Once again, Nigerian football is at cross roads. The opening game of the Nigeria League Season that was supposed to showcase the start of yet another progressive era, is about to become a test case for the Nigeria Football Federation and the League Management Company. But before the official drama begins, here are the things we know, and our recommendations.
Fact – FC Ifeanyi Ubah clearly contravened Articles 13.24 or 13.26 (most likely they will be charged under 13.26) when they refused to continue the game against Kano Pillars. It is also a fact that FC Ifeanyi Ubah is owned by the chairman of the Anambra State Football Association. It is well known that the chairman has the final say on everything that goes on within the club…maybe including the decision to continue with a game or not. And there is the story circulating is that he it was that indeed sent the instructions that the team should march off the pitch in Kano. Another fact is that the team has been at the centre of several controversies in few months it’s been in existence, and some of the issues involved in those controversies have been divisive.
There are also unverified stories around both the club and the owner, about the involvement of their company in the payment of the salary of the Super Eagles coach. The story is a story simply because the NFF refused to give full disclosure on where the salary of the Super Eagles’ coach is from. And the belief is that this involvement with the NFF hands the team a privilege that is being abused.
The point is: the LMC has made huge progress in boosting the profile of the League. The buy-in from the media and fans is growing daily. But that buy-in is tenuous at best. And a wrong handling of this latest imbroglio can cause an erosion in fan confidence that will take years to repair. That is why both the NFF and the LMC have to be careful. So how should the NFF/LMC handle this?
First, this is purely an LMC matter. The NFF must leave the LMC to deal with it, and should not entertain any spurious appeal from FC Ifeanyi Ubah when the hammer falls.
Second, the LMC must realise this is a litmus test for them on two fronts: on one hand, FC Ifeanyi Ubah are merely testing the system. Every team in the League know the rules, they (were ordered to walk out because they) wanted to test how far they can push. This can be the tip of a bigger agenda. On the other hand, the other teams are watching. The feeling around the League is that FC Ifeanyi Ubah are favoured. Should the decision on this walk-out be perceived as ‘soft’, it will lead to a breakdown of law and order.