Stakeholders have expressed varying opinions over the seven months salaries owed Super Eagles coach, Stephen Keshi, by the Nigerian Football Federation, writes ’TANA AIYEJINA
The entire football world was held in shock and disbelief when Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi revealed on Wednesday that he had not been paid seven months salary by the Nigerian Football Federation.
It means the former Nigeria captain last got his salary in February, when he led the national team to a third Africa Cup of Nations title in South Africa.
Thereafter, Keshi, who has also managed Togo and Mali, had led the squad to the FIFA Confederations Cup and has remained unbeaten in the African qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup.
In fact, one game stands between Keshi’s team and qualification for Brazil 2014. Nigeria’s fifth ticket to the Mundial looks almost sealed after the Eagles defeated the Walya Antelopes of Ethiopia 2-1 in Addis Ababa, in the first leg of the African final qualifiers for the World Cup.
With the nation in jubilant mood ahead of the second leg against the Ethiopians next month, Keshi’s revelation was the least any football loving person would have thought about.
BBC Sport quoted Keshi as saying, “The lowest point of my career is working and not being paid for seven months. I have never had this kind of experience before.
“In Mali, they will never owe you; your salary will hit your account before the end of every month. It was the same thing in Togo,” he said.
“Owing me up to eight months makes me feel I am not being appreciated, it is like they think I am being favoured in what I am doing.
“I am not being favoured. I am giving everything I have to the job — I need to be respected and given my pay.”
The NFF over the years have earned a reputation for its inability to pay coaches of the national teams. In recent times, the likes of Shaibu Amodu, Christian Chukwu, Samson Siasia, Austin Eguavoen, John Obuh and Eucharia Uche have been owed salaries.
Chukwu, who led the Eagles to a third-place finish at the 2004 AFCON in Tunisia, laments Keshi’s situation.
The 1980 AFCON winner said, “It is very unfair not to pay Keshi his salaries. It is an insult to indigenous coaches. How do you expect him to concentrate and perform? He has a family; how do you expect him to take care of them?
“This issue of unpaid salaries has been on for a very long time and I thought it had stopped. My case has been there and still there. Even Amodu was a victim. It even extended to the Super Falcons and the age-grade national teams.
“Maybe Keshi should have received his salaries ahead because if it was a white man, they would have paid him in advance.”
But ace sports writer and broadcaster, Frank Ilaboya, disagrees with Chukwu on the issue of only Nigerian-born coaches being owed by the NFF.
“Even the foreign coaches have been owed before. The likes of Berti Vogts, Manfred Hoener, Phillipe Troussier and Lars Lagerback have been owed. It’s not about Nigerian coaches; it is an attitude that must change,” Ilaboya said.
Ilaboya frowned at a statement reportedly credited to the NFF saying that the allowances and bonuses Keshi earned were enough to sustain him.
He said it was unfair to treat the national coach in that manner after having gradually turned around the fortunes of the Eagles.
“I can’t believe this is happening now. If what I read about an official of the federation saying that his (Keshi) allowances were enough to take care of him is true, then it is unfortunate. How can anyone say that?
“The coach is entitled to his salaries; just as he is entitled to his allowances and bonuses.”
Observers say Nigerian coaches have a role to play in their unfortunate predicament. A domestic league coach, who pleaded anonymity, said most of the coaches who get national appointments get carried away, without signing their contract papers properly.
“Our coaches exert their energies in trying to undo other local coaches for a particular national team job and they then sign contracts that enslave them,” he said.
But Chukwu, an assistant to Dutchman Clemens Westerhof when the Eagles won a second AFCON title and qualified for their first ever World Cup in 1994, strongly disagrees.
The 1980 Green Eagles captain, popularly known as Chairman, said most times the coaches fall victim because of patriotism.
He said, “That is not true. We sign the right contracts. You know, because you are patriotic, you don’t want to take the federation to court. Foreigners won’t take that.
“We have worked outside Nigeria before and nobody owed us. I got all my entitlements and was treated like a king when I worked in Lebanon and managed the Harambee Stars of Kenya.
Interestingly, former Falcons coach, Eucharia Uche, has appealed to Keshi to be patient with the football running body.
The former Nigerian striker won the 2010 African Women’s Championship title but was booted out of office for her failure to qualify the side for the 2011 All-Africa Games in Mozambique and the 2012 London Olympic Games.
During Uche’s time as coach of the Falcons, the NFF hired a German, Thomas Obliers, as her assistant.
Obliers reportedly collected $63,000 while with the women’s national team for a very short time.
But the NFF allegedly owed Uche, a widow and mother of two, two years salary. She was supposed to be paid N300,000 ($2000) monthly.
Uche said, “Keshi has done very well but I will advise him to be patient with his employers. Definitely, delay is not denial. Maybe they are trying to sort out some things. There is no cause for alarm yet.”
An Eagles midfielder, who pleaded anonymity, said the NFF’s attitude could affect the national team psychologically.
“If they don’t pay the coach his money, how are we sure they will pay our allowances and bonuses. What they are doing can make the players not give their best to the team. Personally, if I get injured while on national duty, will anybody look my way again? This is not good for our football. Pay the coach his money,” the player stated.
The issue took a new twist on Thursday when the National Sports Commission gave the NFF 48 hours to explain why the national coach was owed seven months’ salary.
The NFF receives its funding from the sports commission.
“As far as I am concerned, it is a national embarrassment. If they are having challenges with raising money, they should have come to us. But they have not complained to us that they cannot pay,” NSC Director-General, Gbenga Elegbeleye, was quoted as saying.
He added, “The coach is not like the secretariat staff, he is on a contract. Because their staff have not been paid does not mean the national coach should not be paid.
“If he gets sacked today, there is no gratuity, so why should he suffer?”