Alloy Chukwuemeka ACC
History will continue to bear witness that the Nigeria Professional Football league, is 30 years today Tuesday, 12 May 2020.
On this day 12th May 1990 the status of the Nigeria elite domestic league as well as its elite players transformed from amateurs to professionals inorder to compete with other advanced professionals Football leagues across the globe.
The then Nigeria Football Association NFA now NFF put the administration and supervision of the league under a department called the pro- league department headed by a HOD..
The emergence of the professional Football league boosted the ego of both the players and coaches as well as raised the standard and status of the administrators at the League office and at the clubs levels.
Most of the Administrators were eager to learn new things in terms of general administration, technical, marketing and professional standard of managing the league and the clubsides.
There were administrative, technical courses, workshops and seminars put in place by the Football Association even in conjunction with other advanced leagues abroad to train its officials.
The respective government Owners of clubs, Companies and individual club proprietors also maximized the advantage of the professional status of the league to raised the standard of their stadiums, remuneration, kits, souvenirs and courting the big names amongst the Footballers which hitherto raised the level of competitiveness in the league.
The pioneer clubs were the now defunct Lagos ACB, BCC Lions, Bendel Insurance, Bendel United (now defunct) and Enyimba.
Others were Highlanders of Jos, Iwuanyanwu Nationale, JIB, Kano Pillars, Obanta United (later VIP), Ranchers, Enugu Rangers and Stationery Stores.
An attempt to have one of the pioneer clubs pitched against the Crystal Palace of England, as a symbolical kick off of professional league failed.
After years of prolonged debates, the professional league finally kicked off with a Super Stores versus Iwuanyanwu Nationale opener at the Onikan Stadium, Lagos.
The Owerri-based Iwuanyanwu, now renamed Heartland, dictated the pace of the away tie, winning 2-1. They kept their form and the pace until the season ended, winning the inaugural championship.
History will continue to remember notable club Owners like Chief Lekan Salami, Chief MKO Abiola, Isreal Adebanjo, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Daniel Idama, Chief Jude Ezechukwu Jasper, John Mastoroudes, Chief Oscar Udoji, Chief Gabriel Chukwuma Gabros and most recently Olusola Adekanola, Ambassador Chris Giwa, Senator Patrick Ifeanyiubah, Dr. ABS Saraki , Kunle Soname amongst several others
The league has produced notable players, Referees, coaches and even some league Writers alike
Notable Referees include Allah Dey, Bolaji Okubule, Linus Mba, Emmanuel Obafemi, Joro Dogo Yabilsu (late). Late Edozie Enemuo and several others .
There are also some prominent and distinguished club Administrators like Elder Bode Oyewole, Eze A.D Okafor , Hon Sabo Babayaro, Felix Anyansi Agwu, Davidson Owumi, Kabir Baita, Suleiman David , Dominic Iorfa, Taiwo Ogunjobi, Isaac Danladi ,Mike Idoko and others.
Some notable players like Ishaya Jatau, Authur Moses, Mohammad Manga, Garba Lawal, Ahmed Musa, (Emeka Nwanna Ayaya, the first player to attract 1m naira transfer fee ), Victor Ezeji, Jude Aneke, Chijioke Ejiogu, Joatex Frimpong, Mfon Udoh and host of others.
Also the League has produced some prominent coaches which include
Kadiri Ikhana, Kelechi Emeteole, Philip Boamah, Okey Emordi , Dele Bamidele, Abdulahi Bebe, Kafaru Alabi, Godwin Uwua, Solomon Ogbeide, Alphonsus Dike, Stanley Eguma and many others.
Notable amongst the Sports journalists include Washington Tamaklow (Nigeria Tribune), Bright Oyelade, Vincent Alumona, , Banji Ola, Bayour Issah, Jack Moses Ekwe Ekwe , Emma Jemegah, Tunde Oyedele, Waheed Jinadu, Gbenga Ayeni, Quasim Elegbede and so many others
So far the league has striven well against all odds considering the achievements it had garnered in terms of more standard stadiums across the country, players exports to the best leagues abroad and to the National teams, Enyimba FC back to back victory in the CAF champions league, standard rulebook, introduction of youth teams in clubs structure, international training programmes for coaches and administrators, international recognition and partnership with other leagues of the world as well as exposure of our league to satellite television and modern media platforms.
History will again bear witness that Enyimba international FC under the leadership of chief Felix Anyansi Agwu ( The most successful Football Administrator in Nigeria) had been the most successful club , winning the professional league eight times. They are followed by the crowd-pulling Kano Pillars who won four times while Rangers international FC Enugu have not tested relegation
Going forward the Nigeria professional Football League under different administrations have witnessed a lot of reforms in its efforts at competing favourably with other advanced leagues of the world.
However, the league has also witnessed several challenges like poor officiating but kudos to the leadership of the NFF Referees committee led by Alh. Sharif Rabi’u Inuwa Allan and the NRA boss Otunba Tade Azeez for the level of officiating in the league which is now highly commendable and appreciated by the league followers.
Another major challenge is the issue of insecurity and crowd violence at league venues , but so far the LMC and the Club Owners have brought it to the lowest minimum level via orientation of the fans , though there were still some few isolated cases.
The recent disengagement by the broadcast right partners Supersport due to economic instability in the country affected the league in terms of prominence, presence and commercial values but the LMC had maintained and sustained the smooth flow of the league despite the challenges while there are concerted efforts to bring the league back to satellite television via NextTv which is ongoing.
League followers have also noticed that government ownership of clubs remains a challenge to the growth of the League. However there are efforts by the league Management Company and the club Owners to seek ways of gradual transition into community ownership of clubs going forward .
The challenges of Players and coaches remuneration, insurance , medicals and steady contracts for the players and coaches are continuously been reviewed to meet an acceptable global standards, taking into consideration the peculiarities of Nigeria operational style and environmental factors.
Personally as a league monitor and Administrator and having traversed the length and breath of Nigeria following the league from Enyimba FC stadium Aba, Nnamdi Azikiwe stadium Enugu, Dan Anyiam stadium Owerri, Rojenny stadium Oba, FCIFEANYIUBAH stadium Nnewi in the south East through to Sharks stadium PH, Godswill Akpabio Nest of champions stadium Uyo, Warri Stadium, Stephen Keshi Memorial stadium Asaba, U.J Esuene stadium Calabar, Sam ogbemudia stadium Benin in the south South, heading towards south west Liberty stadium Ibadan, Onikan stadium Lagos, Akure Township stadium, Township stadium Osogbo, Moshood Abiola stadium Abeokuta towards kwara stadium Ilorin, Bako kontagora stadium Minna, BCC lions stadium Gboko, Lafia Township stadium, Rwang Pam stadium Jos in the north central moving to ATBS stadium Bauchi, Elkanemi Warriors stadium Maiduguri, August 27 stadium Damaturu, Jolly Nyame stadium Jalingo, Gombe stadium, Township stadium Fufure all in the northeast and going towards Kano Pillars stadium, Sardauna Memorial stadium Gusau, Township stadium Hadejia, Ranchers bees stadium Kaduna, Muhammed Dikko Memorial stadium Katsina in the Northwest were all memorable experiences.
From the era of the professional league foundation operating as a department in the football house ( kudos to the likes Dr. Steve Olarinoye, Authentic Secretary Salihu Abubakar) to the independence of the league under Chief Oyuki Obaseki the ‘moving train’ of the league, (special mentions to Tunji Babalola, Arthur Kwarme, Late Shehu Gusau, Armoured tank Alhassan Yakmut, Authentic Salihu Abubakar and others ), to Prince Davidson Owumi who upheld strict compliance with the Rule-book, to Chief Rumson Baribote under whose leadership the league was adjudged best in Africa, to Hon. Nduka Irabor who unbundled the commercial values of the league with high income inflows by strickly blocking leakages without compromise and to Mallam Shehu Dikko who took the league to the world with uncommon transformation and innovations.
These various reforms have taken the league from nowhere to somewhere ‘better’ even as we strive harder to make it the best.
Therefore let the reforms continue .
Congratulations to all the NPFL stakeholders.
Alloy Chukwuemeka writes from his lockeddown isolation room in Ilorin.