Nigerian football needs major surgery, but when will the NFF wield the scalpel?

Salisu Yusuf was banned from all football activity in Nigeria for one year. Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

A number of incidents happened in the space of a few hours this past week that brought into sharp relief the diseased state of football in Nigeria, and why there is a very compelling need for urgent surgery.

It began with the NFF's decision to recommend former Super Eagles Head Coach Salisu Yusuf to Enugu Rangers to head up their technical staff, as the former champions attempt to arrest a dreadful run of form which included three losses on the spin.

Yusuf only just finished serving a one year ban for accepting cash from undercover journalists posing as football agents. The coach had initially been marked down to return to his former job assisting Gernot Rohr and leading the under 23 Eagles. But a national outcry forced the NFF to backtrack.

Rangers fans have not been particularly thrilled about having him either, and a home loss to Egypt's Pyramids FC did little to help his cause.

Divining the cause of the fans' unhappiness requires no necromancy. Yusuf's reputation was severely dented by the bribery scandal and there was widespread agreement that the punishment handed to him was way too mild for the crime.

Nigerians were still reeling from the shock of Salisu's return to league football when news broke that Premier League club FC Ifeanyi Ubah had been attacked by armed gunmen on their way to a league fixture in Kano, leaving at least six people injured, some with gunshot wounds.

While the motive of the apparent robbery attack remains unofficial, this was only the most recent in a long line of road incidents encountered by Nigerian clubs, some of which have proven fatal in the past.

Yet, clubs continue to travel long distances by road, sometimes spending at least two days traversing bumpy, dangerous roads and arriving on the morning of the game, only to play and be on their miserable way right after.

It is something of a surprise that away teams are even winning games on the road.

Finally, there was the baffling issue of the transfer of league placement between Delta Force and Kwara United.

With the new football season barely five weeks old, both clubs agreed on a trade, one which has become somewhat murky.

Kwara United were relegated last season, and already started the new season in the Nationwide League (Nigeria's second tier). But after buying the Premier League spot of Delta Force, they will now continue the campaign in the top tier, while Delta - who started in the top flight - take their place downstairs.

What makes this case of trading places even more convoluted is that Delta Force got into the Premier League via the exact same transaction with Kada City FC in February, less than 10 months ago.

At the time, Delta were flush with cash from a supportive state government. Barely 10 months down the line, that relationship has soured, players and staff are reportedly owed nine months' wages, and the team have struggled to honor even their home fixtures.

These incidents epitomise the three major issues holding Nigerian football back: A lack of clear and transparent governance structure, which would embrace ethical behaviour and frown upon conflicts of interest; a professional organization which puts players first; and finally, the deep government involvement in running football, which stifles professionalism and growth.

The NFF have set up a Reform Committee tasked with making far-reaching recommendations for the overhaul of the country's football.

Issues like these must be front and centre. Why, for instance should teams be made to drive such long distances to play league fixtures when they cannot afford to fly. Even if they could, flights in Nigeria are amongst the most unreliable in the world.

One obvious solution would be for the country to operate a regional league system (like the Conference system employed by US sports), with the top teams going to a playoff to determine conference champions.

And why should the government be so deeply entrenched in the ownership and management of football in the country? Of the 20 Premier league clubs, 18 are owned - directly or indirectly - by state governments.

NFF Vice President Seyi Akinwunmi, the Chairman of the Reform Committee, acknowledged the problems outlined, but told ESPN that change was coming.

He said: "It is fair to say that Nigerian football is not where we would like it to be, but we are confident that given a proper enabling environment we can get it to the level that we want it to be.

"That is the goal behind the Exco's decision to constitute the Reform Committee.

"The Committee's objective is to make recommendations that will aid the overhaul of Nigerian football, not just to bring it in line with the best professional practice worldwide, but to do so in a way that takes account of our own unique cultural nuances and experiences as a people.

"It is our firm belief that at the end of this exercise, we would have produced a template that would change the complexion of our sport for the better."

There can and should be hope for change. Such is the might of the sport that if properly run and managed, with government keeping well away, all of this can still be salvaged.