One competition, one protest… new slogan of Nigerian football teams
In 2006, the Super Falcons of Nigeria made big headlines in some foreign media when the players sat in their hotel room in Johannesburg, South Africa protesting non-payment of match allowances and winning bonuses after winning that year’s edition of the African Women Championship (AWC).
The protest was embarrassing to the entire nation, particularly to the then president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. While the girls got what they wanted, the team’s handler, Coach Godwin Izilien and his assistants, including Ann Chiejine had their money seized by the football house till this moment.
A year later, the Falcons took their protest to the world stage, this time in the far East China during the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Then, the team had a mathematical chance of qualifying for the second round of the championship after drawing 2-2 with Sweden in their first match and losing 0-2 to Korea in the city of Chengdu. With a crucial last group match against world champions, the U.S., the girls decided to stage a protest by refusing to train for two days on arrival in Shanghai. Some of the players in that squad, including Maureen Madu (now assistant coach of the team) and Faith Ikidi (now Faith Michael), had their way, when a former national team player, who is based in Korea sent money to the team. On arrival in Abuja, the players framed up a story that Coach Effiong Ntiero instigated them to embark on the strike. Until he died some years ago, Ntiero was not in good working relationship with the NFF. Some part of his money was seized.
Nigerian football did not witness much squabbles over unpaid allowances and bonuses between 2008 and 2015. But in 2016, two major incidents happened in the nation’s soccer. First was the no-pay-no-play protest by the National U-23 team, Olympics Eagles, at the Rio Olympics. Things got messier that a businessman, who was so ashamed of the situation, decided to cough out huge amount of money for coach Samson Siasia and his boys to share. The team captain, Mikel Obi was said to have brought some of his personal cash to settle his teammates. That was in the summer of 2016.
Five months later, it was the turn of the Super Falcons to strike, this time in Abuja on return from the 2016 African Women Championship, which they won in Cameroun. But for coach Florence Omagbemi, who aborted the girls’ plan at the airport in Duala, the strike would have taken place in Cameroun. On arrival in Abuja, the girls sat in their hotel rooms despite numerous threats by the NFF to forcefully eject them. They refused to hand over the trophy to the presidency. They got their money. But while the girls have since returned to their duty posts, their coaches and some backroom staff are still being punished.
The practice seems to have taken a different dimension. It is fast becoming a ‘one competition, one protest’ by the various national teams. Last month, the national U-20 team, Flying Eagles, joined the protesting group for the first time. Despite recording a poor performance at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland, the coach Paul Aigbogun-led Flying Eagles drew the attention of many foreign media by refusing to vacate their hotel rooms as they protested over alleged refusal by the NFF to settle their wages.
And last week, the Super Falcons struck again, this time in France. Having tested the depth of the water on two occasions (2006 and 2016) and got huge rewards from it, the girls seem to have perfected a new strategy of waiting for international engagements to embarrass the nation. A team that sneaked into the round of 16 through the back door, and got beaten 3-0 by Germany in a match they performed far below the expectations of many Nigerians back home, refused to vacate their hotel rooms the following morning. It was not clear whether Vice President, Professor Yomi Osibanjo sent a ‘huge amount’ of money to them as was the case in 2016 in Abuja. The players and their over pampered foreign technical coach Thomas arrived Nigeria unnoticed last week.
After their first group match against Burundi at the on-going Egypt 2019 African Nations Cup, which they won 1-0, reports filtered out from the Helnan Palestine Hotel camp of the Super Eagles here in Alexandria that the players refused to attend a press conference and train for the game against the Syli Nationale of Guinea.
Though, the match has come and gone, with the Eagles winning 1-0 to reach the round of 16, some Nigerians are not happy with the frequent protests by national team players over wages. Speaking with The Guardian at the FAN ID Centre in Alexandria, a member of the Nigerian Supporters Club, Alex Chibuzor said there was an urgent need to arrest the situation before things get out of hands.
“Protests by our national team players during competitions is portraying Nigeria as an un-organised country,” Chibuzor said. “It is becoming an international embarrassment to us, and I feel the authorities should do something about it fast. I read a statement by the NFF that President Muhammadu Buhari just approved the Afcon budget, so why are the players in a hurry?
“Even if the money did not come now, the players will surely get it. This is a big competition, and I don’t think it is wise for players to start with protest over unpaid allowances.”
Chibuzor continues: “Some years back, this issue of protesting over match allowances and bonuses was not rampant in our national teams. I have been in the supporters club for years, and I know what I am talking about. If the team had lost the match against Guinea on Wednesday, virtually all Nigerians back home would jump into the conclusion that it was as a result of the protest.
“I am not trying to put the entire blame on the players, but I want them to always go for the title first before talking about allowances. The NFF should also ensure the players are carried along so that there is no room for protest at major competitions.”
Also speaking, an Egypt-based Nigerian businessman, who gave his name only as Olarinwaju said: “I always feel embarrassed whenever I hear about Nigerian players staging a protest during international competitions. It is not so frequent in other countries, so why is Nigeria’s case so different?
“I don’t think Nigeria is the poorest nation on earth. The players should have a good understanding with the administrators because some of them will become football administrators in years to come.”
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