Plateau United-USM Alger bribery mystery no nearer to being solved

Etoile Sportive du Sahel's Mohamed Methnani and Tosin Omoleye & Sunday Ngbede of Plateau United MOHAMED MESSARA © BackpagePix

On a troubled weekend of continental football for Nigerian clubs, a weekend which reaped arguably only one result that could be considered favourable, you'd be forgiven for thinking that things couldn't get any worse.

...but you'd need to think again.

With Enyimba drawing, and Akwa United and MFM FC both being defeated, Plateau United's 2-1 victory over USM Alger was the only positive result for the NPFL's four representatives.

However, reports that began to emerge in the immediate aftermath of the match were confirmed by South African referee Victor Gomes, who told SAFA that he'd been offered $30,000 (R362,556) in cash to fix the first leg.

Gomes and his fellow officials turned down the offer, and immediately reported it to CAF.

The allegations have led to a storm in both Algeria and Nigeria.

USMA quickly issued a statement dissociating their club from the allegations after what appeared to be a barrage of attacks from Algerian media.

In their statement, the Algiers-based club made it clear they considered any attempt to tie the action to them as a "hate campaign to destabilise the club," and insisted that they have always played by the rules.

Plateau United have been more circumspect.

Club General Manager Pius Henwan has been unreachable since game day, although it has to be said that the action is no different from what he does on a regular basis.

However, Henwan's boss Victor Lapang, the Plateau State Sports Commissioner, told KweséESPN that the reigning NPFL champions could not possibly be the ones involved.

"That amount of money could not possibly have come from Plateau United," he said. "I know how hard I worked just to get them money to go to Lagos to honour the game.

"We even had to temporarily divert player's wages in order to take care of the expenses to fly them to Lagos. I can tell you we don't have that kind of money.

"I met with the GM and he also told me there was nothing like that," he continued. "We were told that the referees said there were phone calls to them and knocks on their doors at night but, up till now, no names have been mentioned."

Despite the official statement from the Algerians, Lapang said Plateau would not be following suit, and for good reason.

"I called the NFF to find out if there has been any official communication on the matter and they said they would get back to me when they have," the official added. "So for now we cannot make a statement because we still consider it a rumour."

With both Plateau United and USM Alger denying involvement, it opens the possibility of third parties either acting for themselves, or on behalf of one of the clubs, and it is now down to CAF to determine what happened and who was responsible.

One thing is clear, however, punishment must be swift and decisive, to ensure that others tempted of malpractice are dissuaded from attempting to manipulate contests illegally.