Following reactions from fans online slamming the Nigeria Football Federation after just three members out of the 23-woman Super Falcons were received by the wife of the President, Remi Tinubu, on Monday in Abuja, a top official of the NFF told The PUNCH that the body’s General Secretary Mohammed Sanusi told players and officials that the Presidency asked that the team list be “trimmed down.”
The Falcons crashed out of the ongoing Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand with heads held high after losing to England on penalties following a thrilling 120 minutes in the round of 16.
The 11-time Africa champions were the better sides of the two teams but were unlucky not to get to the quarter-finals of the tournament after Desire Oparanozie and Michelle Alozie missed from the spot.
Despite crashing out of the World Cup President Bola Tinubu and his wife, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, commended the Falcons, with the First Lady adding that she would host the team on their arrival in the country.
She kept to her promise, but surprisingly only three members of the team were received by the Presidency, raising eyebrows among fans who watched the Falcons put up one of the finest performances at the women’s football showpiece tournament.
Our correspondent learnt Mrs Tinubu gifted each player $10,000, while officials got $2,500 each.
A photo posted on the NFF Twitter handle on Monday had the wife of the President, wife of the Vice President, Hajia Nana Shettima, wife of the Senate President, Ekaette Akpabio, NFF president Ibrahim Gusau; NFF 1st VP, Felix Anyansi-Agwu and the NFF General Secretary Mohammed Sanusi, with Falcons captain Onome Ebi, Christy Ucheibe and Tochukwu Oluehi.
Reacting to the post, Nnaji Obed Asiegbu wrote, “You are very unfair. Hosted only three players. Where are the other players and technical crew? This is ridiculous and I feel embarrassed to see Mr Felix joining to perpetuate this act of wickedness. It shows no organisation. The team is supposed to be arranged by the NFF to return to Nigeria officially then their return to their bases also to be sponsored. It’s a national assignment.”
Frank Obisike rhetorically asked, “Are these the full squad? Or it’s only three girls that went to the competition?”
“Shame won’t allow you people to post this rubbish, go and see how the Ireland team was welcomed. You are welcoming three players that already have their tickets paid for by FIFA? Why didn’t you pay for all the players to touch down in Abuja first?” Ezechukwuka wrote.”
Also wondering why only three players were received Akpati Nshiegbe equally asked, “@thenff why do we have only three players in attendance?”
Another fan with the username Shezzy wrote, “Why does it look like the players selected by the NFF are the ones loyal to them?”
However, it was learnt that an original list that had 21 names — four players, nine backroom staff and eight sports ministry and NFF officials — for the visit to the Villa was trimmed down to just six players and officials on the order of Sanusi.
An aggrieved senior official of the NFF told The PUNCH he was among those listed, but later omitted for the reception, adding that the federation left out some players for fear that they would “leak out some secrets.”
“I was surprisingly left out too,” our source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being victimised, told The PUNCH.
“The First Lady said she would host the team, but suddenly we heard stories that the Presidency said the team that will attend the reception should be trimmed down. They (NFF) know that the players are aggrieved and will talk and leak out some secrets. The original list had most of the backroom staff but after some days, the GS (General Secretary) sent a message to Amina Daura (Head of Women’s Football, NFF) that they want only him, Anyansi and Gusau with just five players.
“Then after the First Lady received them, they were told to write down the names of the remaining members of the team who were not at the event, and their account details, but Sanusi told them to write down the names of only the players, leaving out other backroom staff members who were not at the ceremony. When the names of the other players shortlisted for the reception Glory Ogbonna and Nnadozie, who were absent, were announced, Sanusi went to collect their money but he was told they won’t deal with him or any other person except the team captain Onome Ebi.”
The PUNCH contacted two backroom staff members who were absent at the ceremony, but both said they’ve not been asked to submit their account details, while a player, who flew back to her base from Australia, said she had been told to send her details.
A senior Falcons player said the exclusion of some players from the reception was a reflection of how Sanusi handled the team’s matters.
“Some of the players are around. Why didn’t they go to Abuja? Governor Ademola Adeleke of Osun State received Rasheedat Ajibade and Rofiat Imuran, why were they not in Abuja? Asisat Oshoala, Gift Monday and Ajibade were also hosted by the Lagos Governor. Were they in Abuja? The Imo State Governor also held a reception for Desire Oparanozie, Chiamaka Nnadozie, Osinachi Ohale and Tochi Oluehi, who went for the reception in Abuja. Why was Desire, Nnadozie and Ohale not in Abuja?”
She added that the players had lost confidence in how the General Secretary managed issues concerning them.
“He had a meeting with us on one of our trips and told us — support staff, players coaches and Randy were there — that ‘if you think you are in the national team to make money, you better step down.’ But it’s this same man that collects his estacode steadily, he collected $600 per night at the World Cup while the players got $100 and its him saying this to people who left their families for months. Are they there to play? During (Amaju) Pinnick’s time, we were paid $5,000 win bonuses but GS told us we would be paid $3,000 in Australia. How do you think the girls will be happy? And the man feels he is doing the girls some favour.”
The PUNCH reported last month that shortly before the Nigerian contingent departed Abuja for Australia July 2, Sanusi, during a meeting with the players, told them that they would not be paid their $3,000 match bonuses by the federation, since FIFA had already announced that every player would get $30,000 in the group stage of the tournament in Australia and New Zealand.
The PUNCH was told that he also announced that the players would no longer be given 30 per cent from the $1,560,000 FIFA grant to all member associations for the group stage of the competition.
Efforts by our correspondent to reach the NFF General Secretary Mohammed Sanusi to comment on the issue proved abortive.
Sanusi didn’t pick his calls at about 1:57pm and 3:38pm on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively, and he also didn’t respond to messages sent to his WhatsApp at exactly 2pm on Tuesday and 3:45pm on Wednesday.
However, NFF spokesman Ademola Olajire, who The PUNCH learnt was also on the list to the Villa but had his name removed, said only three players were available for the reception.
“Only three players were available. What’s difficult to understand in that, and where’s the negative slant?,” Olajire told The PUNCH.
“It’s time for pre-season activities for clubs ahead of the season, and most of them left immediately on arrival. The US-based girls flew directly from Australia to the USA.”
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