ABUJA, NIGERIA. The League Management Company (LMC) is the body that regulates all things men’s league football in Nigeria.
The Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) has come to be recognized more with its affiliations with the LMC than the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) itself.
The LMC has done a remarkable job in getting league football in Nigeria to the height it currently attains.
But then again some of the same old issues that have plagued us for decades remain.
One of such are Players being owed, strikes being threatened and pleas being made. The ghost of demons past has returned to hunt the NPFL at a stage when attendance in the stadium is at its highest in a while, corporate Nigeria is getting set to invest in the league and the NFF through its President Amaju Pinnick is doing everything and more he promised when he took over the helm of Nigerian Football little over a year ago.
The players of FC Taraba, Dolphins FC and Warri Wolves FC have much to complain about. Bread winners in their families, they have gone home in each of the last three months with no paycheck but lots of bills to pay and maybe some debts to clear as well. They suffer each day and yet trot on in the hope that the end of the misery in near.
Step in the LMC.
Article B9.45 of the NPFL Rules and Framework for the 2014/2015 season clearly states “The terms of a contract between a club and a player shall be strictly adhered to and where a club fails to pay remunerations and entitlements due to a player for a period of more than 60 days such club shall be liable to a deduction of six points and a further deduction of three points every 30 days for which the entitlement remains unpaid”. Also the LMC have introduced a compulsory financial guarantee on clubs to safeguard against problems like this.
The financial guarantee ensures that when the clubs are unable to pay arrears of salary, such funds would be drawn from the said financial guarantee to offset the debts. But then again only privately owned clubs can guarantee this which is why the LMC is careful. Ifeanyi Ubah FC is one of such privately owned clubs with a financial guarantee of over N100 Million.
Nigerian Football is very peculiar in that majority of the clubs are run by the State Government and as such funds are dispersed cautiously and with a longer process. Unlike any of the clubs in Europe where a quick Board Resolution accompanied with the necessary cheque or bank mandate and funds are authorized.
The LMC have issued warning to the clubs involved to pay up or face sanctions of points deductions. For FC Taraba not only is that dire in itself but it all but guarantees relegation to the second tier.
Along with Article B9.45 is a specific clause in every players contract that states the duties of the club towards the player. One of which and most importantly is the need to pay remuneration when due. The player then has a right to terminate the contract unilaterally without recourse to the club and with heavy damages to go with it. But in Nigeria the fear of stigmatization as well as the need to earn a living prevents our players from truly realizing the unique position they occupy.
One such clause I would include in contracts of my client would stipulate thus:
The Player shall be entitled to terminate this contract by fourteen days’ notice in writing to the Club if the Club fails to pay any remuneration or other payments or bonuses due to the Player or make available any benefits due to him as it or they fall due or within fourteen days thereafter and has still failed to make payment in full or make the benefits available by the expiry of the said fourteen days’ notice.
But for the players in Nigeria they see it as perhaps half a loaf is better than none.
In Europe cases would have been flooding in at the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) from not only the players but from also the Players Association and a few agents. Without the players the clubs are useless. Every weekend its 22 players on the pitch of play and not the club officials or even the coaches. The clubs have long realized in Nigeria that the players need the club more than the club needs the players. After all only 1 in about 50 get to play football professionally.
The players must realize the unique position they occupy.
Part of the change needed in Nigeria Football is for the players to take up a position of strength and fight for their rights. Not when it is three or four months down the line but as soon as issues arise. From a legal perspective, a strongly worded letter to clubs accompanied by the threat of legal action would go a very long way to sending the message across. The fears of the players are understood but a continued disregard for their rights would continue as long as they continue to adopt a position of defense.
The players of Warri Wolves have threatened to go on strike and not train but even that action has due process attached to it. Notice of 45 days must be given to the clubs before a strike action can be commenced. More kudos to the LMC trying to maintain sanity, if not players just decide not to turn up for training and that’s it.
Hopefully in the next 10days this issue is resolved and normalcy can resume in the league. More important the goal is that in future the players adopt a position of offense and not defence so that those coming behind have more to play for.
For now the ghost of unpaid salaries torment what has been a stand out football season.
– Tola Ogunlewe is a sports writer and sports lawyer. He advises Sports Management outfit Depase Sports, follow @tolaogunlewe and @depasesports on twitter and instagram
‘Tola Ogunlewe LLB (Hons), BL