After over seven months in the limbo, the Nigerian Professional Football League, NPFL, will finally kick off on 9 March, 2013, according to the Nduka Irabor-led Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the league.
The football league, which was slated to start in October has suffered several posponements due to issues of sponsorship, television rights, and leadership crisis in the administration of the league.
The removal of the erstwhile chairman of the league board, Victor Rumson Baribote and his other board members by 19 of the 20 members of the NPL at a congress which led to the setting up of the Interim Management Committee and the series of litigations that followed were the immediate cause of the delay of the league season.
Another problem that delayed the commencement of the league was the disagreement over title sponsorship by both Total Promotions and Nigerian telecom giant, Globacom.
Though sometime last year, both Total Promotions and Globacom were believed to have reached an out-of-court settlement, as the latter was announced as the new sponsor, but for several months, the two companies continued to trade blames amongst each other over a breach of trust in their agreement.
Subsequently, Total Promotions refused to relinquish its position as sponsors of the league, angling for a N1.5B settlement by Globacom, which they refused to oblige.
In a bid to allow peace to reign and a new lease of life for the NPL, the Sports Minister, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi intervened he appealed to all parties and peace finally returned.
Consequently, on 15 February, the league board, IMC in Abuja held the draws for the 2012/13 season of the NPFL with the first round of matches released.
The Oriental battle between Enugu Rangers and Enyimba FC in Enugu is the standout match up, while defending champions, Kano Pillars will face Wikki Tourists at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Stadium, Bauchi. At the Ilorin Township Stadium, Abubakar Bukola Saraki (ABS) FC will lock horns with the Kwara United.
Heartland CF of Owerri and the newly promoted Nembe City will slug it out at the Dan Anyiam Stadium, Owerri, while Sharks FC will take on Warri Wolves at the Sharks FC Stadium in Port Harcourt.
The other opening fixtures are: Nassarawa vs El Kanemi, Akwa United vs Dolphins, Sunshine vs Kaduna United, Bayelsa United vs Lobi Stars and 3SC vs Gombe United.
The IMC had initially proposed an abridge league season, but the clubs kicked against the plan, and the new league campaign will now be played in its regular format with midweek games set to be accommodated into the calendar.
Interestingly, the issue of the clubs playing midweek matches for the IMC to meet the target of ending the 2012/2013 league season by September 2013 is another grey area that needs to be addressed.
Most of the clubs in the Premier League are not in support of midweek matches because of the problems of transportation and other logistics they will be facing to meet up with the fixtures.
Virtually all the teams in the league use road transportation to travel to venues of their matches. With the bad state of roads across the country, coupled with the security challenges faced on these roads especially when clubs travel at night, it becomes a daunting task to honour mid week matches after they finish weekend games.
Despite assurances that football league will commence on Saturday, there are heavy doubts pervading the date as the interim management committee is yet to receive a-N200 million (about $1.3m) government bailout.
Chairman of the IMC saddled with the task to run the league, Hon. Nduka Irabor, had announced earlier this month that they have been promised a grant by the Federal Government to get the new season going.
The League secretariat had revealed that it needs the cash to pay for referees’ indemnities and other logistic considerations as sponsorship wrangling have persisted despite assurances these have been resolved.
However, a top official of the IMC was quoted recently saying: “We are yet to receive the grant government promised us to get the league off the ground and as a result, we may not start the league on the day advertised if the cash does not come early.”
It would be recalled that the immediate past season was played without a title sponsor and clubs were forced to foot the indemnities of the referees.