Nigerian football is presently experiencing a significant transformation with the introduction of mega cash prizes that have injected a new wave of competitiveness among clubs, players and the football industry as a whole.
For the first time in the history of Nigerian football, one of the country’s oldest clubs, IICC Shooting Stars now called 3SC of Ibadan emerged victorious in the inaugural edition of the NPFL-Dozy Mmobuosi Super Cup and smiled to the bank with a whopping N100m as prize money.
Before the pre-season competition which was staged in Lagos in December 2022, the four teams, Enyimba FC, Bendel Insurance, 3SC and Enugu Rangers received appearance fees of N10m each.
Before the competition kicked-off, many wondered how the sponsors would dole out such a humongous amount as cash prize because it had never happened in the history of Nigerian football.
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Such scepticism was based on the fact that in the past cash prizes far below the figure announced by Dozy Mmobuosi Foundation were promised the league and Federation Cup winners but were never paid by the league organisers and the Nigeria Football Federation.
Therefore, Nigerians were pleasantly surprised when 3SC was paid the hefty amount after they defeated Enyimba FC 3-2 in the finals to emerge champions of the pre-season competition.
Next to receive mega payment was the former African champions, Enyimba International of Aba, who recently took home a whopping N100m as cash prize for emerging winners of the 2023 Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL).
At the end of the abridged season, six clubs namely Enyimba, Remo Stars, Rivers United, Bendel Insurance, Sunshine Stars and Lobi Stars picked the tickets from Group A and B to compete in the Championship PlayOff where Enyimba won their ninth NPFL title and the mega cash prize.
In addition to the giant trophy and cash prize, they will represent Nigeria in next year’s prestigious CAF Champions League. Enyimba will be joined by Remo Stars in the competition just as Rivers United and Bendel Insurance take their spots in the Confederation Cup.
A few days after Enyimba hit gold in Lagos, the women and men’s finals of the 2023 Federation Cup was played at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba and it was naira rain as both winners, Bendel Insurance and Bayelsa Queens took home sumptuous cash prizes for victories over Enugu Rangers and Rivers Angels respectively.
In the opening match of the double-show, Bayelsa Queens successfully defended their title after they edged Rivers Angels 4-3 on penalties to take home a giant trophy and N10m cash prize while the Angels took home N5m as a consolation prize.
In the men’s finals, Bendel Insurance defeated Enugu Rangers 1-0 to win their third title in 43 years. They also received a cash prize of N15m while the ‘Flying Antelopes’ got N7.5m for finishing as runners-up.
Considering that some, if not all past winners of the NPFL and the Federation Cup are still begging to be paid their cash prizes, the recent naira rain on victorious clubs in Nigerian football hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Reacting to the new development, a former Super Eagles star, Garba Lawal, told Trust Sports in an exclusive interview that the mega cash prizes are incentives that would make the domestic league to be more competitive.
“Football is all about funding. Every league in the world is competitive and this makes every club up its game and ensure it develops well. Every club will want to win the money and this helps in the overall development of the league. They will sign very good players to perform well in the continent.
“And when they get to the continent, they will try to represent the country well while aiming to win the prize money attached,” the former Kaduna United General Manager said.
A former Green Eagles captain, Christian Chukwu, also told Trust Sports exclusively that the introduction of such attractive cash prizes will gradually phase out government funding and control of the clubs.
“It’s a good development as the state governments will gradually disengage from ownership of the clubs. Maybe individuals and corporate bodies will take over and we will begin to do what other top leagues are doing,” he said.
‘Chairman’ Chukwu who captained the national team to its first AFCON triumph on home soil in 1980, however, berated national team coaches for overlooking home based players who abound in the domestic league.
“The problem we have is the national team coaches are foreigners who live mostly in their countries. They should live in Nigeria just the way Clemence Westerhof did. By living in the country, he will watch our league matches and see talented players scattered over the palace. You don’t build a strong national team when you invite players without any home-based player in the team,” he said.
In the same vein, a former Super Eagles goalkeeper, Peter Rufai, hailed the Interim Management Committee (IMC) for being the brain behind the recent prize monies in Nigerian football.
‘Dodomayana’ as he is fondly called said players are now motivated to play for the clubs as they know they would be paid unlike what was obtained in the past.
“In the 70s to 90s, there was no big money in Nigerian football compared to what it is now. But then economically, what we were getting as allowance could sustain us.
“However, I will give kudos to the IMC led by Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye who made the sudden change. Elegbeleye, Davidson Owunmi and those who have closely worked with them including the NFF are the people who have brought back life to Nigerian football.
“The narrative is changing as players now know there are financial rewards and that the clubs will pay them their monies compared to the past where they owed. They know the clubs are making money one way or the other and they will be paid to take care of their families. With this, there is a relief to club owners,” he said.
Rivers United striker, Nyima Nwagua, also said he is excited over the new development as he reiterated that the mega money regime will further strengthen the league.
“It is a good one. In other parts of the world, we see how money is pumped into football and seeing Nigeria going that route is making us the players excited that our league is also growing.
“It makes the club owners put more effort to develop their club and make their club look good as they stand a good chance of benefiting from the prize monies,” he said.
A former Media Officer of Lobi Stars, Coach Austin Tyowua, emphatically welcomed the new development as he said “this is the much needed tonic for football in Nigeria.
“If there are cash prizes like the one recently won by Enyimba, all the clubs will put in their best. Football is serious business but we have continued to treat it as mere recreation.
“I wholeheartedly welcome this new change in Nigerian football.”