In December last year, 2023, Ahmed Musa, Nigeria’s Super Eagles captain, revealed that the government had not been efficiently supporting the Nigerian Premier Football League (NPFL) and thereby called for private sector investment. He made the statement in an interview with league broadcasters after the Kwara United and Kano Pillars tie at General Sani Abacha Stadium.
His statement evidenced the fact that the Nigerian government cannot sustainably support the league. From lack of adequate sponsorship and insufficient funding to poor infrastructure, the league has been grappling to meet the standards of the professional system.
For over a decade, NPFL, despite being the highest-level club football league system in the country, has continued to remain a shadow of its old self. The NPFL has been under the stronghold ownership of the government and has suffered a devastating blow of retarded growth compared to its counterparts like the PSL in South Africa and Nile League in Egypt.
In 2023, NPFL celebrated its 11th anniversary after a court ruling shoved out the Premier League. An Interim Management Committee (IMC) was set up by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and tasked with reforming and restructuring the league.
Before IMC took over, the football league was the best in Africa and rated higher than the Scottish league. However, things have taken a dramatic turn under the auspices of the body.
According to the latest football league ranking by the Confederation of African Football( CAF), the Nigeria Premier Football League was ranked outside the top 10.
The Nigeria league was placed 12th, with North African countries expectedly dominating the top 10.
Surprisingly, aside from North African countries dominating the top 10, leagues from DR Congo, Guinea, Tanzania, and Sudan are ranked better than the Nigerian league.
The only solution to the above-highlighted problems is nothing but private sector involvement. The private sector involvement will surely bring financial stability, injecting much-needed capital to upgrade infrastructure, training facilities, and overall league management.
Sponsorship, among other factors, is one of the sparks that gives light to a football league. While critics may argue that privatization can compromise the essence of football, history tells a different story. Leagues worldwide have flourished under private ownership, leading to increased viewership, sponsorships, and overall revenue. A thriving league can uplift the entire football ecosystem, benefiting players, coaches, and fans alike. Research shows private capital funds 35% of clubs in Europe’s top leagues.
According to the financial analysis firm, PitchBook, 35% of top-flight clubs in England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain have acquired private investment in some form.
Private sector is the cornerstone of any economy, not even only the sports sector. It brings innovation, increases competition, and, most importantly, creates jobs. A thriving private sector can significantly reduce and potentially eradicate unemployment in Nigeria.
Furthermore, privatization introduces a merit-based system, where success is determined by performance rather than bureaucracy. The shift can enhance the league’s efficiency, encouraging clubs to invest in youth development and scouting, ultimately producing a pool of skilled players who can compete on the international stage.
For instance, the Nigerian tech startup ecosystem, despite all odds, has created thousands of jobs and attracted millions of dollars in investment.
The government should focus on creating a conducive environment for such sectors to thrive in NPFL. It involves streamlining the business registration process and reducing multiple taxation.
The full involvement of the private sector would create job opportunities for the teeming unemployed youth and promote economic opportunity forums for the Nigerian youths. The growth of the football organization gives people a feeling of unity, joy, hope, solidarity, passion, social connection and love.
In the end, the question is not whether the NPFL should embrace private sector investment but how quickly and strategically it can do so. The benefits are clear – financial stability, enhanced competition, and a global football footprint. It is time to kick off a new era for Nigerian football, where the pursuit of excellence knows no bounds.