The 2022–23 Nigeria Professional Football League NPFL season began last Sunday at the Nest of Champions in Uyo with a single match following a seven-month hiatus.
The restart of the league was announced by the game between 2021 champions Akwa United and top-flight football returnee Bendel Insurance, which concluded 2-0 in favor of the Benin-based team.
Since it ran across various roadblocks and booby traps along the route, it wasn’t a smooth return.
Recall that the League Management Company (LMC), which had ruled the NPFL for almost 10 years, was dissolved by the federal government in September 2022, just a few weeks after the 2021/22 season ended.
The Ministry of Sports and Youth Development labeled LMC as “illegal,” and the federal government did not recognize it.
The status of the LMC is “outside the ambit of the Statutes of the NFF,” the ministry claims.
An interim management committee (IMC) was established with Gbenga Elegbeleye, a former congressman and Director-General of the National Sports Commission, as its chairman and Davidson Owumi as its operational head in order to oversee the league’s affairs going forward and reposition the league.
The commencement of the NPFL season was postponed because of a leadership change. IMC suggested an abridged league format for the NPFL season in reaction to the delay.
It will be recalled that the NPFL was last truncated in 2019, when 24 teams competed in the league but this time around, all 20 clubs were divided into two groups, A and B, with ten teams each, for the 2022–23 season.
The top three teams from each group go to a super six tournament to decide the league winners as well as those that will represent the country on the continental stage.
This position, however, sparked outrage among the 20 clubs’ administrators, dubbed “club owners,” who threatened any club that participated in the league with dire consequences, claiming that “erring” clubs would face serious consequences if they did not fall in line with their opponents.
In his bid to douse the tension as well as assert his authority, NFF President Ibrahim Gusau defended the choice, claiming that “those that are going to bring money into the league” had insisted that the NPFL change its schedule to coincide with the rest of the world.
“The issue of playing an abridged league is a child of necessity. We are talking with people that are going to bring money into the league and they want us to make sure that at least we take back our league to the way it is being run in other parts of the world,” he said.
“Therefore, we need to take certain actions before we can get there. Ending our league in May does not mean it stops there. That is not the only issue. The issue here is that we must start next season by August. There is no going back about it,” he declared. True to his words, the league kicked off as planned.
Over the years, Nigerians had been unable to follow the league on television, and the IMC declared that the league was going to be shown on NTA.
Elegbeleye said that the IMC had obtained sponsorship in support of that as some few games will be broadcast live and this was evident on the opening day though there were delays in the broadcast.
The IMC also announced that the winner of the 2022/23 NPFL season will bag N100 million while giving N200m to the clubs as a take-off grant which was to serve as an aid in their preparations prior to the league resumption last weekend.
The league will begin, he stated then, “after the problem of club licensing and all of the participating clubs submit standard pitches good enough to be presented on television.”
“We already have a lot of sponsors who will make it possible for the league to be broadcast on TV. We must still brief the NFF on sponsorship, though. I can tell everyone that the league this season will be superior to what we are accustomed to,” he said then.
To keep to its commitment to making the league viable and TV friendly, some clubs were banned from playing on their home turf as they failed to meet the club licensing requirement.
Seven times champions, Rangers International of Enugu, Lobi Stars of Makurdi, Nasarawa United, Kwara United and Niger Tornadoes will play their home games away from home and have sought alternative venues, based on the approval of the IMC.
This weekend will be week 2 of the ongoing league and former Enugu Rangers team manager Barrister Amobi Ezeaku has provided noteworthy advice to clubs competing in the Nigerian top league on the importance of taking club licensing regulations seriously as they serve as the foundation of contemporary football worldwide.
Amobi emphasized the significance of clubs adhering to licensing regulations and understanding how they affect football play while also enabling clubs to achieve the necessary standards for stadium, administrative character, infrastructure, and financial eligibility.
“The clubs must take club licensing regulation seriously, club licensing is at the root of modern football”
“In north Africa and Europe, club licensing regulates the game so you must make sure you meet the infrastructure criteria, make sure you meet the persona administrative criteria, the stadium criteria and the financial criteria for you to play”
“Clubs should stop paying lip service, your players must be insured, it’s not rocket science you have to look inwards”
“You have to look at the roots and do what you ought to do, this is a new era for Nigerian football, and if we get our league right, every other thing will be working right,” he said to Trust Sports.
With the NPFL season finally on, Nigerians will watch with keen interest to see how the league will develop and be get to be ranked among the best African leagues once again.