The players have not been paid for about 18 months.
When Stephanie (not real name) joined FCT Queens football club of Abuja in 2011, she was overjoyed. Her chance of being a professional footballer and eventually playing for the Falcons, Nigeria’s senior female football team, was getting brighter, she thought.
Things have however, not moved as planned.
Owned by the Abuja administration, FCT Queens has, rather than enhance her football career, turned Stephanie and her teammates into beggars, and even something worse.
Formed about 15 years ago, the FCT Queens has not paid the salaries and allowances of its players for almost two years.
“The last time they paid anybody was in March last year. Even then they paid a backlog of about three years to some players. For 18 months now, we have not been paid a dime by the club,” Stephanie said.
The FCT Queens is one of the 20 female football teams participating in the Nigeria Women Football League. It currently sits in the seventh position of the Group B table. There are 10 teams in each group.
While the club prides itself as one of the top female teams in Nigeria, the players live in penury and in poor conditions.
When PREMIUM TIMES visited their hostel in Area 10, inside the Old Parade Ground in Abuja, it was smelly, shabby, and in very poor state despite the fact that the building was commissioned a few years ago.
Many of the players no longer live in the hostels; while the few there complained of terrible living condition, but begged that their names not be mentioned for fear of victimization.
“We have not been given food for almost two years now; we feed for ourselves. Sometimes, we contribute N50 each to buy few things to eat and survive,” a top player of the team said.
“We eat once a day; yet, they expect us to put in our best on an empty stomach,” she added.
The women’s league, like the men’s, is a round robin competition with all the clubs playing against one another on home and away basis. But just like players of FCT Queens are made to live in terrible conditions, they are made to travel in very uncomfortable conditions.
On Tuesday, June 4, 15 players and three officials of the FCT Queens left Abuja at about noon for Lagos in an 18-seater bus. The team had a league game against Police Machine of Lagos the next day.
Although, each team is allowed 11 starters and seven substitutes on the bench for a football match, the Abuja club only went with four substitutes; as accommodating the three essential staff, including the coach, meant the bus could not take more than that. There was no option for a bigger vehicle as the team could barely afford the 18-seater. Also, due to lack of funds and other management problems threatening the Abuja team, they could only travel the 720-kilometre journey by road, a day before the game.
However, close to midnight, the bus broke down along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. The ladies, who would be playing a competitive match in less than 16 hours, were forced to sleep in the bus.
“It was a very terrible condition, many of us could not sleep, afraid of our lives. Some developed cramps as they sat all night in the bus,” one of the players said.
“We sleep on the road several times due to the bad state of the buses in which we travel, then the next day, we will still play a match- it’s not fair,” Stephanie said.
The fatigued players, with many injured, could barely play the match against their opponents. Fortunately for them, the home team did not turn up for the match. The team returned a day after the match was to have been played in a similar condition as their trip to Lagos.
“Many of us were sad, we knew we could do better, but what can we do. There was not even any medical treatment for any of us after the terrible journey.
The living and travel conditions the Abuja administration makes players go through is just as bad as the medical conditions; where no provision is made for the treatment of the girls.
Football teams are expected to have medical personnel like doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists and so on.
FCT Queens has none.
“They don’t care about our well being. When we are sick, they ignore us. There is no team doctor or physiotherapist. There is no medical insurance, players are just on their own,” another player said.
“I was really sick at a time and none of them (officials) offered an ordinary paracetamol for me take so that I will get well. At least, if the salary were regular, we can buy our drugs ourselves,” she said.
The salaries and allowances
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the monthly salary of players of FCT Queens vary from N25, 000 to about N50, 000. Also, when a player joins the team newly or renews her contract, she is supposed to get a sign on fee which should be ten times the monthly salary.
“If your salary is N35, 000, sign on fee will N350, 000,” Stephanie said.
“None of the players that joined since the payment in March last year has got either the sign on fee or any monthly salary. They don’t even pay us winning bonus.”
PREMIUM TIMES, however, leant that the girls that travel for away matches get paid N1, 000 daily for three days.
“When they don’t pay us and are not concerned with how we survive, how do they expect us to be motivated? They now complained that we lost 1-5 to Rivers Angels (on June 29) at home. Do you know that many of us played with injuries on that day; injuries sustained since our road trip to Lagos without medical treatment,” a player said.
Begging and prostituting for survival
The failure of the Abuja administration to pay the players their dues has forced many of them to constantly beg from family members and friends to survive; while some, having no one to turn to, are forced into prostitution.
“We are girls but there’s no security for us in camp. We can barely afford sanitary pads. We have families to take care of; we have turned to beggars all of a sudden because we cannot eat. Please, help us tell them to pay us,” Stephanie said.
“They promised us last December and nothing happened it’s not fair, they are even forcing some into prostitution,” she added, wondering why an Abuja Minister, who is spending millions to arrest prostitutes, would force girls into prostitution by not paying them their dues.
The players questioned alleged claims by the team management that they do not have enough funds to pay the players.
“They have the money to transport us to different match venues whenever we have a match, but why not pay us when we are not domestic animals,” another player said.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that after appealing to the team management to pay them their dues, the players have also tried to mount public pressure on the owners, the Abuja administration.
“We have gone to Brekete radio programme in Abuja. We have gone to Public Complaints Commission where they kept posting us and lying to us. The commission couldn’t help and we are disappointed in them.
“It’s a shame on the FCT Administration, the capital of Nigeria! The present administration is a failure; instead of suffering us here, they should disband the club,” a frustrated player said.
Officials admit challenges
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the Head Coach of the FCT Queens, John Wakilu, he admitted the players had not been paid for a long time, saying the Abuja administration had promised to pay very soon.
“It’s true they have not been paid for 18 months now, but they (the government) are working on it. They’ll pay; I cannot tell you when,” he said.
The Director of Sports of the FCT Administration, Alim Mohammed, who confirmed the situation, blamed it on budgetary challenges.
“You are a Nigerian, and you know what this budget is all about, that’s what everybody has been talking about, budget, budget.
Mr. Mohammed said he does not know when the ladies would be paid as he has no control over the budget.
Efforts to get the Abuja Minister, Bala Mohammed, to react to the budgetary challenges and why the girls were not paid, even in 2012, were unsuccessful. His spokesman, Nosike Ogbuenyi, simply referred all enquiries to the Director of Sports.
But the same administration that is complaining of “budgetary challenges” is known for profligacy. The Minister, Bala Mohammed, and other officials live in opulence and drive in convoys of exotic cars.
This year, the minister budgeted an outrageous N4billion to build a mansion for African First Ladies Mission, a non-governmental organisation being run by First Lady Patience Jonathan.
The Nigerian Football Federation, which administers Nigerian football, said it is aware of the problems faced by the FCT Queens’ players, but could do nothing about it.
The Chairman of the Nigeria Women Football League of the NFF, Dilichukwu Onyedinma, said since the club belongs to the Abuja government, there is nothing the league management can do about it. She, however, blamed the non-payment on government bureaucracy
“It’s no story that they (FCT Queens) are owing; don’t forget that it’s a government team.
“Monies have been processed. The last time (the players) went to public complaint (commission) to find out, they were able to establish the fact that the file and money have been approved and (the authorities in charge of payment) are waiting for the release of funds so that the players can be paid. The issue is being handled by the FCT government,” Ms. Onyedinma claimed.
While football officials claim the payments, running into millions of Naira for some of the girls, is being processed, for Stephanie and her teammates, what matters most is that they be paid.
“How long does it take to process documents, 18 months? Five years? They should just pay us or shut down the club and let’s know we have no club so others can sign us for free,” Stephanie said.