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Will Players’ Status Committee last the distance?

It is now an open secret that one of the major problems confronting players and coaches in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) is the…

It is now an open secret that one of the major problems confronting players and coaches in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) is the lack of respect for contractual agreements by most club chairmen or administrators as the case may be. The main actors in the league are sacked by clubs without recourse to the contracts signed by both parties because most agreements are signed for formality.

But it may be argued that club administrators are not the only offenders, as players and coaches are also guilty of contractual infractions. Putting all of these together, it is usually difficult to categorise the NPFL when talking about leagues that are truly professional.

In a bid to ensure that disputes between players, coaches, and clubs are amicably resolved, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) in April inaugurated the Players’ Status Committee. This is a step in the right direction but it must be said that it took some pressure from stakeholders like the Legal Advocacy for the Advancement of Football in Nigeria (LAAFN) for the important committee to be set up by the NFF.

It must be emphasised that the inauguration of the committee is in compliance with the NFF Statutes of 2010. The committee chaired by Otunba Sunday dele-Ajayi and Timothy Heman Magaji, the Taraba State FA Chairman, as deputy, is charged with the responsibility of settling among others, contractual disputes involving clubs, players, coaches, and other staff.

Since no season passes in the NPFL without cases of non-payment of players’ and coaches’ salaries and allowances by the clubs, there has been a backlog of disputes for adjudication by the committee. Most of us are aware that over the years, employees in the NPFL have continued to suffer in the hands of club chairmen who see their positions as opportunities for self-enrichment. The chairmen feed fat on the clubs’ allocations why staff suffer in silence. Their atrocities go unchallenged because most of them are said to be cronies of the governors who fund the clubs. Therefore, payment of salaries is most times at the discretion of the club chairmen.

In most clubs, there exists what is commonly referred to as a ‘one man’ management committee. There is no board and no active management committee as the chairman runs the show alone. In some cases, the deputy governor of the state serves as the chairman of the club, but the vice-chairman/CEO is the de facto chairman who decides what goes on in the club.

Well, even if in the past aggrieved players and coaches in the NPFL were left hopeless due to the non-functional Players’ Status Committee, reprieve has come as the newly inaugurated body is willing to address their grievances without let or hindrance. This optimism is not unfounded because, when the committee sat recently in Abuja, over 100 cases out of the thousands that have been pending were looked into. Interestingly, most of the clubs that appeared before the Committee were found guilty of one misdemeanour or the other. Without any form of coercion, some of the clubs agreed to pay what they owe their former employees.

Soon after his case against his former employer, Katsina United was settled amicably, Coach Usman Abdallah reached out to me to express his joy. But before he sent his words of commendation to the committee, he expressed surprise at the speed with which the committee convened its sitting. He said, “ I never believed it would be this fast. Honestly, I was surprised when they invited me to come to Abuja. When I came, the committee actually showed professionalism and transparency. They didn’t take it lightly with the clubs.

“There is so much indiscipline in the league. Clubs maltreat players and coaches as if they are slave masters. There is no regard for contractual agreements. A club chairman will just wake up one day and sack a player or coach without any good reason. In the past, they got away with such impunity, but with this committee, such behaviour will become a thing of the past.

“I urge them to maintain the momentum. They shouldn’t be tired of addressing the ills that are prevalent in the league, especially non-compliance to contractual agreements. With this committee, I have seen hope for Nigerian football. They must keep up the good work,” said the former Enyimba, Wikki Tourists, and Katsina United gaffer.

Apart from my friend Abdallah, other coaches and players in the NPFL who had their cases diligently handled lauded the committee on its fair treatment of cases brought before it. Well, members of the committee have used only one sitting to win public confidence, but more is expected from them. They should know that directing the clubs to pay their debts is one thing, and ensuring that the directive is complied with is another thing entirely.

For instance, Coach Abdallah is excited that prior to this time, he never believed that he would recover his money from Katsina United, but now there is a glimmer of hope for him. However, we can only imagine what would be the extent of his disappointment if on the agreed date, Katsina United reneged on the agreement reached with him without consequences. So, the committee should ensure that it follows up on its orders to the clubs. If this is not done, the club chairmen who are recalcitrant will quickly identify the weakness and rubbish the efforts of the committee.

At the same time, the committee must apply the wisdom of King Solomon in adjudicating on cases brought against the clubs. Sometimes, some of the players and coaches also don’t deal fairly with the clubs. They commit atrocities that deserve outright dismissal, but once they are not paid off or adequately compensated, they often take the laws into their own hands. There are well-documented cases of players who held their former employers to ransom at away matches. What they usually do is to hire thugs to help them recover their money. In such cases, some club chairmen are physically assaulted, and club properties are seized by the hired hooligans. Such aggrieved players and coaches should know that the Players Status Committee is the medium for them to channel their grievances.

It may be too early to conclude, but I am one of those who think that the new Players’ Statues Committee will help a great deal in sanitising Nigerian football. I commend the NFF president, Alhaji Ibrahim Gusau, for including former international players like Patrick Pascal (MON), Chikelu Iloenyosi, Austin Popo and other renowned football administrators like Mallam Audu Sabo and Jude Anyadufu, into the committee. Some of them played in the domestic league and can understand the pains of the coaches and the players. However, the committee is not expected to tilt towards one side. It must be balanced always to ensure fairness, equity and justice for all and at all times. Above all, the quasi-judicial body must do everything humanly possible to last the distance.

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