Proper communication and transparency are needed to curb the incessant row over bonuses and allowances between national team athletes and their handlers, a News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) survey indicates.
NAN reports that the issue of unpaid bonuses and allowances have always generated controversy in the camps of Nigerian teams, even though it has also now become so widespread in Africa.
The Super Falcons had to stage a sit-in protest at their hotel in France during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup over unpaid bonuses.
In an interview, the players claimed they were owed bonuses from as far back as 2017, as well as five days’ allowances while at the World Cup.
It was almost a repeat of the 2016 episode when the team staged a sit-out in their hotel in Abuja, also over unpaid bonuses, after winning their eighth African Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON) title.
But that was just one instance, as this phenomenon is not new to Nigerian teams.
The Super Eagles have been consistent with this situation which Emmanuel Zira, a football administrator, called “a big embarrassment to the nation’’.
More recently was the uproar in the Super Eagles camp in Egypt during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).
There were claims that the team abandoned their training session ahead of their clash against Guinea.
This was also due to unpaid match bonuses and allowances, and arguably it could be safe to say that the trend spans decades.
The signing of the 2018 World Cup bonus agreement between the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and the Eagles was to avoid such bonus rows.
It was expected to put an end to the brouhaha.
However, the incidents involving the same Super Eagles in Egypt, as well as the Super Falcons in France and the Flying Eagles in Poland indicate the end is nowhere in sight.
Those who spoke to NAN on this issue gave different shades of opinion, with the NFF itself even blaming the media for “usually blowing the matter out of proportion’’.
Zira believes the players should always show patriotism, and speak up and act moderately as necessary.
He is of the belief that players of the national teams, being the country’s ambassadors, should act as expected of their status where ever they are.
“It is wrong for the national team players to hold the country to ransom. If the Super Falcons claimed they were owed since 2017, why did they not protest in Nigeria before travelling out?
“We can take a leaf from what the Cameroonian national team did. They delayed their flight to Egypt for the AFCON to demand unpaid wages and made their grievances known in their country.’’
Zira then advised that a code of conduct was needed in the teams’ camps, while an understanding with the NFF should always be reached and well spelt out to avoid this “show of shame’’.
Aligning with Zira’s thoughts, Samuel Ahmadu, a member of the NFF Women Committee, also emphasised the need for a camp code of conduct with sanctions spelt out.
Ahmadu also expressed the belief that a better understanding between both parties would avoid “projecting a bad image for the country’’.
“Most sports federations in Nigeria have challenges of funds and at many times these funds are not usually available when they are needed due to bureaucracy and a lot more.
“So, the NFF should engage the players in a conversation and be realistic with what it can afford.
“The players should also remember that if they decide to do a sit-in in their hotels or delay their flight, NFF will also lose money. So, it is a lose-lose situation for both parties if and when we get to that level,’’ Ahmadu said.
The NFF General Secretary, Mohammed Sanusi, however insists the federation’s present administration has done so much to eliminate the problem.
“This administration has done everything possible to avoid crisis. The issue was that before the 2018 World Cup, for example, we sat down with the players and agreed on what to give them.
“Even when the money was not there, we went to borrow and gave them.
“But then, for you to borrow also you must be credit worthy. For you to be credit worthy, you must have an avenue of making the payment.’’
This way, the NFF General Secretary was referring to paucity of funds, saying the federation had been doing its best to make up for the shortfall being witnessed.
“Government has done its very best and it is still doing so. There are other competing demands even with government, such as agriculture, water, health care, education and other things.
“So, money is appropriated based on demands,needs and availability and that is why we always go back to well-meaning individuals and corporate organisations to seek assistance.
“This is because we know that when you invest in sports you are as well fighting social vices and enhancing the economy because the players that are there are earning a living that is helping many others one way or the other.’’
Sanusi however insisted that the NFF was still operating in an unfavourable economic climate because sponsorship was still inadequate.
“Where is the enabling environment for us to attract the needed sponsorship. These sponsors are not there because of the fear of intimidation here and there,’’ he said.
The NFF General Secretary did not fail to throw the issue back at the media, saying it unnecessarily brought up the matter by putting words in the players’ mouths.
“There are situations of people of the media going to ask players if they had been paid their allowances.
“There is no need for anybody to ask if the players do not come to complain to them. They (the media) also want to put words in their mouth, trying to instigate them.
“This is not good.’’
Sanusi added that media personnel should worry about their own woes, instead of reporting about the national team players’ problems.
“There are members of the media being owed salaries by their organisations. Why have they not reported that they have also not been paid their salaries.
“So, these are issues and I don’t know why we bring issues out of no issue.’’
However, Mutiu Adepoju, an ex-international, is of the view that proper communication and transparency between football administrators and national team players are needed to solve the problem.
“In order to avoid issues of protest over unpaid bonuses by players and the attendant embarrassing situations, especially at international events, such issues must be resolved before the teams leave home.
“These issues of bonuses must be sorted out before going for any major tournament. Everybody should know what is due to them, how much is available and when it is going to be paid.
“I believe once there is sincerity and proper communication, we will not be hearing all these issues again,’’ he said.
The 1994 AFCON winner noted that when, during his playing days, the issue also reared its ugly head, it was nipped in the bud through proper communication and transparency.
On her part, Victoria Nlemigbo, a former Chairperson of the FCT Football Association Women Committee, also called for a better understanding between the involved parties to avert the consistent bonus row.
As for the Director of Sports in Jigawa, Gambo Umar, the NFF and other sports bodies should always play their roles well.
He said this should be done by making provision for the match bonuses and allowances before the commencement of any international competition.
Umar said the NFF should even be able to pay their players before they leave the country for any competition.
He said this would encourage them to put in their best during the games.
“Money has to be ready before the beginning of any international competition, so that there will be an end to this international embarrassment.
“The NFF should try and look into this problem and solve them before they engage in any of the international competitions.
“They (NFF) should pay the players upfront so that they will be able to deliver well and give us good results.
“If they don’t have the necessary funds, they should call on the government to solve this problem before it will become a source of global shame,’’ he said.
The Chairman of the FCT Coaches Association, Godwin Bamigboye, said the NFF needed to plan very well ahead of any international competition.
“All necessary logistics, especially the funds, should be available before every competition.
“He who plans well will surely end well. For example, it takes two years for us to prepare for every AFCON competition, while the World Cup takes four years. So, there is ample time for us to prepare.
“The other countries don’t have more than what we have in terms of enough time to plan and to prepare for these competitions and to also source of the necessary funds they need to keep the players in camp or training tour, the hotel payment, the bonuses and allowances.
“So, it is not a different situation from ours and the problem is not peculiar in this situation.’’
He however pointed out that the NFF needs to encourage the national team players ahead of and during any of their national assignments.
“They (players) serve the country in their struggle to represent the country and make us proud.
“So, the NFF in return should not find it difficult to pay them their allowances, their bonuses and every one of their entitlements.
“We need to change our ways of doing things if we want good results. You will never hear such a shameful story in any foreign club, and if we want to be like them we have a long way to go,’’ Bamigboye said.
Zira addressed the issue of lack of funds on the part of NFF, saying the football body only needs to cut down on unnecessary expenditure.
“NFF needs to reduce the number of those that are part of its entourage for a tournament. Only key officers should be present at an event to save the federation some money.
“Nigeria should also select the tournaments it has to participate in, putting in mind the limited funds the federation has at its disposal,’’ Zira, who is also a former chairman of Adamawa United FC, added.(NAN)