ONE member of the Falconets – Nigeria’s highest achieving female football team – saw the charade at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja and expressed her shock.

In her words, Nigeria was a funny country. For the months they were in camp preparing for the competition, nobody knew they existed. She mistook the uniformed dancers, the filled streets of Abuja, the omnipresence of Mrs. Patience Jonathan, the President’s wife, as indicators of the harvest of gifts that awaited them. They were dead wrong.

After the boring speeches and futile efforts of all to establish a link with the success of the young women, the Federal Government dropped the bombshell, it was awarding scholarships to the players.

It was one of the most unforgivable – even cruel – decisions that anyone could have made. Who said the players wanted scholarships? What happened to similar promises made to players in the past?

Nigerian leaders are totally out of touch with reality. The poor excuse for this inexcusable decision is that the players were young, amateur and should keep their focus on the future. How do they survive to the future? How many of them want to be in school? Which school would accept them in Nigeria? Are scholarships their problem?

Falconets may be under 20, but they are young women in a society like ours, where those in government never bother about how others survive. Young as these women are, they are already BREAD WINNERS with daunting responsibilities.

Their new status as FIFA World Cup runners up adds to the responsibilities. They would be holding receptions back home, they would entertain, they would have people trooping in to share in their success, and they would still cater for more family members. What would a scholarship do in these?

A reward system that is not relevant to the needs of those rewarded is useless. Government simply abdicated its responsibility to the players. In doing that  it passed the message that it does not recognise hard work.

Eagles earned $30,000 each for limping to the second round of the World Cup in South Africa. The argument could be that the money was from the $1 million FIFA paid Nigeria for qualifying, yet it does not make sense that the Nigeria Football Association has more than $6 million in its accounts and cannot pay a reasonable sum to the Falconets as performance bonus, in case the Federal Government is clueless about what the team did.
Government’s example is terrible. A few weeks down the line, none of these players would be able to access the scholarship assuming she needs it. Government rewarded the winning U-16 World Cup team with stocks in 1985, saying they were young people and money could distract them. Not one player got a share certificate of those stocks to date.

Falconets need money, they know how to secure their future. If the government is concerned about them wasting the money, it could appointment a fund manager for the purpose and pay them at least $30,000 (about N4.5 million) each, a fraction of what each Eagles player got for the heart aches they created in South Africa.  The coaches should be rewarded in addition to factoring them into a long overdue national coaching system.

We should not discriminate against the Falconets.

We commend businessman Jimoh Ibrahim for his N20 million gift to the team. Corporate Nigeria should emulate this example and reward the players as a way of motivating others to follow in their strides.

All the lobbyists in Washington cannot achieve the good image the Falconets created for Nigeria in Germany.
Government can change its mind – it has done so a couple of times – by rewarding the young women who made Nigerians proud unless it considers their efforts in Germany ignoble.


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