Only Promoting Eight Teams From The NNL Can End Standoff, Remo Stars Owner Tells NPFL

Remo Stars proprietor Kunle Soname says promoting the top eight clubs from the Nigerian National League (NNL) 2018 season to the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) is the solution to the current standoff between the leagues which has seen the NPFL unable to kick-off more than two weeks after its proposed December 1 resumption date.

Mr Soname who was speaking as a guest on Sports Cafe, a popular evening time sports programme on the Lagos based Top Radio, also said an alternative solution would be for the NPFL to “go and continue the league” which was cut short with fourteen matchdays still to be played in order to determine the teams to be relegated.

The second tier NNL and the NPFL have been locked in a battle of wills ever since the NNL believed it was misled over the outcome of a meeting of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) Executive Committee held at the Hampton Hotel, Asaba, Delta State on 20th November 2018 which it had interpreted to mean that the NFF would rubber stamp any decision taken in favour of promoting eight teams instead of the stipulated four teams to the NPFL provided that the decision to promote the eight teams was ratified by a congress of NNL’s stakeholders.

The NNL duly convened a congress on November 24 which endorsed the decision to promote the top eight teams – Gombe United, Kogi United, Kada City, Real Stars, Bendel Insurance, Delta Force, 3SC and Remo Stars – from the 2018 season only for the League Management Company (LMC) and the NPFL to insist on only four teams getting promotion into the top tier.

Ordinarily, the NNL was supposed to determine promotion to the NPFL through a ‘Super 8’ playoff involving the top two teams from the four groups that make up the league but Soname said that the NPFL’s decision to end their league abruptly without any relegation and then announce a new resumption date, prompted the NNL to explore ways of ensuring promotion for the eight teams instead of carrying on with the Super 8.

“They [NPFL] ended their league and now set a date for the resumption of the new season so by the time NNL was going to finish their own league that was about three weeks to the resumption of the new NPFL season so they felt there was no time. How were they going to prepare?” Soname told the programme.

He continued: “And these guys [NPFL] had ended their league since July so because this has happened, let’s see rather than playing the Super 8, let’s see if the eight teams can be promoted and they started, they consulted and they lobbied.

“They did all they needed to do they went to Asaba and it was agreed that the only thing that can make this happen is for you to go back to your AGM (Annual General Meeting) because at the beginning of the season your AGM said they were going to play a Super 8, so you must go back, let your Congress sanction that you don’t need to play the Super 8, that the [eight teams] should [be] promote[d].

“But that is a sharp reversal of what was agreed Ab Initio and when that was done they called another AGM and that was done and then they presented and lo and behold NPFL came and said that you know what, that we are not going to get all these eight teams from the league you are only entitled to four and four we are going to give and that is what the situation is.” he continued.

Mr Soname blamed the current impasse on the “extremely poor decision” of the NPFL to embark on a break during the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia and also faulted the rationale behind the decision to end the league with fourteen games still left to play.

“That in itself is the crux of the problem, that singular decision is what has led us to this position we are today,” he said.

“My personal opinion, number one there was no reason whatsoever for them to have stopped the league to go to the World Cup none whatsoever. Why they could not finish the league was because they needed to submit a name to CAF right, so because they needed to submit the names, they did not finish the league and because they did not finish the league they had no right to relegate the four teams that is understandable.

“But I put it to you that in the rules of CAF, CAF had envisaged things like this to happen, it’s quite clear in the clubs competition, in the engagement article 4 of its subsection 6 states that if for any reason a country is unable to play its league – if you do not complete the league it means you have not played it –you have the right to submit the name of last year participants.

“Why on earth did LMC refuse to tow that line? [They] stopped the league abruptly and just unilaterally decided that they are not going to relegate four teams without considering the import of that on the other leagues that is the crux of the problem.”

Soname said that the NNL was ready to go ahead with the Super 8 only “on the proviso that [the] NPFLwill also relegate 4 teams”. Whilst admitting that it wasn’t the place of the NNL to interfere with the decision making of the NPFL, Soname pointed out that the NPFL’s decision not to relegate any teams and play an abridged league of 24 teams could have repercussions for the NNL in the coming seasons.

 “Just look one season down the line, at the end of the [upcoming] season what would now happen to the eight teams that would be demoted from the NPFL? Because NNL equally have the right to say ‘my friend we are only going to accept four teams. I promoted four and I’ll only accept four’.

“So even if we solve this problem now, we are only postponing the doomsday because it will come at the end of the season they will insist  ‘my friend no, I mean the rule says I will accept four teams from you at the end of the season so you cannot drop eight into my league’.”

On RemoStars who are one of six clubs that defied the NFF’s directive to participate in the Super 8 in Aba, Soname said: “We are actually at a crossroads we would like to go and play because for us at the beginning of the season it was agreed that there will be a Super 8. But the problem now is when they went to Asaba, and they came back and they said ok all the eight teams are going to get promoted, everybody actually started recruiting. Like us now we only have 14 players, 13 outfield players and 1 goalkeeper that are remaining from our last year season, how are we going to play?”

Having missed two proposed resumption dates in November and December for the 2018/2019 NPFL season and with general elections scheduled for February in 2019, there is the real possibility that league football could go on a prolonged hiatus till the middle of 2019 if the current impasse between the NNL and the NPFL carries on. Soname, however, believes that the solution is evident.

“NNL is saying we have found ourselves here but we can solve this problem now. Let us use this season to solve the problem and we normalise next season going forward;  promote these eight teams and we will accept twelve teams from [the NPFL] next season then you balance back to twenty and everybody plays on.

“What will happen if eight teams are promoted considering the fact that this is an abridged league, what will happen just to solve this problem?” he queried.

“Another solution is this: let them go and continue the league even now, call [the teams] back [and] the last four gets relegated.”