The reactions to ‘Who Is Afraid of Desire Oparanozie?’ have been the most widespread since I started to put out my thoughts on the ACLSports platform six weeks ago.
So I decided to do a follow up, not to over flog the matter but to throw up some new dimensions to the problem areas in the relationships between sports men and their governing bodies or authorities. I will limit this to football.
I hope to highlight some instances, of the past, to show this long standing, deep seated culture of distrust within our football, hoping it leads us to developing a more transparent approach to doing things and thereby forestall future conflicts.
1994 & 1996.
Sometime in March 1994, a few weeks to the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia, the Nigeria Football Association(NFA) had packaged a farewell friendly game for the Super Eagles against the Black Stars of Ghana in Lagos just before they head to a camp in Europe. The plan was that the team would hit Tunisia from that European camp.
Few hours to the game, when the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos had filled up considerably, the players struck.
They waited for the most auspicious moment to make their demands. It was said that their previous requests and appeals were ignored but this would be different. They would not be denied their dues because they had gotten the football authorities where they wanted them…they held the Nigeria Football Association(NFA) by the jugular. It was no payment, no game.
Of course, player power prevailed. The Eagles had their demands met. The friendly went ahead, an uninspiring goalless draw…but Nigeria went on to win that AFCON tournament in Tunisia.
After the success, the Federal Government promised the players houses in the States of their choice. Some were lucky to get theirs while the others have not been that lucky till date….sadly, five members of that squad have now passed on….looks like the promises have gone to the grave with them unless some miracles happen and their children, or some relatives, can make them good.
In 1996, the same thing happened after our Olympic Eagles won the football gold at Atlanta. Not until June 2018, a clear 22 years after, did Bonfrere Johannes collect the keys to his Abuja House.
The Super Eagles were camped at Ota, Ogun State ahead of the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations in Mali. Some friendly games arranged for the team where inexcusably cancelled but there would be a last one against Cote’d Ivoire in Abidjan where the team would have its final phase of preparations.
On the day fixed for the departure from Ota, a few of us, newshounds observed some unusual happenings and movements. There was no sense of urgency to indicate there was going to be any departure from the camp, players were strolling around in their house wears as departure time was approaching. If the team was no longer travelling at least there would be training. Since the training pitch was inside the camp we moved over and waited endlessly for the players to show up for training…they never did.
This is what happened.
The players told the NFA that until a backlog of allowances and bonuses including ticket refunds were cleared they would neither travel nor train.
It took the intervention of then Chairman of Industrial and General Insurance, IGI, Mr Remi Olowude(now late), a sponsor of the Super Eagles to resolve the matter after a distress call was made to him by Supporters’ Club boss Dr Rafiu Ladipo.
Nigeria finished third in Mali but the crises and distrust between the players, NFA and Sports Ministry deepened to such great levels that the coaches were sacked after the tournament and the captain and vice captain blacklisted, their international careers ending prematurely.
The Super Falcons were dominant in Africa again. They had just thrashed Cameroon 5-0 to win the African Women Championship in South Africa. The performance was so heartwarming that the whole nation celebrated it. Things went south and sour when the glorious girls refused to return home until they were paid all their outstanding allowances and bonuses. Our triumph became an international embarrassment.
When the issue was finally resolved, there was only one major casualty – coach Godwin Izilien.
Top Government sources alleged that Izilien instigated the rebellion and was the mastermind of the international show of shame. Till today, he is yet to be paid his outstanding wages, allowances and bonuses.
Izilien has consistently maintained his innocence and dared anyone with proofs that he initiated the stand off to produce them. All his appeals have fallen on deaf ears so far.
2013 & 2014.
African Champions, the Super Eagles of Nigeria were due to fly into Brazil for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup from Windhoek, Namibia after a crucial World Cup qualifier.
Then they missed their flight. Well, that was the official position.
The players refused to leave their hotel rooms for the airport in protest against the non payment of some allowances and bonuses.
Personal calls, pleadings and all entreaties by the Sports Minister at that time Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi failed. The highest offices in the land had to be dragged into the matter and had to give guarantees to the players before they boarded the flight to Brazil.
This ugly, demeaning incident happened again a year later. This time, at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals before the round of 16 game against France. The team boycotted an official training session and cash had to be flown into Brazil from Nigeria for the matter to be resolved.
2016 & 2019.
The perennial African football queens, the Super Falcons were in a similar situation to the 2004 incident in 2016 and 2019.
In 2016, after winning the AWCON in Cameroon, they returned home and started a public protest. They refused to leave their hotels in Abuja until their financial demands were met. It took the personal intervention of Alhaji Abba Kyari, the late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari to pacify the aggrieved ladies.
When all the dust settled, coach Florence Omagbemi was the big casualty. Her contract as Super Falcons coach was not renewed.
What happened at the 2019 FIFA Women World Cup in France is still very fresh. Our dear queens staged a sit in protest, refusing to leave their hotel rooms after the deadline given by FIFA for teams that had exited the competition. It was another embarrassing moment for the country.
Coach Thomas Dennerby never returned to the job and captain Desire Oparanozie has been frozen out of the team since then.
The Super Eagles are on the verge of qualifying for the 2021 AFCON. They have two games next month. Those are the final rounds of games.
Already, a lot has been said in the media about the backlog of allowances and bonuses owed the players and their officials since the 2019 AFCON in Egypt.
The NFF president Amaju Pinnick has so confidently assured that the matter will not lead to a player protest in March because the Federal Government has promised that the monies owed the team will be paid ‘very soon’.
I hope all hands will be on deck to ensuring there are no embarrassing moments next month. Beware of the ides of March.
Some of the ugly incidents highlighted above could have been prevented with better communication, openness, maturity and understanding among all the parties involved.
A good example and case in point was the NFF’s handling of the 2018 World Cup appearance fees of the Super Eagles.
The players, coaches, NFF and Sports Ministry had a documented agreement signed months before the first kick of the ball in Russia. The World Cup qualification bonus was paid to the players before they set foot at the Mundial so there was no money distraction of any kind. Even at the time that the Federal Government budget for the World Cup was not ready, the NFF ensured that the funds from sponsors was handy.
There is a motivational rule put in place by the NFF, although unwritten, that 30% of whatever the team won as prize money in any competition would go to them inspite of whatever they earned as bonuses during such competitions.
For the 2017 WAFU Cup, the Super Eagles B team got 100% of what it won because the players did not get bonuses during the competition. This high standard of foresight, openness and transparency should be maintained in the dealings with the Super Falcons also.
Representatives of the team should also have documented agreement with the NFF before international competitions henceforth. Where there are delays in fulfilling financial commitments owing to government bureaucracies, assurances from the appropriate authorities should fine, firm and, as much as possible, unfailing.
The second edition of The Ballers Awards is holding virtually on Saturday, February 27, 2021.
I was part of the first edition and was so proud of the quality of the organisation and content of the event. I look forward to another impressive event tomorrow.
I watched the two CAF Confederation Cup playoff games between Enyimba and Rivers United. They were very close games and it was not a surprise to me that the teams could not be separated at regulation time.
I wish Enyimba the best of luck going forward and wish the hard fighting Rivers United better luck next time.