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NFF in another ‘backyard’ sponsorship deal

On Thursday, May 25, I received a press statement from the Communications department of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) announcing results of the Federation Cup…

On Thursday, May 25, I received a press statement from the Communications department of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) announcing results of the Federation Cup Round of 16 matches played on Wednesday, May 24, at six centres. If not for my eagle eyes, I would have missed something very important. In the headline, I saw something strange. It was written NFF/TINGO FEDERATION CUP: ROUND OF 16 RESULTS (MEN). I asked when did the NFF get a sponsor for the Federation Cup? Of course, this year’s competition started without a sponsor so I doubt very much if I was the only one thrown into confusion.

Well, for those who don’t know, Dozy Mmobuosi, a young Nigerian billionaire based in the United Kingdom is the Founder and CEO of Tingo Group, an investment firm focused on identifying and making targeted acquisitions in the tech sector. Tingo is said to be helping to deliver financial inclusion to millions of SME farmers and women-led businesses in Africa. Mmobuosi, the owner of Tingo, is also passionate about football and its business. Only recently, he was close to completing a £90 million takeover of English football club Sheffield United.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the company has recently shown tremendous interest in Nigerian football as it was heavily involved in the organisation and sponsorship of the maiden edition of the Dozy Mmobuosi/NPFL pre-season Super Cup competition. It was the first of its kind in Nigerian football as the eventual winners, 3SC of Ibadan, smiled to the bank with a whopping N100m. Before the competition which was held in December 2022, the four participating clubs, 3SC, Enugu Rangers, Enyimba and Bendel Insurance received an appearance fee of N10m each. Tingo has expressly announced its intention to power Nigerian football with uncommon initiatives and incentives. So, for those of us who have been following recent events in Nigerian football, we are not surprised that the company is now linked with the Federation Cup.

However, what is awkward is the manner in which the NFF has ushered Tingo into the football circle in Nigeria. If this is not bringing an important organisation into Nigerian football through the back door, then I don’t know what it is. I remember when it was rumoured that the NFF chieftains were going to meet with a company in Lagos to discuss a sponsorship deal for the Federation Cup. Nobody can say for sure if that meeting was eventually held but today the NFF has listed Tingo as sponsor of the oldest competition in the land. The truth is that sports sponsorship is serious business that is carried out in the most orderly and transparent manner but in Nigeria, it is usually shrouded in secrecy because those who broker such deals put their personal interest over and above the sport they want to empower financially.

Surely, anyone who says the NFF has again entered into another ‘backyard’ sponsorship deal will automatically incur the wrath of the football authorities but how can one explain what has just happened? Elsewhere, nobody would have been left guessing about the details of the contract between the NFF and Tingo but here we are talking about a sponsorship deal whose worth and duration we do not know. Yet, the NFF will be happier, if their indiscretion is not questioned by anyone.

It will be recalled that this same scenario played out in the days of Amaju Pinnick whose NFF boasted of multiple sponsors but till date no one can say exactly how much came into the coffers of the football federation. There was a time when the former president of the NFF made daily announcements of new sponsors. As a matter of fact, he almost sounded as if the federation was running away from sponsors for lack of accommodation. Despite such grandstanding, some of us knew Pinnick was playing to the gallery because the NFF constantly ran cap in hand to the Federal Government for financial support.

Since we are talking about the Federation Cup and a new sponsor, it is important to mention that on the bogus list of corporate sponsors Pinnick paraded was Aiteo Nigeria Limited. Although the NFF organised a press briefing to announce the oil company as the sponsor of the competition, the monetary details were kept away from the prying eyes of the public. To make matters worse, winners of the Federation Cup during the sponsorship deal are still begging for their prize money. But towards the end of last season, it became obvious that Aiteo was going to dump the partnership with the NFF.

Although the football federation didn’t make any formal announcement, by bringing in another sponsor, there is no iota of doubt that the partnership with Aiteo is effectively over. The new kid on the block is Tingo as stylishly announced by the NFF on Thursday. Even if the NFF is planning to organise a special unveiling of the new sponsor, Nigerians will continue to wonder why the federation is good at doing things haphazardly. It would have been better to allow the ongoing edition to end before bringing in Tingo. The Federation Cup began without a sponsor but will finish with one. Maybe this is an achievement to the NFF. Even if it is, it has been mismanaged.

So, on a final note, I want the NFF to know that what it has just done can easily wipe away the little trust and respect some Nigerians have for it. After everything that happened in the days of Pinnick, there is nothing that can endear the present NFF to Nigerian football stakeholders more than transparency and accountability. Nobody is against efforts by the NFF to attract sponsors but it must be done in line with international best practices.

No matter what anyone feels about this, some of us are not ready to remain silent when a public institution like the NFF decides to sign contracts under the cover of darkness or inside someone’s bedroom just to keep others in the dark. And companies doing sponsorship business with the NFF should insist on the right procedures. Unless they are hand in glove with the NFF, it is surprising that a big company like Tingo has accepted to be treated in such a shabby manner by the football federation.

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