By Osasu Obayiuwana
June 26 – Nigeria’s Super Eagles go into Wednesday’s Africa Cup of Nations group match against Guinea, after a blunt refusal to show up for the customary pre-match press conference in Alexandria.
The player protest was against the failure of the country’s football federation to pay their $10,000 per player match bonus, after they had beaten Burundi 1-0 in a particularly tough group opener.
A second win over Guinea would secure Nigeria’s place in the knockout stages of the tournament.
Gernot Rohr, Nigeria’s head coach, was the only one to turn up for the press conference. Ahmed Musa (pictured), the Super Eagles Vice-Captain, who was to have been with Rohr on the podium, was said to be “unavoidably absent”.
Musa and his colleagues, at the time the press conference was going on, were in heated negotiations with officials of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) on when they were going to be paid.
The players had also threatened to boycott Tuesday’s final pre-match training session but backed down after NFF officials reassured the team that all financial commitments were being met. They were over an hour late for the training session as a result of the dispute.
At a post-match dressing room session, minutes after Saturday’s victory over Burundi, NFF President Amaju Pinnick had promised to settle the bonuses of the players on Monday.
But that commitment was not kept, according to the players, which triggered the boycott of the press conference.
“He told us after the game that not only would the match bonus be paid but that the match bonus for the game against Guinea would be paid in advance as well, only for the players not to receive the money,” an informed NFF source told Insideworldfootball.
Pinnick told Insideworldfootball that the NFF always had the Naira, the Nigerian currency, for the bonuses due.
But he said the players refused to accept it, for the reason that the official Naira conversion rate to US dollars is significantly higher than what is obtainable on the open market rate, which meant the players will lose money in the exchange, which they were not prepared to accept.
Before the Super Eagles left Nigeria for the Africa Cup of Nations, the Nigerian government had not released the $8.5 million budget it had approved for the tournament.
This compelled Shehu Dikko, the NFF’s 2nd Vice-President, to remain in the country and liaise with officials of the presidency and the finance ministry to get the funds released.
“Thankfully, part of the funds approved by President Buhari arrived today (Tuesday) at the Central Bank and it is now in the process of being converted to US Dollars,” Dikko told Insideworldfootball.
“The money we are receiving will be available to take care of all the remaining games we will play at the AFCON, right up to the final,” Dikko went on.
Seyi Akinwunmi, who is the acting NFF President – as Pinnick, also CAF’s 1st Vice-President, is currently on duty as the head of the AFCON organising committee – said they had paid all money owed to the team, right up to the opening group game against Burundi.
“We have paid these monies through our fund managers, Financial Derivatives Company, on Monday. The only issue we had was that some of the players did not send their bank accounts and instead authorised the bank to pay their monies to some other individuals. The bank requested clear authorisation for this to happen,” Akinwunmi said, in an NFF statement.
“All clarifications have been made and the usual cordial relationship and understanding between the players and we, the administrators, is still intact,” he went on.
Each Nigerian player at the ongoing tournament in Egypt could earn as much as $95,000 for winning the AFCON, should they win all seven games on the way to the trophy.
The protest by the Super Eagles is the second major incident involving a Nigerian national football team within 96 hours.
On Sunday, the Super Falcons, the women’s national team, refused to leave their hotel in France for several hours, after being eliminated by Germany in the ongoing World Cup tournament.
They also claimed that longstanding bonuses and allowances remain unpaid, an allegation Pinnick denied to Insideworldfootball.
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