It’s been several days since news broke that the management of Nigeria Professional Football League giants, Plateau United had slashed the salaries of its players by half because of a poor start to the season, but the incident, although later rescinded, throws up the unpalatable and murky happenings in Nigerian football.
While it would be simpler to treat this as a standalone issue, the truth is, it is a recurrent one, different variations of this has happened way too many times in the past and little or nothing has been done about it.
It might shock some people to find out that in over 40 years of professional league football in Nigeria, players still suit up for teams without proper binding contracts. How is that still allowed to happen in 2021? The answer is simple.
There are little or no checks and balances on owners and management of clubs in the Nigeria Professional Football League, meaning they can get away with pretty much anything.
Still don’t believe it? The average Nigerian club starts every single season with wholesale release and signing of players, something that would be much harder to do every year if there were proper contracts involved in those deals.
Another factor that enables these incessant financial tussles between clubs and players to keep happening is the cloak of secrecy, a privilege the LMC has allowed clubs to have for far too long.
Not one of the twenty clubs playing in the highest tier of professional club football in Nigeria are required to disclose the financial aspect of their deals with players, many avid followers of the league, including journalists, cannot specifically tell you how much an NPFL player earns.
As long as these deals continue to be a secret affair, the players will continue to be at the mercy of club owners, who currently have the liberty to owe, slash or even outrightly cut off salaries whenever they like.
When FIFA announced in 2016, in conjunction with the LMC, that the Domestic Transfer Matching System would be implemented in Nigeria to monitor domestic transfers and eliminate disputes, everyone thought it would be a final solution.
However, 5 years on and here we are, DTMS, like every other thing in Nigeria, suffered from implementation issues and never really took off, and still no other working solution has been brought up yet, makes you think, maybe there are lots of people who want it to remain like this.
These views are also echoed by former NPFL superstar, Victor Ezeji who weighs in specifically on the Plateau United story, “it’s a trend that has been on for a while, that’s why we’re trying to put a stop to it” Victor remarked passionately.
Victor Ezeji who won the CAF champions league with Enyimba was quite eager to let his thoughts on the matter be known in an interview with on Impact Business Radio 92.5 FM Ibadan’s Sports Lens.
“When Plateau United was in the top spot, when they were leading the pack last season, there was no time we heard extra match bonuses were given to the players, so you cannot just come after two games and say you’re slashing salaries” he adds, going in on the management first.
As much as the management are to blame for this issue, the players are also complicit as well, one has to wonder why exactly they are always in these situations? Why is a professional football joining a club without signing a contract to protect his interests? Questions which Victor Ezeji answered.
“It boils down to the players as well, you can’t just sit there and something that is not in your contract is being activated and you don’t say anything about it, that’s why we have to keep educating these players that you have to stand up for yourself.”
To be fair to the players, they need to earn a living and this is the only way they’ve ever seen it done in Nigeria so they just comply and take it as they see it, it would take more than just one player to change decades of systemic rot, it might require a revolution.
It’s not enough for the players at one club to go on strike, as we’ve seen in the past, its ineffective and doesn’t hurt the guys at the top, there are too many available players for that to ever be a lasting solution.
What could work is all the players in the league, including those with proper contracts (there are actually a good number of them to be honest) coming together as a unit under the player’s union and refusing to play until proper structures are put in place to protect their interests.
However it appears chances of that ever happening are bleak, as Victor Ezeji gives insight to the inner workings of the players union.
“The union has always had issues, there have been factions when it comes to players and that is why the union has not been that solid, they have not spoken in one voice.”
“All we need to do is to give them a little bit of time for them to get settled and then we will see a great difference when it comes to player’s union this year.”
“We are trying to see that everybody is being educated, let players know their rights, and then when these things are being done behind them, the union will start speaking for the players.”
As always, blind optimism rather than actual work and effort to improve the situation seems to once again be the route we are going down with this matter, the true Nigerian way.
Well at least the players get some decent advice out of it, not that it would mean too much to them right now anyway, I’m sure they would rather have the 50% of their salaries back, but here goes Victor Ezeji’s potential solution.
“When a club looks for you, you tell them your terms and they adhere to it, you ask your lawyer to draw up the contract and you present to them to sign”
“Its best for me to walk away than being cheated, because when there’s nothing, no signature appended to the contract, there’s every room for fraud.”