In 2004, Coach Godwin Izilein led the Super Falcons to win the African Nations Cup in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was the fourth AWC title for Nigeria.
Twelve years down the line, the coach, now 74 years old, and the rest of his coaching crew are still being owed salary arrears of over $28,750, out of which, $12,000 of the amount belongs to Izilien.
As in the case of the Coach Florence Omagbemi-led Super Falcons squad that won the recently concluded 2016 African Women’s Nations cup in Cameroun, the team to the 2004 AWC in Jo’burg was not given any chance by the then NFA board led by Alhaji Ibrahim Galadima before their departure for that championship.
With determination, however, Izilien and his players fought and won the battle, beating the Lionesses of Cameroun 5-0 in the final with Perpetua Nkwocha (now an assistant coach of the team) accounting for four goals plus a late strike from pocket dynamite, Vera Okolo.
Millions of football-loving Nigerians back home celebrated the victory late into the night, but unknown to them, Coach Izilien, members of his coaching crew and the players were being subjected to derision in far away Johannesburg.
Sensing another round foul play when the Galadima-led NFA defaulted in paying all entitlements after the competition, the girls protested by refusing to leave their hotel rooms the next morning for the airport, insisting on getting their camp allowances and winning bonuses.
“The team was abandoned by the Federal Government delegation, but as a coach and father to the players at that point in time, I had to stay back with them until the Nigeria Consulate intervened by paying the players’ entitlements,” Izilien recalled in a chat with The Guardian yesterday. “I took the pain to stay back with them because abandoning the girls at that point would be seen as unprofessional. But I was pleading with them to end the protest since we were in another country, but they refused.
“So many Nigerians who did not even know what transpired between me and the players in Johannesburg started to spread rumour back home that I instigated the players to embark on the protest. Some ‘bad belle’ people even went as far as saying that they saw us displaying Biafran flag while protesting on the streets of Johannesburg. I am an Edo man, and I have not seen a Biafran flag in my entire life. All the rumour were meant to spoil the mind of then President Olusegun Obasanjo and members of the Federal Executive Council,” he said.
Speaking further, Izilien, who also led the National U-17 team, Golden Eagles, to the African Championship in The Gambia in 1995 said: “Some of the Super Falcons players I took to South Africa in 2004 were relatively young. I discovered them during school competitions, and it is only fair that government should have appreciated my efforts. I am only using this medium to appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari, the Vice President, Prof. Yomi Osibanjo, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, members of the Senate Committee on Sports, House of Representatives and indeed all well meaning Nigerians to come to my rescue. It hurts me on daily basis whenever I remember the sacrifices I made for the country, and how I have been neglected in return. The players got their money, so why should I continue to suffer? Many governments have come and gone, but I will be very grateful to the Buhari administration if he could pay us the equivalent of that money. It is a way of rewarding excellence and fulfilling Federal Government’s promises.
“I have written several letters to concerned authorities without a single reply; I am suffering after being neglected by the football authority. To think that I agreed to handle the female national team at a time of crisis without asking for extra remuneration, and to be treated in this manner is not encouraging for the growth of the game. I did it out of patriotism for fatherland.
“We were promised payments on arrival in Nigeria after the championship, but till date nobody has said anything about that money,” Coach Izilien added.