13 players of Yobe Desert Stars football club have had their contracts terminated by the care-taker management committee. What is, however, news is the controversy generated by what is said to be ‘unprofessional’ handling of contract termination by the former Nigeria Professional Football League club side.
Even before the termination of the players’ contract, the management committee had ruffled feathers when it allegedly announced a 75% reduction in players and officials salaries.
However, the committee has since denied the report saying it was fake news concocted by its detractors and planted in some sections of the media to discredit the management. However, sooner than later, the management was in the news again when a letter purportedly written by some players of Yobe Desert Stars on the club’s official letter head paper, demanding for their contracts to be terminated went viral. The letter dated April 20 and titled ‘Request for mutual termination of contract’ on the club’s letter head paper suggested that the players were indeed the ones who wanted to be released by the club for under performance.
Part of the letter reads “Sir the reason for this request is not farfetched. Throughout the end of the season 2019/2010 Nigerian National League Season, I did not have playing time at all; moreover, thYis is really affecting my career as a professional footballer. “I am therefore pleading with the management of Yobe Desert Stars Football Club to terminate my contract with the club to enable me move to another club where I can have enough playing time that will benefit my career.”
The ‘Pls sack me’ letter which provided spaces for the players to fill in their name and duration of contract set tongues wagging because many wondered why the players had to use the club’s letter head paper to convey their request.
The letter also suggested the 2019/2020 season had ended while in the actual fact, less than half of the season was played before proceedings were halted by the NNL even before the advent of COVID-19. It is a common thing for employees to write seeking termination of their contract but it will surely become suspicious if such a demand is made using the employer’s letter head as it was in the case between the players and Yobe Desert Stars.
As the controversial letter continued to raise eye-brows, the National Association of Nigerian Professional Footballers, NANPF, wrote the management of Yobe Desert Stars asking it not to force the players out of their valid contracts with the club. The letter from NANF dated 27th April and signed by the Secretary-General of the body, Austin Popo reads in part
“We refer to your proposal dated 20th April 2020 unilaterally requesting the players of Yobe Desert Stars FC to execute an agreement which is completely against the spirit and letter of their terms of contract between them and the club and making it seem the demand for termination of the contract was at their instance.
“In view of the above, the players union demand you revert this unlawful attempt to hand twist the players to achieve a particular goal without respect to the terms of the contract entered with the players.” Despite the letter from the NANF, the care-taker management committee of the club has gone ahead to terminate the contracts of at least 13 players.
Yobe state commissioner for sports, Hon. Goni Bukar Lawan admitted that some players were served with termination letters due to what he termed poor performance in the NPFL despite gulping N7.3million monthly as salaries and allowances. Lawan who represented Bursari, Geidam, Yunusari constituency of Yobe state in the 8th National Assembly and was Chairman House Committee on sports said before they were disengaged, the affected players collected their entitlements in full.
He argued that football practice internationally is about competition and productivity and once there is no result the contractor wouldn’t wait to disengage the non-performing in order to hire the best players. According to him when he came on board as the commissioner of sports, he noticed some problems and advised Governor Mai Mala Buni to constitute a committee that would guide the sporting activities and correct the past irregularities. He said the governor consented and a committee was immediately set up and is already working. “We are only trying to address some of the irregularities in the club for optimal performances.
“Agreed things are hard but sports is about performance and result. Once you are not delivering the desired results, you have to make way for a more productive player,” he said.
He also said the committee came up with some resolutions which include job creation for indigenous players through sporting activities. Lawan, therefore, said Yobe Desert Stars as presently constituted have 14 non indigenous players and 12 indigenes. When Trust Sports sought to know if the players union would continue to fight for the terminated players, Popo said the hands of NANF are tied because of lack of sincerity on the part of the players. He said most times when the association is fighting for the right of the players, they go behind to compromise, making it difficult for the body to do its job.
Popo maintained that the association would go on with the case only if the players write demanding for assistance.
“We can do something about the plight of the players only when they give us the go ahead by writing to us that we should step into the issue. “As we speak, the club paid them 50% and they collected without notifying the union that has been on the issue. If I didn’t call the captain, I wouldn’t have known what happened,” he said.
When Trust Sports spoke to one of the affected players, Jerome Philip, he said he received his disengagement letter in good faith. Philip equally confirmed that he received his April salary without any reduction.
However, he disagreed that he was sacked based on poor performance. He said his termination probably was caused by the fact that he is not an indigene. “I don’t have any regret because even without Yobe Desert Stars, life must move on.
The only problem is the present hardship caused by the coronavirus. I am not going to get any salary in this lockdown and it is not going to be easy with me.
Philip also expressed optimism that he would be engaged by another club once the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is brought to an end. Founded in 1991, Yobe Desert Stars first gained promotion to the Nigerian topflight in 2001 but spent just one season among the big boys before they were relegated to the lower division again.
They however reached the finals of the then Nigerian Challenge Cup in 2002 where they lost 0-3 to Julius Berger FC of Lagos. Things got worse as they were relegated to the amateur division in 2007 where they kept struggling till they returned to the National League and then the Nigeria Professional Football League in 2017 when they defeated Adamawa United 2-0 on the last day of the Nigeria National League.
Unfortunately, the same fate that befell Yobe Desert Stars in 2002 when they did only one season in the topflight almost repeated itself as they returned to the NNL at the end of the 2018/2019 season to set off another round of misery in the lower rung of Nigerian professional football. As they prepared for life in the lower division, Yobe Stars became depleted as most of their star players like Moses Tsehuan who was the captain, Itodo Akor, Moses Yanmar, Daniel Agwaza, Terkaa Melai, Philip Asuquo, Philip Auta and a host of others left the club for greener pastures.
Despite the major setback in their playing staff, Yobe Stars managed to resume in the 2019/2020 Nigeria National League, NNL, season and were aiming for a quick return to the topflight before the suspension of all on-field football activities due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Credit: Daily Trust