It is now an open secret that former champions, Kano Pillars, are desperately battling to stay afloat in the Nigerian topflight following their turbulent campaign in the 2022 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season.
After less than satisfactory performances in the past two seasons, expectations were high that the “Masu gida” boys would make amends in the ongoing season, but that has proven to be a tough task for them as they are right now gasping for breath so far away from the title and the available continental ticket.
Pillars’ struggles began with the failure of the state government to complete the renovation work on their traditional home ground, the Sani Abacha Stadium, before the commencement of the 2022 NPFL season.
Consequently, Pillars started the season at their adopted home ground, Sir Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna, where they had played the two previous seasons when the SAS Kano was used as one of the isolation centres at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, owing to security challenges and encroachment onto the playing field during their Week 16 match with Rivers United in Kaduna, Pillars were fined N2.5m and banished to the Muhammadu Dikko Stadium in Katsina.
After some matches at their new home ground, Pillars were granted provisional approval to return to the Sani Abacha Stadium on the eve of their Week 23 clash with Katsina United. Unfortunately, their homecoming was marred with misfortune as irate fans, believed to be their supporters, attacked the visitors and vandalised their team bus.
This time, Pillars were deducted three points and fined heavily in a summary jurisdiction by the League Management Company (LMC). In addition, they were banished to the MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja. Meanwhile, the nomadic life of Pillars continued to take a huge toll on them as they kept losing precious points along the way.
Although the abandoned Week 23 match with Katsina United in Abuja on the orders of the LMC ended 1-0 in favour of Pillars after Auwalu Ali Malam scored the only goal in the 90th minute, the victory was trailed by controversies. In the end, the result stood but Pillars’ struggles continued.
When it became obvious that they were not finding life easy in Abuja where most NPFL clubs consider to be a “no man’s land”, Pillars sought permission from the LMC to return to the Sani Abacha Stadium. Based on the letter by the Commissioner of Police in Kano which assured of enough security before, during and after matches, LMC granted their request ahead of their rescheduled Week 31 match with fellow strugglers, Dakkada FC of Uyo.
Although they were allowed to go back home, Pillars were told to play their matches behind closed doors until further notice. At this stage, the former NPFL champions were neck deep in relegation and needed every available point to keep their hope of survival alive.
However, Pillars’ 1-0 win against Dakkada was marred by the shocking behaviour of their Chairman, Surajo Yahaya Shu’aibu, alias Jambul, who ran into the pitch and assaulted an assistant referee moments after the visitors equalised Yusuf Maigoro’s first half goal in the second minute of second half’s added time.
Even as the referees eventually chopped off the goal after they consulted among themselves, there were physical confrontations which left the match officials with no option than to end proceedings abruptly. Despite the chaos that ensued, Pillars went home with the maximum points as they moved from the bottom spot to 15th position, but at a high price.
Pillars fined, Jambul expelled from league
In another summary jurisdiction, the LMC expelled the Chairman of Kano Pillars, Jambul, from the league with immediate effect and charged the club to follow up with the arrest of the offending official to ensure his full prosecution in furtherance of the police report lodged by the match officials on June 23.
Pillars were also fined N1m “for failing to ensure proper conduct of their officials in obvious disregard of NPFL22 Framework and Rules as well as assurance letter issued by the Kano State Police Commissioner on June 8.”
In addition, Pillars were asked to pay N500,000 compensation to LMC delegate, Uchenna Iyoke, for loss of his valuables in the course of the match and another N200,000 as compensation for the assaulted assistant referee, Daramola Olalekan, from Ekiti State.
Fans of Pillars, however, heaved a sigh of relief when the LMC neither asked for the match to be replayed nor deducted another point from those that had accrued to their club.
The league organisers only warned that: “In the event of any further similar breach of the League Rules Regarding the Assault of Match Officials, Kano Pillars shall forfeit 2 points from the points accruing to the club, in addition to any other sanctions that may be deemed appropriate in the circumstance.”
As stated earlier, the controversial victory over Dakkada moved Pillars slightly above relegation waters, but their last 1-0 win over Enugu Rangers in their Week 35 match under closed doors at the Sani Abacha Stadium did a lot to calm flared nerves as the Masu gida, on account of the narrow victory, stormed out of the drop zone to 13th position on the table.
It would be recalled that at the height of Pillars’ relegation troubles, they were second from bottom; leaving even their die-hard supporters to begin to think about life in the lower division of the Nigerian Professional Football League.
Although they have eased off their relegation nightmare, it is not yet uhuru for Pillars as they still have three more must-win matches to play before the end of the 2022 NPFL season. Their next match comes up on Sunday, June 3, against champions-elect, Rivers United, in Port-Harcourt.
Pillars Media Officer, Alhaji Idris Rilwanu Malikawa, told Daily Trust that the remaining matches were like cup finals to the Masu gida boys who last won the league title in 2010.
He said, “We are grateful to Almighty Allah for everything that has happened. At least we are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. But this is not time to celebrate. There are still some crucial matches to be played, so we are not taking our feet off the pedal.
“The battle for survival is not over. We shall be more committed than ever before. Even clubs that are below us and in relegation waters still fancy their chances, so anything can happen.”
Malikawa, therefore, called on the teeming supporters of the club to continue to pray for good results in the remaining matches, noting that once the relegation battle was won, Pillars would immediately put their house in order to avoid a repeat of what they were going through.
On the order for the arrest and prosecution of the club’s Chairman, Jambul, the media officer said, “As soon as we received the letter from the LMC, we forwarded it to the government. We are waiting for further directives from the government.”
Meanwhile, some fans of the club who spoke to Daily Trust, expressed disbelief and disappointment that Pillars were fast becoming a shadow of themselves. The fans wondered why even as the most motivated club in the land, the Masu gida boys were still struggling to keep their place in the NPFL.
Danladi Usman, alias Ajebota, a resident of Kofar Doka, Zaria, Kaduna State, and a die-hard supporter of the club, said the dwindling fortunes of the club should be blamed on the state government that allowed it to keep roaming about in search of a place to call home.
He said, “Honestly, part of the blame for Pillars’ trouble should go to the state government for failing to return Pillars to the Sani Abacha Stadium earlier than now. When they were roaming about, they kept dropping valuable points.
“I hope some of the problems that have brought Pillars to this precarious situation will be addressed as soon as possible for the glory days to return in full.”
Another fan in Kofar Mata, Shehu Idris, said the present management committee led by the embattled Jambul lacked the capacity to administer the club.
He said, “The government made a serious mistake by entrusting a big club like Kano Pillar in the care of Alhaji Surajo who knows next to nothing about football administration.
“It is surprising that despite his constant show of lack of capacity, the government didn’t deem it necessary to remove him. Now see the damage he has done to the club.”