The 48-year old Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) which is the premier league of Nigerian football has witnessed tremendous changes over the years and at the same time experienced some form of stagnancy amidst the maladministration from the club owners, officials and even the regulators.
Though in the late 2000s, the league had begun to experience some form of decline in 2012, it was ranked as the best in Africa and 24th best in the world by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS).
Over the league had been beset with poor medical facilities with no concrete effort being made to upgrade them till the unfortunate death of Nasarawa United defender, Chineme Martins during the game against Katsina United.
It will be also recalled that in December 2018, Kano Pillars star Dominic Dukudod collapsed while warming up in a friendly against Nasarawa United themselves.
Following the death, the League Management Company mandated the clubs to ensure all players present a medical passport – signed and authorised by a certified doctor – declaring them fit to play.
It was also gathered that the players don’t get the necessary attention and treatment from their clubs when they get injured.
In a recent chat with Plateau United captain, Elisha Golbe said the players seek self-medication and treatment when they get injured.
He said clubs abandon NPFL players when they get injured and are constrained to use their funds to treat themselves without the clubs making efforts to monitor how they get treated.
“When we get injured, players use their own money to treat themselves. The clubs will tell us to bring the receipt for refunds which they never do but rather look for how to deduct from our salaries when we come late to training or we say we don’t feel good to play.
“They simply don’t value our lives. Players are always scared to talk because of the intimidation they will get from their clubs,” he said.
His position was further collaborated by Enyimba centre back, Ifeanyi Anaemena who acknowledged that most of the NPFL clubs cannot boast of having fully equipped medical facilities while giving reasons why Nigerian clubs performed woefully in continental matches.
“Most of the clubs in NPFL don’t have a good medical system. I have been out for weeks because of injury. I have been treating myself with no input from the club.
“A lot of players have injuries but their clubs can’t treat them, thereby you can see them functioning well. We travel a lot sometimes for 14 hours on the road to play a league match. Within two weeks, we would have played 8 matches and still be on the road and there is no life insurance for players,” he noted.
As players battle poor medical facilities, they are also faced with irregular payment of salaries, allowances as well as match bonuses.
It could be accepted that there is an improvement, but there are still some clubs who still find it difficult to pay as at when due or even seek ways to reduce the wage bills, albeit illegally as this is a breach to the contracts signed with the players.
It will be recalled recently that Sunshine Stars players and officials have moaned over the ‘short-payment, deduction and non-payment of a month’s salary by the Ondo State Football Agency.
With the Nigerian Football League suspended due to Coronavirus, it was gathered that Sunshine players and officials have suffered a 45% salary deduction for the month of January while they are yet to be paid their February salary.
This same scenario is playing out in Akwa-Ibom state as Dakkada FC has refused to pay the players to proceed on the break as players have been lamenting following the club’s inability to pay the players before sending them out of camp due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
A player of the club, Harrison Ibukun, told newsmen that they have been stranded in Uyo and some of them cannot return to their families yet because the club has refused to pay.
Ibukun speaking further said the club was paying them half salaries right from September 2019.
“For me, I’m not coping very well because they gave us a break and no money I couldn’t travel to Lagos to meet up with my families so am not happy.
“We didn’t complain then because we did not expect the break, and no time for us to complain, Ibukun said.
“They gave us ten days break, we are still in Uyo stranded save for those who live in the eastern part of the country but for those of us who came from Lagos or Abuja? We cannot travel due to lack of money”.
With the situation in Dakkada, Anaemena is right when he pointed out that such treatments from clubs are usually responsible for the exodus of players from the league to obscure leagues where they are guaranteed better welfare package.
“We see some players leaving the NPFL to unknown leagues and earn about N3m monthly but here we earn far less, say N300, 000, some earn N600, 000. Even as they are paying us, they still look for ways to cut it down. Maybe you missed training or even injured, they will fine the player,” he said.
Another worry that has plagued the league is the playing turf and the general facilities at the stadia which does not bode well for the players and image of the league as a whole.
It is an open secret that each stadium in the NPFL has its particular issue as they are all in different stages of decay ranging.
Some of the stadia are severely deteriorated while the environment has become very filthy, without any clear evidence of maintenance like. While the chairs in the sitting area are broken in some, the synthetic field in others is nothing to write home about as it has worn off completely.
Whenever it rains, the football pitch is flooded for several hours while others don’t have a functional dressing room, non-existent toilet facilities amongst other necessary
The players especially those involved in continental matches over time have subtly complained about the congested fixtures coupled with the poor transportation system.
Playing so many matches within a short period will surely weigh down the players as it is always good for players to recover first before going into the next match.
According to the Media Officer of the club, George died on the spot after the vehicle he was travelling in with a teammate ran into a stationary articulated vehicle along Agbor-Benin road.
The 26-year-old player and two others were said to be returning to Lagos following the COVID-19 induced break for clubs in the NPFL.
As the nation was still grieving over the death, Dayo Ojo and Benjamin Iluyomade were kidnapped by gunmen, according to a press statement from the Aba Warriors.
The incident took place the same day George died (last Sunday) along the Benin-Owo expressway as the trio of Ojo, Iluyomade and Emmanuel James journeyed to Akure following the suspension of the Nigeria elite division to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
While James escaped the attack, the duo of Ojo and Iluyomade who play for Abia Warriors were taken away.
However, the players have been released according to Media Officer of Enyimba, Zazi Bariza Samuel.
It was also reported that Enyimba players recently escaped armed robbery while Lobi Stars escaped death by whiskers when their bus was gutted by fire.
Both teams were returning from away league games when the unfortunate incidents occurred.
With the NPFL on a break now and it is expected that upon resumption, the players will be faced more congested fixtures which will involve heavy travelling on the road