Nigeria’s sports ministry issued a press statement on Monday quoting politician and businessman Femi Carrena as saying he has a group of UK-based investors prepared to pump $1.5 billion into the domestic league.
Carrena told ESPNFC that he had raised similar funding for Nigeria’s Ministry of Housing, and it was during the course of those conversations that he raised the idea of a near identical funding for the domestic league.
“We spoke to the investors and they were happy with it and said ‘go do your homework,’ and that is how we started this,” Carrena said. “Our objective is to revolutionise football in this country and make it a profitable business for everybody involved.
“We intend to set up a football development company which will be quoted on the stock exchange, and where all stakeholders can invest in.
“This company will take over the running of stadia and rent them out, even to the governments, manage broadcast rights, help the clubs with corporate governance structures so that they can be attractive to the investors and many more.
“This is a Confederation of African Football (CAF) project but they wanted to use Nigeria as a test project because this is the most populous nation on the continent, so we contacted [former director general of the National Sports Commission (NSC) Amos Adamu who originally put us through to CAF and they bought the idea.”
As a first step, Carrena has proposed a football conference, under the leadership of Adamu, where all football stakeholders will come together and brainstorm on the best way forward.
“We have also invited [Brazil legend] Pele, and his presence here will show how serious we are about this,” Carrena said.
However, the League Management Company (LMC), who run the Nigerian league, have already signed a partnership with securities trading firm NASD to kickstart the process of getting Nigerian clubs on the stock exchange, with the first, ongoing step of that process being to execute corporate governance structures.
“The problem with Nigerian football is that it’s run like a political party with many different interest groups,” Carrena added. “We thought the best thing was to cut through all that and go straight to the top so that the minister himself does not become a cog.
“We don’t want this to be dead on arrival. The Minister might not be my best friend. But he represents the government. My clients want me to talk to the government so they can be assured their money is safe.
“I might not have done it conventionally, but if I had it might have been politicised. My people should forgive me for the way I went about it, but it is the way to go.”
Carrena also insists that he would be willing to join forces with the LMC and their partners.
“We can complement each other. If we all have the same plan, we can achieve the same objective,” he said. “We want to bring fans back to the stadium. We want everyone to enjoy the game and make money.”
Much of Carrena’s proposed revolution is already being implemented by the LMC. Stadia have been improved, fans are returning to games, many state governments, groaning under the yoke of the country’s recession, are on the verge of ceding control of the clubs to private holdings or individuals.
LMC chairman Shehu Dikko told ESPN FC that he is open to any cooperation if it makes sense: “What this shows is that the work we have been doing with the league over the last few years is attracting attention outside and we are happy about that. But let us not get carried away by big words.
“We will welcome strategic partnerships that improve the league and benefits all stakeholders, but we have to be sure that it is in line with our overall strategic objectives.”
Colin Udoh is a Nigeria football correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ColinUdoh.