Enyimba FC players celebrating after winning the NPFL title for a record 9th time at the end of 2022/23 season.

The premier football league in Nigeria has weathered numerous challenges, mirroring the struggles faced by many sports entities in the country. A lack of efficient administrative structures, poor financial management, and insufficient sustainable funds have hindered the growth of this athletic asset. In order to rejuvenate the league, a shift from the current public sector ownership structure of professional clubs to the private sector is imperative.

Delving into the historical roots, the elite league, initially established in 1972 with six teams in the inaugural Nigeria National League, underwent a significant transformation on May 12, 1990. It was at the Onikan Stadium in Lagos that the league was rebranded as the "Professional League," aimed at modernizing the sport and fostering club self-sufficiency. The introduction of professional football in Nigeria, as codified by Decrees 10 and 11, mandated that professional clubs function as limited liability companies, governed by duly constituted boards of directors. These clubs were required to conduct Annual General Meetings (AGM), present independently audited accounts, nurture youth/feeder teams, and own their stadiums within five years of Pro League Department registration.

To facilitate the timely achievement of these objectives, the 56 professional club-sides comprising the inaugural Pro League First and Second Divisions were granted a five-year tax moratorium on all income from 1990.

From 1990 to 2022, the elite league experienced various ups and downs, reaching a nadir where potential partners grew disinterested due to lingering issues from previous years. The league's managers struggled to meet the financial obligations essential for its smooth operation. As the situation deteriorated, the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) had to intervene in a rescue mission.

The challenges faced by the NPFL created a trust deficit among prospective sponsors, prompting the need for a saviour or a bearer of the league's burdens. In response, GTI Asset Management and Trust Limited emerged as a pivotal player in the Nigeria football ecosystem, stepping in to revitalize the sinking league.

(To be continued in Part 2)

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