CHAIRMAN of League Management Company (LMC), Mallam Shehu Dikko, believes the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) can be a vehicle to drive the troublesome Nigerian economy in the same way the Premier League has done for England and the United Kingdom in general.
On the last count, the English Premier League reportedly generated the biggest revenue worth £1 billion a year domestically and it generated €2.2 billion per year in domestic and international television rights; Dikko believes the Nigerian economy can equally a big boost using football as the platform, adding the NPFL can bail out the much troubled domestic economy.
“We want a situation whereby the league is a vehicle to drive the economy like in England, Spain and Germany,” declares Dikko in his usual frankness while reviewing LMC’s activities with MORAKINYO ABODUNRIN.
“For instance, if you remove the Premiership, the economy of England and United Kingdom in general would be worst hit and we believe Nigeria would be better off if we do things rightly.”
He continues: “The same thing would happen to the economies of Spain and Germany if you remove the La Liga or the Bundesliga; and I think we can replicate the same thing in Nigeria. That is our belief and that is what we are working on in the long term.
“We will do our best and when our time is up, others can follow up from what we have done. On our own part, we will put in structures and reforms that will be difficult for anybody to reverse even when we are no longer here; and we are working 24 hours on this.”
The LMC has done roundly well in the year under review and Dikko, who was recently named the Nigeria Sport Personality of the Year in the annual Sun newspapers Awards and honoured with a Special Recognition Award during 5th edition of the Nigeria Sports Award but he reckons there are still works to be done to take the domestic league to its Nirvana.
“If you have been following up with what we are doing, you will see that we are working for the future,” declares Dikko, who holds a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA), specialising in marketing and finance.
“We recently unveiled a mega sponsorship with the Nigeria Breweries and Star Lager Beer which is one of the biggest brands we have in Nigeria and in the world. And their Managing Director was very clear and he said ‘I have belief in the people running the league in Nigeria.’
“That, to us, was a statement of fact because he believes in the achievements he can see and he believes in the target we have set before ourselves. We believe the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) can be a veritable platform to drive our economy,” he notes.
Incidentally, the LMC – the umbrella body supervising the NPFL- has in recent years been like an oasis in the desert as far as Nigerian sport is concerned. While many federations and parastatals are groaning under the weight of cash crunch, the LMC has become a success story thriving amidst challenging circumstances yet Dikko would not ascribe this to any magic wand, adding the success secrets of LMC was rooted in being a team player.
He continues: “Sincerely, I really feel great, excited, privileged, honoured and indeed humbled by the award as The Sun Sports Personality of the Year, but, honestly, I don’t see it as my award alone but for all stakeholders involved in the NPFL project as everyone is putting his shift to ensure things are done as planned. From the NFF, to LMC Board, the 20 participating clubs, the players and technical teams, the sponsors, the media and indeed the fans, amongst others.
“So really the award is to our whole glory including even you. Yes, I am the leader and always leading from the front and thus must take responsibility for both success and failure. However, we see all these awards coming our way as a big motivation to do more as it’s clear our little efforts are being appreciated confirming we are on the right path and also a huge debt that we can only repay by continuously working hard to put our very best to ensure we don’t disappoint those that see the good in what we are doing.
“Indeed, my belief is that anyone who praises you today has also earned the right to correct you tomorrow when you do wrong, so the best way for us is to work to avoid this happening. These awards indeed keep us on our toes for the right reasons,” states Dikko, as he speaks on other sundry issues. Excerpts….
*Dealing with challenges facing the LMC and NPFL*
Sincerely, I’m naturally a very positive person and always tend to see the upside on any issue and situation. I always tend to see the cup as half full rather than half empty and always work towards making the cup full. As people privileged to be in position of leadership it’s absolutely our obligation to work to resolve the challenges and build on the positives. So, really, I take them as they come and any issue no matter how big or minute that has a tendency to distort our progress I do give them equal attention with the sole objective to ensure it’s resolved. But on a holistic note, I think the biggest challenge was getting everyone to see and appreciate the vision and objective we have and thus join the train of progress. This we had been able to achieve over 95% as indeed all stakeholders are on board and everyone doing his bit to move things forward and this is one of the secrets of our success. You know, the wise men do say that if everyone is moving forward, together and in the same direction, success is assured. So, this is the secret of LMC’s visible progress
*Happiest moments at LMC*
I have so much happy moments in LMC that, really, I can’t point one as the best. When you work and people do appreciate and compliment what you’re doing, you certainly would be happy. But I am always happy, for example, to be walking on the streets and or at an airport or a public function that has nothing to do with football and someone would walk up to me and say ‘Hello, Mr. Dikko, I just want to shake you and thank you for the work you guys are doing at the LMC and for our football.’ This, really, does excite me and provides a huge motivation to keep happy and trying to do more. And nowadays this is happening almost on daily basis both in Nigeria and abroad. Sometimes, I do get almost into tears as you see people that have nothing to do with football coming to you to want to take pictures and saying all sorts of good things about the work we’re doing, meaning they really appreciate what we are doing. Yes, indeed, it’s also a thing of great joy when stakeholders in the business of football who knew what it was before and now appreciate what it is today call you or send you messages of support and advise to do more. For example, at our last LMC AGM 2016 in Enugu after I finished my presentation to the clubs, especially on the income and expenditure of LMC for 2016, the entire clubs’ leaders plus the new clubs stood up to give a standing ovation for a job well done and indeed one of the elders suggested LMC work with the clubs to support them to adopt the LMC system of financial book keeping and reporting as it’s very transparent and international best practice. I nearly burst into tears as these are my key and closest stakeholders, the clubs, and duly appreciating what we are doing for the collective interest of all. Anyone in my position would be happy and excited and thus feel motivated to do more.
*Boosting the ownership structure of NPFL’s clubs*
Well, club ownership is something that really requires a huge attention to ensure we get the clubs to be better in terms of corporate structure which in turn would impact on the level of professionalism in the administration and management of the clubs and thus the entire football industry. But we need to look at the issue holistically, and the starting point is to examine where we coming from, how we got here and where can we go. You see in those days, which we used to call our glory days, most clubs were owned by private sector and communities, and that was the 1980s. But when SAP was introduced in the late 1980s and the economy took a hit, most of the private sector couldn’t afford running the clubs and thus the clubs started folding up one by one. Therefore, the government, mostly states has to intervene to take over the clubs and or formed new clubs to replace the folded ones. This is the 1990s and this is how government got into football club ownership which is now a norm. But have we sat back to carefully look at why the private clubs in the 1980s folded up? It’s actually because those that had those clubs then didn’t take the right decisions to institutionalise the clubs as a business with sustainable structures but only focused on football on the pitch and that was it. Look back at all the great clubs we had before, did they have any structures on ground that could make them sustainable with visible revenue streams? Absolutely no!! So once the owner took a hit or got disinterested, that is it – the clubs also folded up. Now in resolving these issues we currently have, when all clubs are virtually owned by government, and we must comment the government for this intervention otherwise football would have taken a big hit, we must look at everything holistically and also learn from global practices so we can build a sustained and enduring system devoid of the mistakes of the past. So, what is LMC doing? First and foremost, what we are doing is ensure we clean up the system and bring back confidence and belief into the industry and see it not just as football but a business. I believe we have achieved so much in this aspect, as people are not seeing the opportunities and are having a different view of the industry. Secondly, we have to work at the centre to generate as much funds as we can privately, and our strategic partnerships to ensure we can support clubs directly to meet most of their obligations without relying on government. This would enable the investors to have confidence to acquire the clubs as they can see the business sense. Work is in progress here with a huge success.
Thirdly, is to create a platform that would enable a systemic and transparent transfer of the clubs and or investment of private sector into the clubs. To this end, that is why LMC entered into an MOU with NASD OTC – the second stock exchange – in Nigeria to work with us to create financial instruments that would allow clear-cut private sector investments into the clubs. Already, eight clubs have been selected as pilot to join this scheme and I personally have met with several state governors that own clubs to get their buy in and they are all happy. Even during our last AGM on December 11, in Enugu, the MD NASD and some financial advisers were in attendance and made a presentation to the clubs’ chairmen. So, work is in progress here and once we can succeed with even four clubs from the eight, then we have set the stage for others. And, indeed, we have analysed and agreed that the best option for sustainable club ownership in Nigeria is community club ownership where the fans would own the clubs and thus determine its leadership and do make annual contributions just like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Al-Ahly etc…
Fourthly, we are working to create the business environment to show that football can be run as a business. To accentuate this, we have introduced a programme we call “Beyond the Three Points”, where the objective is to change the thinking and actions of all stakeholders to see football beyond the 22 persons playing a match but work to build enduring structures around the clubs which would now open windows for several revenue streams into the clubs and, of course, the business of football to thrive. With this, it would be easy for the private sector to come in and as they can see the bottom line and can put credible numbers to their investments and returns. For example, last week, a shop was opened in Lagos aimed to only sell replica shirts and merchandise for Nigerian clubs. This is a huge multi-billion-naira industry and if clubs can tap into it they can raise billions of naira annually through merchandising, looking at the population in Nigeria and the passion for football.
So, by and large, I can tell you we are gradually putting the building blocks to ensure clubs ownership in Nigeria is updated to the best global practices and sustainable structures are put in place to ensure the business of football thrives in Nigeria and it’s run by private sector on a professional level. We would surely get there and let’s be patient. We are done with the legal structures, have created the awareness and now putting the procedural and commercial structures to drive the required investments into the clubs. Indeed, the future is good as we all know on an annual basis over N200b is spent by Corporate Nigeria on marketing communications, and once we put our house in order most of these funds will pass through football at all levels so the money is out there and once we get the clubs ownership and operations right all will be sorted.
*LMC’s targets for 2017*
Well, we just finished our 2016 LMC AGM and we had collectively along with our clubs reviewed the outgone season and determined where we are making progress and where we have challenges. The focus going forward is always the same for a new season, which is to build on the success of outgone season and work to eliminate the challenges observed in the outgone season. We always see the league holistically and work to improve on all areas. This is how we will continue to ensure every season is better than the previous one, which surely will translate to progress.
So, we will build on the success of last season to ensure continuity and progress and indeed we will be introducing new ideas and systems to drive this process. So, expect several new innovations going forward as LMC is known to always do. We hope to work to open the club merchandising project for next season so as to create a business opportunity for the clubs and also promote the clubs more. We will enhance our broadcast of the league, including efforts to take the league matches to international territories etc… of course the next season is all about the business of football – “beyond the three points” period.
*Poor run of NPFL clubs in continental cups*
Well, the issue of continental performance of Nigerian clubs is something of huge concern and as usual what we are working on to change this tide is to look at the matter from the root cause to see what can be done to change the situation. There are always no quick fixes, so we’re working to bring change and institutionalise it to ensure we don’t go back to the dark ages. So, first step is to ensure we bring stability to the clubs by ensuring the usual wholesale change of squad players every season, which invariably affects the competitive edge of the clubs, is controlled. We have achieved this and now the clubs are more stable and maintain a good identity. Secondly, we are now working to ensure we start our league in time so our clubs can play as much matches as possible to gel before they start the continental campaign in the second week of February. This would improve their ability to compete. Hopefully, this 2017 season, we will achieve this. Thirdly, we have always been supporting our continental clubs both morally and financially to do well on the continent and we will continue to do this. However, we must all understand that this issue is not within the justification of the league as it’s the duty of the clubs to ensure they prepare well to be able to compete on the continent. Ours is to provide a level playing field and ensure the best club gets the opportunity and we have been doing this. Also, we must know that performance on the continent is certainly not a reflection of the league quality, competitiveness, and or commercial success. Many clubs doing well on the continent are coming from a league where only one team or two max three are the only strong clubs in the league. Ours is totally different. Also, look at n
La Liga Tour
English Premier League, it’s the best league in the world. But do EPL clubs dominate European club competitions? Nope! But they are the richest league in the world and most commercially successful league; so, our focus here is to build a very successful and commercially viable football league rather than just focus on CAF competition. When we get our league right, our clubs will surely be more competitive on the continent and anything can happen. But we do hope this coming season our clubs will do well and Rivers United pre-season preparation can testify to their seriousness, likewise the ability of Rangers, Ifeanyi Ubah and Wikki to keep core of the team has shown they are serious.
*Renewed commitment for football development*
It’s our overall objective and goal to ensure that our domestic league meets up with the best global practices; this is not only about our football but the economy too. With the way things are going, football can help in softening the hardships by creating over 500,000 jobs in a single year if we show more commitment towards the development of our football and sport in general. We can keep millions of people engaged directly or indirectly in order to earn some sort of revenue from football. We have to convince government and everybody to put their hands on the deck. We want a situation whereby the league is a vehicle to drive the economy; for instance, if you remove the Premiership, the economy of England and United Kingdom in general would be worst hit. The same thing would happen if you remove the La Liga in Spain or the Bundesliga in Germany, and I think we can replicate the same thing in Nigeria. That is our belief and that is what we are working on in the long term. We will do our best and when our time is up, others can follow up from what we have done. On our own part, we will put in structures and reforms that would be difficult for anybody to reverse even when we are no longer here; and we are working 24 hours on this.
That is the message we are taking everywhere; and it’s interesting to know that we have no scandal or problem per se since the LMC came on board. We have been transparent in all our dealings and if you go to our website, you can see everything including our board and financial resolutions; annual report with the financial details. We run everything in the open and anybody can actually have access to everything we are doing. This is actually driving confidence in people we are dealing with and we want to keep up the momentum. I’m so delighted, and recently there was a publication in Sport Business, which is the biggest sport business magazine in the world, where they reviewed all the transactions (sponsorships and marketing) that was done across the European leagues and the transaction between NPFL and Star was rated the ‘Deal of the Month’ globally because of what is involved for football globally. It shows we are doing some few things right. We just have to keep doing our best and the transparency we have shown has made so many people to believe in us. We give our sponsors the road data of our expenditures at the end of the season; we give them the details. Any contract we sign with our sponsor, we insert a clause that they have the right to demand for the financial and spending details anytime they want. We do the same with the clubs twice in the season.
*LMC, NPFL sans Shehu Dikko*
I absolutely have no worries on this as the LMC governing structure has taken care of all this. You see, we sat down with the clubs in September 2013 to develop the LMC governing structure looking at international best practices, our peculiar situation, the problem we had before and what need to do to correct them. So, we ended up with a robust and most professional governing structure that practically takes care of all the problems and provides for the enabling environment for the league to thrive. Indeed, the LMC governing structure was approved by LMC members, NFF executive committee, the NFF congress, and indeed the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), so it’s legal within the football laws and Nigerian corporate laws. The growth of LMC has surely proved that this is working and the governing structure provides for a mixture of independent members and clubs representatives, deepening of relationship with the NFF and indeed all stakeholders. So, everyone has a stake and must do their best to get things working. You see, when FIFA and even CAF is saying LMC governing structure is among the best and recommending it to other jurisdictions, it’s no fluke. So, back to your question, you see the LMC governing structure provides for a selection committee of five persons to search and nominate qualified persons for appointment (by extension election) into LMC board. The selection committee is to always comprise two members from the clubs, two members from the outgoing board of LMC and the NFF.
The selection committee is saddled with the responsibility to look for suitable candidates to be on the LMC board in line with the rules, and the committee is even allowed to appoint specialists’ persons in HR and management to assist them in the task but without power. Also, the LMC governing structure has provided for clear cut requirement for a person to be the chairman and directors of LMC to guide the committee.
After all the processes, a resolution of the LMC members (the board and 20 participating clubs) to ratify which technically is an election as even if there is voting it’s same persons that would vote. So, the process is very thorough and the outgoing board has a key role in the process.
This was done to ensure that the outgoing board assists in bringing up a new board that will ensure continuity and rancour-free transition.
So, really, we have no fear and once our time is up, and all things being equal, those that will come after us will build on what we have achieved to ensure the progress made is not truncated. The laws have taken care of all the issues and we are happy with that.

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