With a breath of seemingly scented air hovering across curious noses, the countdown to the 2016/17 Nigeria Women Premier League has begun after it was announced at the Annual General Congress on February 22 that the season would commence on March 25. While the Pro League, which is the second division of women’s club football in the country, will begin a fortnight later on April 8.
The 2017 NWFL congress, well attended by women’s football stakeholders from across the country, was held at Hotel de Bentley in Abuja – same venue where the 2016 edition was convened – under the new leadership of an Independent Chairman, Aisha Falode. The veteran broadcaster and CAF Media Committee member heads the newly-inaugurated Nigeria Women Football League board which consists of nine other members, with a commitment to running a league that is (in her words) “functional, compact and competitive”. And although Rome wasn’t built in a day, there is so much expectation with respect to how much turn around could be achieved by the end of this season.
It is an encouraging start that the congress did not have to be arranged for a later date, albeit proceedings commencing about an hour behind its 7pm schedule. Postponement is one issue that has ridiculed efforts to develop the women’s league in Nigeria, therefore this current board would score additional points if this coming season kicks off on the already publicized date of March 25. However, curbing a protracted scourge called walkover and ensuring the league runs smoothly will be the real deal.
“We know the challenges the league has faced in the past,” Aisha Falode noted in her opening speech at this year’s congress. “No sponsors or partners, leading to financial suffocation; non-existing patronage even from fans; low morale and motivation among the stakeholders; lack of infrastructure and organisational hiccups as well as uneven calendar among others.”
“We as the women football league management board have assigned to ourselves the task to ensure and initiate programmes that will help to turn the league around for good.”
The honourable Minister of Youth and Sports Barrister Solomon Dalung graced the congress with his presence and declared it open. Then, while reiterating his support and that of the government, he charged the new board to “repackage and re-brand” women’s football in the country.
“The challenge to the board is to go back, repackage and re-brand very well female football in Nigeria. You are going to have sponsors, you are going to have partners and you are going to have investors declaring interest in it.”
“You can only achieve this by good leadership and good leadership has two major ingredients fairness and justice. Where there is injustice, peace can never be a neighbour, where there is inequity you cannot be talking of development, therefore the board must embrace justice and equity.”
Speaking of leadership, Falode has enviable antecedents and her long-term involvement in football speaks volumes. The one-time general coordinator of Nigeria’s women’s national teams is believed to have the midas touch that would bring positive transformation.
One of the Directors on the NWFL board, Henrietta Ukaigwe expressed confidence in the qualities and abilities of their chairman.
Ukaigwe who used to be the Super Falcons’ team cordinator said: “She (Aisha Falode) has been involved with women’s football for a very long time, she has covered several female world cups, she has been there for the past 20 years so we trust her and she is a go-getter. Talking about marketing football, she will definitely get us to the promised land.”
Meanwhile as disclosed in the communique released after the Annual General Congress: “The Congress passed a vote of confidence on the Board of the NWFL and pledged their loyalty to the Aisha Falode led Board.”
In the same vein, Falode, understanding the importance of unity in their quest to restructure the league, enjoined everyone involved to join hands and ensure its success.
“We are not unmindful of the potential, especially the human capital that a well organised and financed league would bring to the table, to those who would be called upon to invest both their time and resources in the league,” the CAF Match Commissioner stated.
“I stand here before you to make a pledge and the pledge is that we will lessen the financial burden of the clubs. We will make the leagues competitive. We will bring back fans to the stadia for the women’s game.
“Indeed, we will seek the corporation of our colleagues and friends in the media to give the women’s game the desired visibility and the desired patronage such that we would then have a brand that we can sell to potential sponsors and advertisers.”
Still an abridged league
At the congress, delegates decided to stick with an abridged league format of 16 teams divided into groups A and B, while a Super Four playoff involving the top two teams in each group will determine the champions.
The draw was conducted on the night and it was a relief that the irregularity of readmitting already relegated teams – like in last year’s congress – did not repeat itself.
Reigning Champions Rivers Angels are in Group A alongside back to back Federation Cup runners-up, Bayelsa Queens. Also in the group are, FC Robo, Sunshine Queens, Ibom Angels, Abia Angels and COD Ladies. Heartland Queens are the newly promoted side in the group.
The other newly promoted club in the topflight, FC Sadaatu Kolo are in Group B, a group which also accommodates last season’s runners-up Nasarawa Amazons, Delta Queens, Osun Babes, Confluence Queens, Adamawa Queens, Pelican Stars and Edo Queens.
“We have an abridged league because there is a directive from the NFF which is our parent body that all leagues – be it the women’s league, the national league and of course, the premier league – should conclude this season by July. So there is no way we can play a straight league, we can’t achieve that because we have just few weeks to be able to conclude it,” Henrietta Ukaigwe explained.
Meanwhile four teams, Taraba Queens; Martin White Doves; Tokas Queens and Capital City Doves were officially relegated from the NWPL. Hence there are eight teams per group as opposed to last season’s nine teams per group, where two teams had to be on standby every Matchday.
NWPL Week one fixtures
Rivers Angels vs COD Ladies
Bayelsa Queens vs Ibom Angels (Star match)
Heartland Queens vs FC Robo
Sunshine Queens vs Abia Angels
Nasarawa Amazons vs Osun Babes
Delta Queens vs Confluence Queens
Adamawa Queens vs Edo Queens
Pelican Stars vs FC Sadaatu Kolo