By its recent decision to stop clubs that would fail to clear the backlog of salaries owed their players and officials from participating in the 2024 NPFL season, the board of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) is obviously trying to build castles in the air. As most of us already know, one is said to be attempting to build castles in the air when he is trying to achieve what is practically impossible.
Well, it is now an open secret that almost all NPFL clubs are in the habit of not paying their players’ salaries as and when due. There is hardly a season in the NPFL that passes without at least one of the clubs embarking on protest over unpaid salaries and match bonuses. This has become a recurring decimal because the league is dominated by clubs that are sponsored by state governments.
While most of the Governors don’t care so much about the clubs, even those who manage to give casual attention usually leave them in the hands of their cronies who misappropriate allocated funds without any consequences. This unfortunate habit has continued because the accounts of the clubs are not audited for anyone to be held accountable for financial misdeeds. Most of the club Chairmen have become sole administrators. They do whatever they want to do with public funds released to them.
Unfortunately, there appears to be no laws governing the Nigerian football league. Most clubs pretend to enter into contracts with their players and coaches but when such funny contractual agreements are violated, there are hardly any repercussions to serve as a deterrent.
Players and officials shortchanged by the clubs are oftentimes left traumatized because help didn’t come their way even from the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF). Sometimes clubs that terminate players’ contracts arbitrarily are asked to settle their financial obligations but such orders are hardly complied with. Not long ago, it was reported that the NFF had ordered Kano Pillars to pay former Golden Eaglets goalkeeper, Bassey Akpan, over N4m but one is not sure if the club has paid the money.
Without a doubt, it was because of these series of complaints against clubs by some of the aggrieved players and coaches that the NPFL board on August 23, issued a stern warning that any club that is found to be indebted to players and or club officials, stand the risk of not being allowed to complete their registration for the 2023/2024 season.
The NPFL board reiterated as a reminder to all the clubs that “registration for the season will only be completed on the provision of satisfactory evidence of compliance, particularly in cases of reported indebtedness to former and serving players and officials.”
As it is, the NPFL has directed clubs that have had their cases adjudicated on by the NFF Arbitration panel to approach the NPFL Registration schedule officers with evidence of compliance and or letters of mutual consent settlements.
To underscore the seriousness of its latest decision, the NPFL has said clubs with established case(s) of indebtedness will not be permitted to register new player(s) in line with the provisions of the Club Licensing Regulations.
This sounds interesting but it also sounds like an empty threat. Had the NPFL wanted to achieve anything positive with this directive, it should have started this long before now. We are only a few days away from the kick-off date of the 2023/2024 season and the league body is just waking up to its very important responsibility.
Realistically speaking, how many clubs can clear their backlog of salaries before the close of registration or the kick-off date of September 8? Some of the clubs are heavily indebted such that even if given a decade, they won’t finish settling their debts. A chronic debtor like Heartland is back in the NPFL. If this new order is enforced strictly, I doubt if the ‘Nazi millionaires’ will survive.
In fact, it has become a common practice for former players to hold clubs to ransom at away matches. Such aggrieved players wait till the club that is indebted to them comes to play in their hometown. With the help of thugs, they most times apply jungle justice on their former employers. Even when they fail to get their money, they don’t fail to thoroughly harass and embarrass such club officials. There was even a case of attempted hijack of a club bus by a former player.
So, there are only a few clubs in the NPFL that are not notorious for owing players and officials’ salaries and match bonuses. What clubs like Kano Pillars and Katsina United do is to enlist their players as ‘ad hoc civil servants’ for them to receive their monthly salaries at the same time as civil servants in the state. This practice, as strange as it may be, has helped these clubs to eradicate or at least minimize the problem of non-payment of salaries.
What the NPFL board wants to do is not bad but the problem is with the timing. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Had it been the clubs were given this information a long time ago, most of them would have found a way to comply even if not fully. After all, we are masters of the fire brigade approach.
But this is coming at a time when most clubs are struggling to get money to complete their registration and prosecute their opening matches of the season. So, it is difficult to say how this sudden decision will work. I am sure clubs will find a way to escape without complying.
Moreover, it is said when you point an accusing finger at someone, the rest point back at you. The NPFL is also guilty of non-payment of salaries. When the Interim Management Committee (IMC) took over from the League Management Company (LMC), it inherited huge debts including staff salaries. I doubt if the IMC, before it was changed to the NPFL board, was able to clear salaries owed those who worked under the LMC.
So, morally, is the NPFL qualified to stop any club from participating in the 2024 season because of its indebtedness to players and officials? The answer is obvious because those who come into equity must do so with clean hands.