NNL Super 8: A Crime Scene And Theatre Of High-wire Politicking
The recent NNL Super 8 in Enugu to promote four teams to the country’s top league, the NPFL, showed again another ugly face of Nigeria Football.
Allegations and counter allegations of match-fixing, money laundering and downright politicking with next year’s NFF Elections very much in view were in full display.
“I never knew how low Nigeria Football has descended to until I was part of the Super 8,” lamented a major stakeholder, who was in Enugu for the promotion tournament from start to finish.
The NNL leadership – Chairman and serving Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Obinna Ogba, Chief Executive Officer Muhammed Sajo and the Chief Operating Officer Emmanuel Adesanya – could only watch helplessly as the Super 8 turned into a huge crime scene.
The first sign of the shame was at the draw, where the eight qualified clubs were again grouped into geo-political regions – Group A had the clubs from the North and Group B those from the South.
Close watchers said that with the NFF Elections fast approaching, the North, which commands the majority of the votes, the powers that-be could not afford to irritate the region so as to be re-elected next year.
Group B, which housed the teams from the South, was where everything went horribly wrong.
“The highest bidders made it (to the NPFL). But we’re just an upcoming team,” Ekiti United coach Ayodeji Ayeni summed up the shame.
It was widely alleged that the Edo State Government bankrolled several of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) events – Aiteo Cup men and women finals as well as the Annual General Congress (AGM) – in exchange for the promotion of Bendel Insurance to the top league.
Based on this, Bendel Insurance went to the Super 8 playoffs armed with the belief that they will qualify not irrespective of their performance on the pitch.
But ‘The Benin Arsenal’ will lose 2-1 to Shooting Stars of Ibadan in a Group B opener.
Insurance supporters and some of their staff beat and molested the center referee after their 1-1 draw with Ekiti United in their second group game.
The NNL management, who were on seat when Bendel Insurance humiliated the center referee, surprisingly turned blind eye to such national embarrassment.
Ordinarily, Insurance ought to have been thrown out of the tournament for bringing the competition to disrepute. But, the NNL instead slapped the team on the wrist by slamming a Million Naira fine on them.
As if that was not enough, Bendel Insurance kept the whole world waiting for two hours in their last group game against Remo Stars. The match, which was slated for 3pm could not be played because the Edo State team failed to enter the pitch.
Defending why they couldn’t honour the game, the management claimed that the match has been fixed because two match officials initially appointed for the game were substituted for another, two hours to the commencement of the game and insisted that until another referee replaced the officials, they will not leave the dressing room for the pitch.
A press statement by Insurance secretary, Charles Ihemepken, alleged it was a plan to compromise the outcome of the game.
While this was going on, Remo Stars players were kept on the pitch for hours waiting for their opponents.
The confused NNL management held meeting with the Referee Association and concluded that the match should be played with Bendel Insurance ‘appointed referees’. This decision was reached two hours behind the scheduled time.
Despite the ‘favourable’ decision, Bendel Insurance said they would not play under the floodlight and ordered their players into the waiting bus and left for their hotel.
This infuriated, the Chairman of the League, Senator Obinna Ogba who said they should declare the match a ‘walk over’ and three points and three goals should be awarded to Remo Stars.
After the declaration, it was alleged that the Deputy Governor of Edo State, Phillip Shaibu called NFF president, Amaju Pinnick and threatened that such decision should not stand and if they try to walk over his team his team, hell will be let loose.
Amaju Pinnick immediately called the league organisers to overturn their ‘walk over’ decision, insisting that the match must be played.
This did not go down well with Obinna Ogba who threatened to resign as Chairman.
Looking helpless, embarrassed with their hands tied, the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer of the NNL had to shamefully announce the postponement of the match to the following day.
Despite all the antics, Bendel Insurance could not beat Remo Stars as it ended in a draw on Sunday at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu.
Outspoken Edo State Deputy Governor Shaibu has promised in the coming days to expose what happened in Enugu.
He has already alleged that he was approached to pay a bribe for Insurance to be promoted and that Remo Stars will play in the NPFL in the coming season because their matches were fixed to appease their financier, who owns a gaming company.
Shortly after this allegation, the NPFL announced a partnership with the gaming company owned by the Remo Stars proprietor.
Questions must also be asked about the 6-0 win recorded by Shooting Stars against Ekiti United amid allegations that Millions of Naira changed hands.