanting, as is usual to annoy, decides to change channels just because she wants to. Or if the wife does not prick you NEPA (that’s what we still call it), ever so willing to provoke and frustrate decides usually for preventable reasons to take your light and scatter your sanity. Or your driver, who you sent to buy petrol for the generator from a petrol station just five minutes away, comes back three hours later than expected claiming he had a burst tyre!

The point I am making is that if one allows the negativity in our situation to gain sway one might as well get drowned in a mire of regrets and sorrow…

So today I want to talk to you about something that warms my heart; something that may still revolutionize club football in our country; something that would ultimately provide more than a million jobs for Nigerians.

I am talking about the best face of Nigerian football – The League Management Company (LMC) which was midwifed by the League Management Committee.

In 2012 the then Minister for Sports, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi called me, as he often does during his tenure, to say that he wanted to involve the private sector more intensely in our sport. He said he was going to start with club football. His idea was to make playing football so lucrative that the least paid footballer would earn atleast N500,000 a month. The economy would have a money spinning business which would create at least a million jobs in a few years. He told me it was going to be a revolution and wanted to know which people I know who would help him kick-start this. I suggested a few names to him and by Dec12, 2012 with the very active help of the then NFF President, Alhaji Aminu Maigari, a group of eminently qualified Nigerians had been inaugurated into the League Management Committee.

In the body was Africa’s first female sportscaster, Modele Sarafa-Yusuff, Kunle Elebute, Seyi Akinwunmi, Shehu Dikko, Mike Idoko and Kanu Nwankwo who never attended a single meeting. Also in the group was Salisu Abubakar, Mike Enahoro, Abubakar Nuhu Danburam and Sabo Babayaro. The previous two names were representatives of the Pro-League Board. The committee was headed by Nduka Irabor who together with Dikko, Akinwunmi and Salisu Abubakar became the driving force behind the eventual formation of the League Management Company (LMC) which was successfully registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission.

I must say that it took the doggedness, grit and absolute commitment of Irabor, Dikko and Akinwunmi together with the unalloyed support of both Abdullahi and Maigari to get the LMC off the ground and running .

The rest like they say is history. The least paid footballer is not earning as much as N500,000 per month as envisaged by Abdullahi but his wage has tripled. Incidents of induced penalty kicks are literally a thing of the past.

There are still situations of soft penalties but these persist everywhere prompting FIFA to introduce the not so successful VAR during the last World Cup. The stadiums have not become spectator friendly but I have occasionally seen Enyimba Stadium in Aba, Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano and the Agege Stadium filled to capacity during league matches.

Most of our clubs are still owned by state governments and contrary to the expectations of the LMC but the groundwork for privatising these clubs have been laid.

I am not in anyway suggesting that the LMC does not have it’s drawbacks. Far from it, what I am celebrating is that for the first time we are on the path to revolutionising our club football.

It is to the credit of the LMC that all stakeholders agreed that Lobi Stars FC be adjudged winner of the 2018 NPFL after 24 matches. For the first time, we seem to be tackling issues relating to club football professionally.

There is still a lot to be done to make our football a money spinning venture capable of providing jobs for millions of our youths. But a foundation has been provided. Our clubs may not be doing well at the international level but that situation will change as it has in South Africa.

In the meantime, let’s give a thumbs up to the League Management Company which has done well to help our club football professionally. Perhaps we should also remember the visionary who is responsible for birthing this noble idea -Bolaji Abdullahi, a former Minister of Sports. Others like Aminu Maigari who stood up to be counted when it mattered most and Nduka Irabor who fought tirelessly and ruthlessly for what he believes in deserve plaudits. May the LMC continue to wax strong and achieve the goals for which it was set-up.