Shehu Dikko: My dream for Nigeria league
The astute football administrator also spoke on a wide range of issues concerning the league.
The interview -
What is the present LMC doing differently to help transform the Nigeria Premier League?
SHEHU DIKKO: What we are doing is a continuation of the process that we started long time ago. I am just fortunate now to be the one driving the process.
First and foremost, what we tried to do was to try and resolve all the issues of getting the right governance structure for the league in line with the best international practices. We worked with the participating clubs to get the most appropriate rules and regulations.
Our rule book is world standard and it makes things easy. You hardly see protests now because the rules are clear and easy to understand. It makes it easier to administer the league. We drafted that and got the approval of the NFF. We have a licensing regulation in place. The document we have is the best in Africa.
We have also tried to look at referees, fans, predictable results and getting good grounds. We introduced a lot of innovations.
Talking about innovations, what is the LMC doing to ensure that the problem of bad officiating is eradicated in the league?
To get better officiating, we now have referee assessors to monitor the referees. Delegates are also involved. We also have special delegates at match venues. These are all innovations to make the referees do their work properly. The NFF are also playing their roles. They train the referees. Not long ago, they took them abroad for training.
We also try to work with the security agencies to give the referees enough protection so they can be safe enough to officiate without fear. And we often call some fans and the clubs to find out about the performance of the referees. We also have match commissioners’ assessment of the referees.
To what extent is the LMC taking the clubs along in this new attempt at transforming the league?
Indeed we are working with the clubs to get better grounds especially those who are playing on grass. In addition, we want to have competitive clubs so we have introduced innovations like payment of bonus for away win and bonus for away draw. We pay bonuses if you get a certain number of fans in your stadium. We have provision to give the clubs monthly allowance to help them maintain their grounds. These have really made the clubs very competitive and everybody is happy.
So, based on this you can see everybody is talking about change in the Nigerian league. We are not resting on our oars. We have a lot of programmes which we are working on but it is gradual.
With what the LMC is doing, where do you think the Nigeria Premier League will be in the next couple of years?
In the next couple of years, we envisage that if we get the right kind of support from the stakeholders and government, Nigerian league should compete with any league in the world. We have all the ingredients to operate a quality league. We have the infrastructure. It is just to upgrade them so that they can compete with the best in the world.
We have quality materials. Our players are among the best in the world. Above all, we have the passion. More than 99% of Nigerians love football. If we get it right with our local football, the sky will be the limit. If we get our acts together, we can have more private funding coming on board. We really want to work with the incoming administration to see how we can partner to drive the process.
Football is not just about playing football. There is a lot around it. It is a way of creating jobs, a way of maintaining peace and a way of keeping people engaged. So many industry and business would be sustained through the football industry so government in particular and the people should support football.
Are you comfortable that almost all the clubs taking part in the league are government owned?
This is not encouraging but people should give some credit to the states. In the past most clubs were owned by individuals because the economy was very robust and individuals had money to sponsor clubs. We had the likes of MKO Abiola, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Leventis and others.
But in the late 80s, when the economy started going down, most of the individuals pulled out. And government that time decided to do something. That was how governments started to acquire clubs because they wanted to sustain at least the social development through the clubs within their states. Before you know it became a norm. Now almost all clubs are owned by states. Only very few are privately owned and the world has moved beyond that.
So, that is why we are pushing for the community ownership of clubs. We have looked at the models globally and we have come up with what they do in Germany to see how it can work here.
In recent times, Nigerian clubs have not been doing well in CAF organised competitions. Are you not worried by this disturbing trend?
We are not happy about it so we are doing something. As the league body, we are doing what we have to do to support the clubs. But you know this is a circle. Some years back Nigeria had two clubs in the semi-finals of the CAF Champions League.
Like I said, Football is a circle. As you are developing that is how other people are also developing. So you can’t be on top forever. But since we started no Nigerian club has been defeated at home. Pillars lost 0-4 away to a team that comprises almost 8 players who are starting for the Moroccan national team but they were defeated in Kano in the return leg. However, there are some things we need to correct and we are working on them.
Could you mention some of the things you are working on to help the clubs avoid future ‘continental disasters’?
We would continue to encourage the clubs and that is where our work stops. They have to do their own part. And the best way to do well in the continent is to keep your best players. Those days that Pillars and Enyimba were doing well, they kept their key players. They stayed together for four to five years. So that is why we are worried about this frequent movement of players and coaches.
Teams need to maintain their core players for a while. That is why Pillars is dominating the league. They are able to keep their key players. That is why they keep going above other clubs. Enyimba are always doing well because they are always keeping the core of their payers.
We also hope to start our league in time. We know it is part of the problem. When somebody has played 20 matches in the season and you have played only two matches, to play against such a team becomes difficult. So we hope we can start the league much earlier so that our teams too would toughen up and know what to correct before their continental competitions. We hope to recover the lost glory very, very soon.
You inherited the sponsorship deal with Globacom. Does the contract reflect the worth of Nigerian league?
No! no!! I didn’t inherit the contract with Globacom. I was part of the LMC team that struck the deal. The contract was negotiated in my office. In fact I brokered the deal. So we know exactly what we have. Even at that time, our hands were tied a bit because the league was in problems before we took over in December 2012 as LMC. So we had to do what we could do at that time. So we are happy with what we did at that time.
Now we are seeing out the contract and we shall see how far it will take us. We have discussed with Globacom on how to do so many things to keep the league going. They are not moving with the kind of speed we want but we shall converge at some point.
What legacies would you like to leave at the expiration of your tenure?
My vision has always been to see a full-fledged professional football league in Nigeria. Where everything is done professionally, where the private sector is fully involved and where every club is budgeting billions of naira annually because if they budget, they can get it from the private sector. I don’t want them getting money from government.
Furthermore, I would want to have all our matches live on TV, see that every week Nigerians go to the stadia to watch league matches. I want to see a process where we would be fighting people doing black market ticket for the Nigerian league as it is done in Europe because everybody wants to go and watch. It is a success indicator. I want to see that.
I want a time where the Super Eagles will line up eleven players from the Nigerian Premier League because the league is very good and the foreign players are finding it difficult to adapt. I want to see a league where when our players go abroad and they are having difficulties, they will come back and play in Nigeria.
I want to see a league where our players will as if with the money they are collecting here, is it reasonable for them to go abroad?. I want to see our football create a lot of jobs and opportunities as it is done elsewhere in the world. I want our football to become a key factor in the economic development of Nigeria.
If you go to Britain, the Prime Minister meets with the chairman of the Premier League every month because football is critical to them. It brings money into the economy. I want us to get to that level where we would not be seen as just sportsmen but people who are running a huge industry which everybody in Nigeria will be involved. Football is our national asset. If we do it well, everybody will be happy about it.
From Daily Trust Newspapers