Nigeria’s football leagues continue to evolve, quietly improving itself and attracting private interests and investments. The Nigerian club football system is made up of the Nigeria Premier League—the most prestigious of the four-league system, the Nigeria National League and the Nigeria Nationwide League (NLO) (Division 1 and Two).
The NLO has seen an uptick in private interest with Oloye Akin Alabi, a popular football fan, Entrepreneur, and Politician, owning one of the rising clubs; Lekki United. As the Club continues its very first season at the NLO in pursuit of a day in the sun of Nigeria’s Division 2 games, there have been clear signs of progress for the now revamped team.
The long term expectation from the owner, Oloye Akin Alabi has remained a spirited bid for the Nigeria Premier League, NPFL. For now, he hopes his team continues to win the matches right in front of them. This in part has informed his appointment of Mr Biola Kazeem, a veteran sports administrator and enthusiast, as Sporting Director.
In an April 20 2022 NLO home game against Emmydinho, another NLO side, Lekki United, representing Lagos’ arguably most buoyant commercial hub, took the visiting team to the cleaners with Sheriff Sholola slotting in a home-run in the 85th minute. The team represents Lekki, a commercial hub in Lagos, which is also home to Mr Akin, thousands of individuals, families and businesses living and thriving. Mr Ayo Filani, Head Coach continues to lead the team from the dugouts for every matchday since their first game in the NLO.
As enthusiasm continues to grow for Nigeria football, the home-grown players also stand to gain a lot with an increased chance of early talent discoveries. N’golo Kante started from France’s 3rd Division and is now a world Champion and a world Club champion, who says Sheriff can’t?
Beyond Oloye Akin Alabi’s massive investment and interest in Nigeria’s football league, we continue to see other interests with entrepreneurs like Shola Akinlade, CEO of one of Nigeria’s biggest payment platform, Paystack and Kunle Soname a seasoned football administrator, throwing their hats in the ring.
Shola had earlier in 2021 announced his ownership of Sporting Lagos, a Second Division Nigeria League Club and also invited participation from other Nigerians in a widely publicised stock purchase hosted on Paystack.
He has since received massive cheers following the move and in various interviews, highlighted the need to make Sporting Lagos a lasting institution that would champion community building and employment creation through sports. Other private backers of Nigerian club football share in Shola’s optimism and faith.
In a recent interview with the CEO of Remo Stars, Kunle Soname, he mentioned that Nigeria needs to enable sustained success for its club football system. The experienced football administrator mentioned the expectations for his team; Remo Stars, stating that if they ended up in 15th place, he would be excited. Remo Stars had not played the NPFL back-to-back since their first top-flight experience in 2016. Even at that, Remo Stars is considered one of the best run clubs in the NPFL, following its very efficient methods and nascent history.
Lekki United, Owned by Oloye Akin Alabi, Sporting Lagos, owned by Shola Akinlade and Remo Stars owned by Kunle Soname all signify a quiet resurgence in the Nigerian footballing system. For a sport which is almost a cultural item in the menu of Nigeria’s entertainment and pop culture, one would think that the Nigerian system would at least be at par with the South African Football League System.
The Nigerian football league has the power to empower young passionate footballers seeking to ply their trade in European Stadiums, just like the Brazilian league does. The league has the power to empower communities and families, attract investment and foreign exchange to the economy and restore the pride in a sport the country loves so dearly. Are these recent interests and investments the first of many or do Nigerians remain pessimistic?
While the journey ahead is well cut out for the stakeholders, the recent private interest is arguably a sign of growing trust in the operations of the league system. What would be next? A big money sponsorship of the league system down to Division 4? A thriving teenage league system? An efficient talent scouting system feeding the Nigerian National Team with endless Okochas, Yekinis and Nwankwos? A big money player transfer to an EPL, LaLiga, Bundesliga etc side? Or even a future where Lekki United climbs the Sporting ladder and wins the NPFL?
These remain to be seen. However, as the surging private interest has got the proverbial ball rolling, it is now clear as day that everything is possible in the Nigerian football league system. As good as it may look now, it is still day one in Nigerian football.