The biggest news out of the Glass House – home of Nigerian football authority – is that the cash-strapped Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has secured a sponsorship deal with Aiteo Group, an energy company majoring in Oil and Gas.
The deal will span five years, to the tune of 2.5 billion naira, and is principally geared toward servicing salaries of coaches and team officials in the employ of the NFF during that duration.
It goes without saying that this is a very welcome development. A lack of funding has long been the bane of the NFF, and the issue of national team coaches being owed is so old as to be considered “normal”. With this deal inked, and with Aiteo evidently excited to be entering the field of sports sponsorship, there is a new day dawning.
This is without doubt a masterstroke on the part of NFF President Amaju Pinnick and his board, who have come in for a lot of flak in a rocky opening half of his term. The failure of the senior national team to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations in both 2015 and 2017 is in many ways attributable to the issue of unpaid emoluments.
The late Stephen Keshi was forced to work without pay in the latter part of his tenure, while Sunday Oliseh left the post of Super Eagles coach less than a month to the crucial qualifying double-header against group leaders Egypt in March, citing lack of salary as one of the reasons.
It is safe to say then that the cries of coaches at all levels, from under-17 to the senior national teams, both male and female, will be a thing of the past.
Already, interaction with some of the national team players reveals a sense of relief and excitement at this new deal, which represents a landmark achievement in Nigerian football.
However, this optimism does not percolate the entire population. It is no surprise, considering the antecedents of the country’s football administration, that there has been some cynicism. Even before the identity of the sponsor was made public, there was some talk of money going missing in the Glass House.
Such fears have, in part, been allayed by NFF Vice-President Shehu Dikko, who stated that the accounts of the NFF are open to Aiteo and their auditors for scrutiny. This is in a bid to encourage transparency, and goes some way toward assuaging any lingering suspicion.
Amidst all the praise though, a note of warning: There have been issues in the past with sponsors pulling out, citing breaches of contract or being dissatisfied with what they are getting back with their investment. It would do no good if, having received this massive boost, the agreement is then terminated after a year of two.
Whatever terms of engagement are present in the deal signed, it behoves the NFF to ensure it stays on the straight and narrow path, and protect the interest of its sponsor. It is also a call to the Pinnick-led board to step its game up, and creatively seek out ways to make the Super Eagles’ brand big enough to justify this outlay.
As it stands, this deal covers salaries for coaches. Player bonuses and welfare packages can also be covered as well by other companies, but only if the NFF play a good hand on this one. A good brand attracts sponsors invariably, like bees to nectar, but first they will observe how this is handled. To him that has (and is prudent with it), more shall be given. Kudos to Aiteo for stepping up to the plate, especially in a harsh economic climate.
One of the keys to growth in our sports is the involvement of the private sector, and a setting aside of the apron strings of the Federal Government, via the Sports Ministry. This then represents the start of the weaning process.
Plaudits also go to the NFF for snagging a deal of this magnitude. In a time when a leading multinational has had to withdraw support for the local league, it must have been hard to sell Nigerian football as a profitable investment. They managed it though, and now we can look forward with hope.
They must however be cautious: to whom much is given, much is expected.