"For the past four years that Kwara United has terminated my contract, I have had my career stuck. All my efforts to play for another club were not successful."
When Abubakar Yusuf, popularly known as Sylas, signed for Kwara United Football Club from Abubakar Bukola Saraki FC in the 2013/2014 season, he dreamt of a more prosperous life where he could meet the needs of his family as a young player.
SaharaReporters gathered that the club agreed to pay him N250,000 monthly as salary and N2 million as his annual signing-on fee, a contract which lasted for a period of four football sessions.
The player had it all planned like many others; make some money, make a good name that would attract better offers from clubs abroad. But, despite using his sweat to serve Kwara United for four years, Abubakar has yet to live the life of his dream.
"For the past four years that Kwara United has terminated my contract, I have had my career stuck. All my efforts to play for another club were not successful.
"It is like my football career has ended," Abubakar said, in a voice laden with grief and hopelessness.
He continued: "To take care of my family is now something very difficult. Even if I cannot continue my career as a footballer, Kwara United should pay me my entitlements. The money they owe me is enough (if paid) to start a new life."
Abubakar was right. Kwara United still owes him over N4 million from his signing-on fees during his stay at the club.
A signing-on fee is a payment the player gets for signing for a club. This may vary from league to league. The idea is that if the player is at the club for the time set out in his contract, he will receive a set amount.
Francis Onyegbula is another player whose football career was ruined by Kwara United. He was signed from Dakkada FC in the 2015/16 football season as a central defender.
In his contract details, the club agreed to pay him N2.5 million as his signing-on fee and N1,000,000 clearance fee for every year.
Francis was a regular player with the team. He had an average performance of 80 percent throughout his 3 years' stay at the club.
"I played three seasons with the team before they terminated my contract in June 2018 due to an injury I sustained while playing for the club," Francis told SaharaReporters.
It was gathered that Francis with jersey number 31 sustained an injury against MFM FC on 19 January 2018 at Agege Stadium, Lagos. While still nursing this injury, the team injected him to play against Kano Pillars because the club considered him as an important player who must feature in the match.
"My wound was still there but they called one man to give me an injection because the team needed the match against Kano Pillars so badly.
"It was during that match with Pillars in April 2018 that I got another injury on the same wound. That was how a promising career ended."
Due to the injury, Kwara United subsequently dropped Francis from their squad and despite his pathetic condition, the team neither released his entitlements nor bothered about how to nurse his injury and get him back on the field again.
Hence, on Friday, June 10, 2022, Francis held Kwara United players and staff members hostage in Aba when the team went to honour NPFL 2022 matchday 33 against Enyimba. He prevented the team from going out of their hotel for a training session ahead of their Saturday clash.
"The team owed me N5 million signing-on fee, N3 million as my clearance fee. I have also spent N2.5 million to take care of the injury whereas the club must take care of my injury because I sustained it while playing for them.
"They killed my career and left me here suffering. I could not secure a contract with another club again due to this injury. I have been nursing it since 2018," he said.
'Kwara United Turned Us To Beggars'
Abubakar and Francis are not alone in this hopeless situation. The pain of being hard up was evident in the voice of Hakeem Onigbari. Onigbari was the team captain during his stay with the club. He was dropped from the team at the end of 2018/2019 after spending more than four years with the club.
It was gathered that the club agreed to pay him N70,000 monthly salary and N3,000,000 annual signing-on fee.
"The club did pay our salaries but they still owe us our signing-on fees. I was only paid 70 percent of the agreed sum at my first session with the team and since then, the club has not shown serious commitment to pay me my entitlements. They still owe me over N6,000,000.
"The club has turned most of us to beggars. As a family man, it is very hard to take care of people depending on me.
"We have appealed to all those concerned, and written to the government and the League Management Company about our plight but nobody really cares about us.
"We have staged many protests and we won't stop until we get our money," he declared.
The story is just like that of David Ayeni. He was signed from Sokoto United and played for two and a half seasons. He was entitled to N7,500,000 signing-off fee for his service at the club but the club still owes him over N5,000,000.
"Due to nonpayment of this money, life has been difficult. This is the money I worked for," he said.
Even The Dead Are Not Spared
SaharaReporters gathered that Kwara United Football Club does not only owe their ex-players who are alive, those who died while playing for the club were also being denied their entitlements.
The most notable one was Abdulazeez Saka who slumped and died on Friday, May 26, 2017 during the club's training session.
It was reported that Saka slumped, unchallenged during their training session on a Friday morning and attempts to revive him were not unsuccessful.
But five years after his death, the club has yet to release his signing-on fee for the 2016/17 season he signed with the club to his family, a source close to his family confirmed to SaharaReporters.
Ismaila Shagari is also being owed his entitlements by Kwara United even in death.
The former Team Manager, Agboola Basambo and ex-Chief Security Officer of the club, Mr Buki are dead but their ghosts are probably restless, thinking of when their entitlements would be paid by the club they dedicated years of service to. Their relatives are still hoping the team would release their signing-on fees one day.
'I Became Bankrupt Because Of Kwara United Contract'
Mr Majin Mohammed was an assistant coach with Kwara United for a period of 2 years (2015-2017). The club promised to pay N5,000,000 for every season he spent with them.
"Due to this promise, I approached a bank to get a loan with the belief that I would get paid as and when due.
"I was only paid N2,250,000 during my first season. And the club failed to pay the balance.
"I became bankrupt due to this contract. I was forced to sell my belongings to repay the loan," Mr Muhammad told SaharaReporters.
Another former employee of Kwara United who narrated his ordeal to SaharaReoorters is Coach John Obuh. Obuh was appointed as manager of the club on January 16, 2016 and left his position in March 2018 by mutual consent.
Despite Obuh' achievements with Kwara United FC, he is being owed outstanding signing-on fees estimated at N23,250,000 (Twenty-Three Million, Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira), January 2018 outstanding salary of N500,000 (Five Hundred Thousand Naira), match bonuses estimated at N280,000 (Two Hundred and Eighty Thousand Naira), and feeding allowances estimated at about N125,000,000 (One Hundred and Twenty Five Thousand Naira), bringing the total outstanding sum to N24,155,000 (Twenty-Four Million, One Hundred and Fifty - Five Thousand Naira).
However, according to a document obtained by SaharaReporters in which the club responded to a letter of complaint filed by the LMC to demand the payment of Obuh's entitlements, the club claimed that N13,450,000.00 was Obuh's entitlements with the club.
"Despite miraculously changing the terms of the contract, they still failed to clear my debt, they only gave me N3,000,000.00," he said.
According to the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) NPFL Framework And Rules:
9.45 The terms of a contract between a Club and a Player shall be strictly adhered to and where a club fails to pay remuneration or entitlements due to players for more than sixty (60) days, such Club shall be liable to a deduction of a maximum of six (6) points and a further deduction of three (3) points for every further thirty (30) days for which the remuneration or entitlement remains unpaid.
Despite the incessant breach of this provision by Kwara United, no action was taken by the League Management Company (LMC) against the club.
According to an official of the LMC, who spoke to SaharaReporters on condition of anonymity, the club kept promising to clear the debt anytime they were queried by the LMC.
"But anytime they came to register for a new season, they would still be allowed to register without showing LMC a clear proof that would tell if they have actually fulfilled their promise.
"The problem is those at the top, once you can buy your way, the law is just there as a formality," the source told SaharaReporters.
Document Shows Kwara United Owes Ex-Players, Staff N250 Million
According to a letter written by the Club Secretary, Olowo S. Hamidu, to the State Governor, through; the Permanent Secretary, State Ministry of Sports and Youths Development, and obtained by SaharaReporters, the debt owed by the club (as at October 24, 2019) was Two Hundred and Fifty Million, Four Hundred and Thirty-Five Thousand, Nine Hundred and Twenty Five Naira (N250,435,925.00).
The letter read in part: "Your Excellency may wish to be informed that the immediate past Administration in agreement with the National Association of Professional Footballers (NANPF) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) approved the sum of Two Hundred and Seventy-Eight Million, Seven Hundred and Forty-Six Thousand, Five Hundred Naira (N278,746,500.00) only as Sign-On Fees for 2013/2014 30% Balance, 2014/2015 100% and 2015/2016 100% for Players and Officials. The said amount was to be released in ten (10) months instalment of Twenty-Seven Million, Eight Hundred and Seventy Four Thousand, Six Hundred and Fifty Naira (N27,874,650.00) monthly from March-December, 2017.
"The past Administration has so far paid 55% of the money, totalling One Hundred and Fifty-Three Million, Three Hundred and Ten Thousand, Five Hundred and Seventy-Five Naira (N153,310,575.00) Naira only leaving the total sum balance of One Hundred and Twenty-Five Million, Four Hundred and Thirty-Five Thousand, Nine Hundred and Twenty-Five Naira (N125,435,925.00) only yet to be released. In addition, the sum of One Hundred and Twenty-Five Million Naira (N125,000,000.00) only was required to pay for 2016/2017 Season 100% Sign-on Fees."
SaharaReporters independently discovered that the state government released a total sum of N20,000,000.00 to clear part of this debt early 2021. But about 95% of this debt has yet to be cleared by the club.
Club Chairman Blames Past Administration
When SaharaReporters contacted Kunbi Titiloye, the Chairman of Kwara United, to get his reaction to our findings, he said, "The club is owing some of its ex-players and officials and that was from the past administration."
"I have tabled the matter to the government and they are currently looking into the matter. A budget will be reviewed to clear this debt," he assured.