For years, the Nigeria Football Federation’s inability to pay its coaches’ salaries, players’ bonuses and allowances had been the lot of Nigeria national teams. As recent as last year, the country’s team to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio was stranded at their training camp in the United States due to  lack of funds. With Aiteo Group partnering the NFF to the tune of N2.5bn, Kunle Adewale asks if this would bring to an end the salary brouhaha that has been hunting the country’s national teams for years.

The issue of coaches’ salaries and players’ bonuses is almost certain to take the centre stage anytime Nigeria is participating in a competition. Many a time, players had threatened not to take to the field unless their match bonuses and allowances owed them were paid. A situation had arisen whereby coaches had gone cap in hand sourcing for funds and even pleading with players to play.

It came to a head that a Japanese billionaire had to come to the rescue of the team to the Rio Olympics.

However, succour came the way of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, on Wednesday as Nigeria’s foremost energy solutions company, Aiteo Group sealed a five-year partnership deal worth N2.5bn with the country’s football governing body.

According to the details of the contract signed at Eko Hotels and Suites, it confers on Aiteo Group, the title of the Official Optimum Partner of the NFF. The yearly value is put at N500 million in support of the national team coaches and activation of the partnership agreement and the marketing agency, Mediterranean.

The partnership, which is the first in the country’s sports sponsorship for the energy giant, will start on May 1, 2017, with an initial option of a one-year extension.

Deputy Managing Director of Aiteo, Mr. Francis Peters, who signed on behalf of the CEO of the Group, said that the partnership represents a new dawn in Nigerian football.

“When Amaju (Pinnick) was contesting to head the federation in 2014, I said then that because of what he has done with Delta State football, he was capable of taking Nigeria to the finals of the World Cup. Even if we don’t win the Mundial during his tenure at the Glass House, the world will appreciate he indeed made an impact. This partnership will take away the distraction of looking for money to pay coaches and help the federation on its training programmes,” the deputy managing director said.

Throwing more light on the deal, Aiteo’s Senior Manager, Corporate Communications, Ndiana-Abasi Matthew said: “Aiteo Group’s overarching social responsibility objectives are to encourage a positive impact, through our activities on the society-at-large and has successfully done so for several years.

“Football brings joy to the lives of Nigerians and each moment celebrated by families in their living rooms over a goal scored or friends catching up on highlights of a well-taken free kick by their local heroes leaves an indelible impression on memories for a life time.”

As at last month, the NFF was still in dire financial straits as it was battling to secure a regular source of income for Rohr’s $4,700- a-month salary from the beginning of this year as the German manager’s employers had yet to pay him his January and February salaries. And to avoid the embarrassment of failing to pay Rohr, the federation entered into discussions with three companies to take over the payment of the former Burkina Faso coach’s salary and the bonuses and allowances of the players during the Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup qualifiers.

It was therefore a relief when Aiteo came to the rescue.

A relieved Pinnick said: “This is a heart-warming landmark in the history of football sponsorship in Nigeria. I am very happy that a critical area of our expenditure is being taken care of by this agreement.”

“Aiteo has a clear vision for the future, with the experience and assets necessary to provide oil and gas products on a regional and global scale,” noted the NFF chief.

For former Super Eagles goalkeeper and captain, Peter Rufai,

“Football is not about players and coaches alone. It is a collective thing to make the country succeed. With this partnership, we are beginning to see the right people in charge of the country’s football. We are beginning to see genuine attempts to right the wrongs done to the country’s football,” concludes the former goalkeeper.

NFF Vice-President Shehu Dikko, has indeed stated that the accounts of the association are open to Aiteo and their auditors for scrutiny. This is in a bid to encourage transparency, and in a way, assuage any lingering suspicion.

There have been issues in the past with sponsors pulling out, citing breaches of contracts or being dissatisfied with what they are getting as return on their investments. It would do no good if, having received this massive boost, the agreement is then terminated after a year or 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 would be recalled that even in death, former national team coaches, Stephen Keshi and Shuaibu Amodu were both owed salaries.

It remains to be seen therefore if the coming of Aiteo Group would bring succour to Nigerian coaches as far as salaries are concerned.

Aiteo Group is one of Africa’s fastest–growing energy leaders. It operates through her subsidiaries of which Aiteo Eastern E&P Co. Ltd is one.