How grassroots clubs are robbed through transfer matching system in Nigeria
By Niyi BUSARI
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Editors Note: Not all names used in this article are real name of the speakers as some spoke to us on condition of anonymity for fears of intimidation
THE world football governing body, FIFA, in 2010 created an online platform called Transfer Matching System (TMS) for its member’s association to record player transfer between clubs.
This was to improve transparency, efficiency and governance among clubs and football associations, and, also, to eradicate conflicts among clubs on the legal ownership of footballers.
On this platform, all football clubs in the world register their players and indicate the outgoing and incoming ones when necessary.
Investigations, however, revealed that the TMS platform has been turned into a conduit pipe in Nigeria to enrich a few individuals within the football’s administration.
According to FIFA and global practice, players are registered on the platform free. Findings revealed that clubs are made to pay N150,000 into a Zenith Bank account via online transfer to register their players.
The account, it was discovered, is owned by Nasiru Jibril, Personal Assistant to Amaju Pinick, President of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF). Jibril is also the Chairman of NFF Staff Union.
Part of the goals of introducing the TMS by the FIFA is to allow both clubs and coaches to benefit from the transfer fees of their players, but the practice in Nigeria is robbing them of this opportunity.
A number of coaches who spoke during this investigation lamented this ‘day light robbery’.
“We are not supposed to pay the N150, 000 for registration of our players on Domestic Transfer Monitoring System (DTMS) that they (NFF) charged,” said Kingsley Amaechi, a grassroots football academy owner whose club cannot be named for fear of intimidation.
“NFF’s responsibility is to collect data from clubs and send it to FIFA. FIFA stated it categorically that registration on the platform is free. NFF also knows this but collected N150,000 from me, asked me to pay it into a private account and the person said when I do the transfer he will train me. Since 2017, I have not been trained, three years after,” he added.
If a European club signs a new player directly from a Nigerian football club, the new club pays a fraction of the sign-on fee to clubs that contributed to his development from age of 12. If the player is 18, for example, the new club pays for club/s that trained the player in the past six years. The Nigeria Football Federation knows this and deliberately denies Nigerian clubs the opportunity to register their players who are 12 year on TMS until they’re 17.
Meanwhile, countries like Ethiopia, Ghana and South African, among others, allow clubs to register players from 12 years. Despite not allowing clubs to register from 12, the Nigerian federation, through some ‘non-existing’ football academies, receives money from foreign clubs. These academies only exist on paper. Theirs names and account details are forwarded to European clubs when they want to pay the 5 percent for clubs that have trained the player they sign from Nigeria.
However, such briefcase academies are not involved in the process of discovering, grooming and development of young athletes that, among others, are the major reasons a football academy is set up.
There is a calculated amount for each year that’s paid by the European club from the twelfth birthday to the age when the player is signed. In Nigeria, most of the players who have started their career at 12 do not have records with their grassroots academies. Yet, the new club pays a fraction of 5 percent but these monies are always diverted by submitting account details of ‘non-existing’ football academies to the foreign clubs.
In a situation where there is no record of player’s youthful club, such monies are supposed to be paid into NFF’s account for youth development programme, but, in Nigeria the monies are diverted into individuals’ account.
“When my former player was transferred to Belgium, I didn’t get what was supposed to be sent to me from the new club. I went to the NFF only to find out that the name of academy has been substituted by a non-existing academy. And that was where the money that was supposed to be sent to me was paid.” Ismaila Bagudu, another grassroots coach who pleaded that the club’s name should not be mentioned told this reporter.
“Can you imagine how much Nigeria would have and can make from the years that they cannot account for, and the foreign clubs pay for these years? Do you know how much other countries make from those years that there were no records of the player playing for a particular academy? Is it because NFF does not give statement of account? Bagudu asked rhetorically.
When contacted for comments on October 25, Jibril, the Personal Assistant to the Nigeria Football Federation President, who is also the person in charge of the TMS in Nigeria, Jibril, refused to comment on the subject matter and frustrated all efforts to get his side of the story. The Secretary General of the NFF, Sanusi Mohammed, also failed to respond to the FOIA letter sent to the football body and received by him.
On three occasions in October, Jibril declined talking on the registration of players on TMS and when our correspondent spoke with him on phone, and immediately the issue of TMS came in, he excused himself.
He claimed he was attending a FIFA online course and that the caller should get back to him three hours later but refused to pick the calls subsequently. He also did not respond to all text messages sent to him.
He also kept silent on an FOIA Request written to his office by this newspaper to seek some clarifications on the TMS and other related information.
In an effort to get their response, as the supervising ministry over the NFF, this newspaper also wrote an FOIA Request to the Permanent Secretary and the Minister, Ministry of Youth and Sports Development on November 26 and after waiting for fifteen days without expected response, reminders were sent to the Permanent Secretary, Gabriel Aduda and the Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, on December 10.
In a response letter from the ministry on December 2, signed by the Head, FOI Committee, Ministry of Sports, Ramon Balogun, the ministry acknowledged receipt of our FOI letters and promised to forward our request to the NFF and get back to us.
“I am directed to inform you that your request is receiving utmost urgent attention in the ministry as it would be forwarded to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) (a parastatal under the ministry of sports) towards receiving appropriate response that are peculiar to your request,” the letter reads in part.
Not satisfied with the response, the reporter visited the Ministry of Sports on December 15. A director, who does not want to be named because of possible risk of sack, confirmed the dirty deals and hinted that the request can never see the light of the day, according to him, the NFF officials are more powerful than the Ministry.
“It is not new to us. There are many dirty deals going on in the NFF that we know about but we cannot do anything to stop it. They’re well connected and don’t send anybody. Even me, as a director, I will not try to force them respond to your FOI request. If I try it, they will disgrace me. Is it Sanusi or Pinnick that I will call to respond? Who am I?
“And we are talking about a parastatal under this ministry. See, let me tell you, we have many FOIA letters lying down here, written from different organisations about NFF corruption. Till now, they’re here with us. And nothing happens.” The senior government official who didn’t want to be identified said.
Efforts to speak with Director of Press, Mrs Lere Adams, met a brick wall, as she was not on seat when the reporter visited the ministry.
However, the Special Assistant to the Minister of Sports, Tunde Akpeji, told the reporter that he is aware of the letters, adding that the office of the Permanent Secretary is looking into it.
“You’re here for your FOIA letters? I am aware of it. I saw your letter of reminder as well”,Akpeji said with a smile on his face.
“The Office of the Permanent Secretary is looking into it. When they’re done they will send your request to the NFF for appropriate responses.”
Taking it further, the newspaper wrote an FOIA letters to Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on November 26 and Ministry of Finance four days later. The CBN responded saying we need to give them time to collate the information we requested for and that they will get back to us when they are ready. On its part, the Ministry of Finance failed to respond even after sending a reminder eight days later without response. The access to information provides for seven days for public institutions to respond to requests for information and, in some circumstances, including when the information would be in large volumes, an additional seven days.
Most of the requests sent are over two weeks now.
The illegal diversion of funds through the TMS is one of the major reasons Nigeria football is deteriorating. Recently, former Super Eagles star and coach, Daniel Amokachi, blamed the ouster of Nigeria Flying Eagles from WAFU U20 Cup in Benin Republic on the federation’s decision to stop the payment of bonuses to all underage national teams.
According to the Nigeria Football Ambassador and Special Adviser on Sports to the President, cancellation of bonuses and allowances affects the performances and commitment of the players in the tournament.
The federation, which announced the cancellation of payment of bonuses and allowance to all age-grade teams in 2019, on its parts, claimed there was no money to pay these players.
Had the money from the TMS been well-managed and accounted for, there would have been enough to cater for the payment of players as well as backroom staff of all the age-grade national teams.
Also, if registration of players on TMS is free as it is meant to be, this will allow the grassroots coaches (who are the bonafide owners of the players) to earn money from the 5% paid from the sign-on fee of player. This will in turn helps the coaches to attend courses and helps to produce better athletes. It will also help them to buy latest equipment with which to train their athletes and produce players that can contest with anyone in the world.
*This report was done with the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.