PHOTO: Benedict Peters, Executive Vice Chairman Aiteo Group
At times such as this, few weeks to a major footballing tournament Nigerians would normally be expecting to hear how her footballers and Nigerian football administrators are in a squabble about match bonuses, appearance fees and every other monetary issue you can think about. But the Africa Cup of Nations gets underway in a few days and these problems seem to be a matter associated with the past.
The last major tournament the Super Eagles appeared in was at the World Cup in Russia in the summer of 2018 and over six months to the kickoff of that event, Nigerian officials and team leaders made up of captain John Mikel Obi and other senior members of the squad met to thrash out issues around finances. Even though the Eagles didn’t impress in Russia, the country’s name was not dragged in the mud as has been the case in previous tournaments.
“We have concluded negotiations and come to an agreement with the team as regards bonuses, allowances and share of income from Fifa for the 2018 World Cup,” 2nd vice president of the Nigeria Football Federation, Shehu Dikko said before Russia 2018. He continued: “Every detail has been agreed on, match bonus for each match and each round up to the final as well as share of income from FIFA money for each round until the stage we are able to get to at the finals. We also agreed on preparation, such as how much players will be paid for the friendly matches, including how and when the monies would be paid.”
Dikko speaking to the BBC a few weeks ago hinted that an agreement similar to the one for the World Cup may be in place between the football federation and the players: “When it comes to bonuses and dues, there’s a mutual trust and understanding between the players and the NFF. They received their 2018 World Cup money upfront and already the Nations Cup qualifying bonuses have been paid.”
Lest we forget, AITEO signed a 5-year deal with the NFF worth N2.5 billion in April 2017. This deal was also said to contain a clause that sees the oil company sort out coaches salaries for the duration of that contract. Little wonder hearing coaches of the national teams complain of outstanding wages has become a thing of the past. The coach and his crew who are meant to monitor players, prepare tactics and scout opponents have been saved the unwanted distraction of visiting the NFF office demanding a backlog of payments.
Pay rows have often surrounded Nigerian teams, with coaches not piad regularly, while players have previously boycotted training during important qualifiers or at major tournaments over unpaid bonus. Nigeria’s 2014 World Cup campaign was affected by a bonus row, with players boycotting training before the round of 16 fixtures against France as they demanded their bonuses and appearance fees.
One may have feared that the Super Eagles failure to get past the group stage of last year’s world cup would have put doubts in the mind of one of biggest investors in African football in recent years but the executive vice chairman of AITEO, Benedict Peters was not only full of praise for one of the country’s most followed brands but he reassured football lovers of the company’s continued support and investment in Nigerian football.
“AITEO is motivated to continue to invest in football, having watched the Super Eagles play their hearts out and fans across the country lay their common differences aside to cheer them. Now is the time to put the World Cup exit behind us and move towards building a stronger team and a stronger nation together,” Peters said in June 2018.
This sort of enthusiasm and passion from Peters must be the reason why AITEO’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Just recently the energy gaints beat off competition from likes of Nike, Coca-Cola and Zenith Bank PLC to retain the Corporate sponsor of Football Award at the prestigous Pitch Awards in Delta State, Nigeria.
Nigeria triumphed at her last appearance in the Nations Cup in 2013 in South Africa in an atmosphere of festering rancour involving the Federation which was led by Alhaji Aminu Maigari and then coach of the national team and Nigerian football legend, Late Stephen Keshi. With seeming harmony amongst football stake holders in the West African nation, lovers and followers of the game would be expecting the former African champions to land their fourth continental title.
If Nigeria can once again rule Africa, AITEO have to share in this glory as that well thought out decision to invest in Nigerian football has proved to be a master stroke. A decision to stick with the team despite a poor World Cup outing also outlines their long-term plan and vision for football in Nigeria, a country where talents abound. One cannot help but wish that like AITEO adopting football other multinationals can adopt a sport and back them fully. Imagine how many medals we will be coming back with from the Olympics in Rio 2020.