Despite huge sums of money made from player sales in the domestic league, some fraudulent officials have designed a way to channel the money into personal pockets, writes IDRIS ADESINA in this special report
Enugu Rangers lifted the Nigeria Premier League title for the first time after 32-years in 2016 but in 2017, the Flying Antelopes were struggling against relegation.
The seven-time champions faced a myriad of challenges which was heightened by the departure of some key players of the title-winning season from the club. These players were not replaced and the club suffered for it.
They crashed out of the CAF Champions League in the first round and failed to make an impact in the Aiteo Cup as well as the domestic league. The Enugu club parted ways with their title-winning coach, Imama Amapakabo, and struggled to retain their premier league status as they finished 14th in the 20-team league.
At the end of the season, the Enugu State Government set up a committee to look into the cause of the club’s rapid descent into such a state just a season after their league triumph.
At the end of the committee’s investigation, a lot of revelations were made which prompted the state governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, to dissolve the club’s management board and form a new Rangers management board.
The committee discovered that the club had not been making any profit from the sale of players and that the club didn’t own some key players, who were sold abroad.
In a statement, by the club spokesman, Foster Chime, Ugwuanyi said, “A new board and management of Rangers Management Corporation will be constituted with clear and complementary roles for delivery of the strategic goals of the club.
“The new Rangers Board and Management must hunt and recruit good players directly without any intervening football club. Rangers players must henceforth, be wholly owned by Rangers FC.”
Several players move abroad from the Nigerian league every season but money realised from their sales has hardly had any impact on the Nigerian clubs.
Plight of Nigerian clubs
Since the league became professional in 1990, the major problem that has faced the Nigerian Premier League clubs has been that of funding.
From FC Taraba, Enugu Rangers to Kwara United and Niger Tornadoes, all the clubs complain of inadequate funding from state governments.
Former Chairman of Gombe United, Shuaibu Gara Gombe, said the ownership of football clubs in the country by state governments had affected the league.
He said, “Funding a club should be made private because when an individual or group of people invests in a club, they will monitor it effectively in order to make sure they don’t run at a loss. But with government ownership, funds come in late and when they do, they are usually not enough to run the club because there are a lot of things to cater for. Budgets of clubs are sometimes slashed by half and the club is left to source for its funds in other ways.”
A major source of funding for clubs is through players’ transfers. Clubs are expected to make money to augment what they get from the government through the sale of players to other clubs either within or outside the country.
Atlanta 1996 gold medallist, Garba Lawal, who is a former chairman of former Premier League side, Kaduna United, said clubs were expected to get income from player sale and other sources.
“Transfer of players from one club to another is a guaranteed source of securing funds to run the affairs of any club. However there has not been any significant impact on the clubs as regards proceeds from sale of players. A lot of things could be responsible such as the club getting the players on loan from academies,” he said.
As in every league, the transfer of players is an integral part of the Premier League. Players move every season from various academies to clubs, from clubs to clubs and from the Nigerian league to other leagues.
“The movement of players is the main thing in any league apart from the regular football action in that league,” Gara Gombe said.
“When any club signs players, they have two things in mind – to win competitions with those players and on the long run to make money or profit on them. The situation in Nigeria has made it easy for clubs to sack or dismiss players after a season with them because most of the players don’t have proper contracts. The amount for which a player is signed is usually not revealed because these players are mostly signed through backdoor means.”
Exodus to Europe
In its 27-year cycle, the Nigerian domestic league has witnessed the exodus of many talented players from the country’s shores to many leagues in Europe – known and obscure.
Others have made the other developed African leagues their next place of sojourn as they seek to better their lives. From Emem Eduok, Ejike Uzoenyi, Kunle Odunlami to Azubuike Egwekwe, Junior Ajayi and more recently Alhassan Ibrahim, Stephen Odey and Afeez Aremu, the list of players who have gone abroad for greener pastures is endless.
Former Nigeria league star Victor Ezeji said the movement of players from the domestic league to Europe happens because the conditions in the domestic league are not favourable.
“Staying as a player in the Nigerian league is a very tough decision but with my experience, I have learnt that it is not every domestic league player that will play in Europe,” he said.
“The conditions faced by players in the Nigerian league are tough – they are owed salaries, they have no proper medical care and some are even underpaid. These are the main reasons why many of them have fallen victims to cruel player agents who send them to obscure leagues in Europe.
“An average Nigerian domestic league player after a season or two of doing well wants to leave the country to Europe. In the process, they are ignorant of the decisions they are making and leave everything to their agents to make the decisions for them.”
Officials benefitting from player sales
Many players have left clubs in the Premier League for other leagues outside the country but the clubs, who own these players, end up getting nothing from their transfers.
Rather than the club getting profits from the players’ sales, the money accrued from such transfers have been found to be fraudulently moved to the purse of some of the clubs’ officials.
In some cases, when player transfers are made, some club officials present their personal bank accounts rather than that of the club to the prospective clubs for onward transfer of the transfer proceeds.
For instance, in 2010 when Efe Ambrose moved from Kaduna United to Israel, Israeli club MS Ashdod refused to pay the club the US$ 70,000 agreed for Ambrose’s transfer, but Lawal said he discovered that the club’s erstwhile officials had given the Israelis a personal account, rather than that of the club, which prompted the Europeans to renege on paying the amount.
He said, “The Israelis wanted a club account, not a private account, and they didn’t agree to pay because they wanted proof that the account they were going to pay into belonged to the club. Ashdod paid the money when I was chairman of the club but it was when I came in that I started making the contact.”
In other cases, the player sold to a foreign club is said to be the property of a non-existent academy and not the club where he had played for one or more seasons.
Such was the case of the transfer involving Chikeluba Ofoedu of Rangers to Turkish club 1461 Trabzon in 2012. Ofoedu played for Rangers between 2011 and 2012 and upon transfer to the Turkish club, he was immediately claimed by Oak Zeel FC of Enugu.
Oak Zeel said they were not aware of the transfer of the player to any foreign club, claiming the right to his transfer fees at the expense of Rangers. The player was claimed to have been loaned to Rangers and Oak Zeel wanted 80 per cent of his transfer fees while Rangers would receive 20 per cent.
Also in August, former Akwa United midfielder Alhassan Ibrahim, popularly called Muazzam, was the subject of a transfer tussle between Akwa and an academy after the player moved from the Uyo club to Austria Wien.
Before the Muazzam transfer, Akwa were also in the middle of a transfer chaos which involved one of their former players, Moses Ebiye, who joined Norwegian side Lillestrom. After a long-drawn battle, the club only got two per cent of the player’s transfer fee with the rest going to an unnamed academy, who also claimed they had loaned him to Akwa.
In the Muazzam case, he was reported by Wien as signed from FC Heart rather than Akwa, where he was since the start of the 2016/17 season. It was reported that the player was loaned to Akwa by the academy.
Chairman of seven-time league champions Enyimba Felix Anyansi-Agwu, who spoke in defence of club administrators, said the transfer of players get complicated when there are no clear contractual agreements between the domestic buyers and sellers of a player.
He told our correspondent on the telephone, “The transfer of players could get complicated because players are often loaned from academies and clubs. But at Enyimba, we insist on clear contracts for every player we have. This will make it clear to each party what it gets if the player is to move outside the country.
“In recent times, players have moved from Enyimba abroad and there had been no issues reported in their transfers. The failure to clear what belongs to who in the acquisition of players makes it difficult for clubs to get their rightful dues after grooming a player to prominence.”
Apart from the action taken by the Enugu State governor to bring sanity to Rangers, several other state governments have taken similar steps to ensure accountability in their clubs.
The most recent of them is the disbandment of the two football clubs in Taraba State by Governor Darius Ishaku. Ishaku in November cited non accountability as one of the reasons of disbanding the state-owned FC Taraba and Taraba Queens.
The players of the two clubs – after being owed for 18 months – took to the streets of Jalingo in November to press home their demands. The government in reaction set up a committee which arrived at the decision that the clubs have been a burden to the clubs despite the funds allocated to them.
The state’s Commissioner for Youths and Sports, Gambo Indafo, in a release said, “After the players began their protest, Governor Darius Ishaku had earlier constituted a high-powered committee headed by the Deputy Governor, Haruna Manu, to look into the issues of the running of the clubs with a view to submitting a comprehensive findings as well as recommendations that would help resolve the matter in all its facets.
“The committee discovered that there were no proper contract documents spelling out the duties and responsibilities of the players and the government as well as the rights of both parties. The report also indicated that many of the players of the clubs have left and returned without proper documentation and due process and have added to the salary burden of the clubs.
“It was also discovered that the two clubs have over-bloated number of players in their main and feeder teams. It was also discovered that there has never been records of revenue generated by the clubs, either by way of gate-fees or sales of players.”
Impact of transfers on the league
One of the major reasons for the professional league’s creation almost three decades ago was to make clubs “self-sufficient.”
And to make this possible, clubs were to be run as limited liability companies, with each required to own their own stadium within five years of being registered with the league authorities. But neither the clubs nor the league could be described as self-sufficient.
Rather than the transfer of players to positively impact the league, it has rather slowed down the wheel of the league’s progress.
Lawal said the benefit of transfer funds on the league is immense.
“In developed countries, the more players coming into the league, the bigger the league gets. In some other leagues, where accountability is the order of the day, the more players you export, the more players you produce.
“That is not happening in our league because the proceeds from the transfers that would have gone to develop the clubs and produce more players have ended up in the wrong pockets. South American players are some of the best players in the world that is why the European clubs will continue to go there to get quality players.
“They only come to Africa for extra-ordinary talents at cheaper amounts. A lot needs to be done to ensure that the league develops and becomes competitive enough on the continent.”
Gara Gombe believes that accountability will help the clubs overcome the loopholes in the sales of players.
He said, “When club officials become accountable and can see the club as a business rather than an avenue to make fast money, the impact of transfer funds will be felt in both the clubs and the league.
“Also if the league body can enforce the rules to the letter – this is because the improper registration of players also aids the siphoning of these funds – the clubs will know what contract to sign with the various academies they are dealing with.
“The state government should also see football as a business rather than as a political tool. They should hands off club football – as was done in Lagos – and allow private bodies run the clubs. A private individual will always look to profit from his players’ sales and that will help in developing the league.”
Lawal believes that putting the right people in charge of the clubs will help to stop the corruption in the clubs.
“When the people who know about football administration are allowed to run clubs, we will have a good foundation for the domestic league because the league starts from the clubs.
“In some leagues in other parts of the world, there are only 10 clubs because those are the ones ready for the league. Government should partner with the private sector and allow them run the football clubs in return for the provision of facilities. The effect of this will be creation of employment and blockage of leaking avenues for funds to be stolen.”
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